Tim Walker’s Vietnam XXXXV

That afternoon I received the invite to, and that evening I attended the function of, the joined birthday party of two close friends of Vy; along with their boyfriends as well as another couple, Vy and I made up the numbers to eight.

We ate and celebrated at a street-food restaurant on Bui Vien – bustling with people as it was it seemed well-prepared when the street’s electricity went out – immediate distribution of candles indicating power-failure was not a rare occurrence on Bui Vien and – although I swear one of the birthday girls’ boyfriends was looking to punch me – possibly because she was making sultry-eyes at me all night or possibly for other reasons entirely – I did never find out what had happened to Vy for all these weeks gone but – from what I could understand through her seemingly subjective display of broken-English – whatever the reason it was largely my fault – an assertion which I magnanimously accepted.

As Vy and her friends had parked their motorcycles near the entrance to the Yen Trang hotel, near the top end of Bui Vien and from where Vy and I had started the night, once the celebration had been deemed finished, given that this particular street-food restaurant had been situated near the bottom of Bui Vien, we again walked the entire length of the street (must be about number 319), with Vy repeatedly brushing away my attempts to casually put an arm around her waist because, apparently, walking holding hands, arm in arm, or engaging in a similar contact of the upper limbs, indicates that the couple is in love, and under no circumstances, after only two ‘dates’, were she and I permitted to be ‘in love’.

I went to bed that night, tired, exasperated, and convinced that when I boarded that plane tomorrow afternoon, not only was I going to be glad to be going home – actually, just to be leaving Vietnam – I was never coming back.

That next day – my last day in Vietnam – only minutes after gifting my last 500 dong note to Loan as appreciation for all she had done for me, I was contacted by Mai. She wanted to see me before I went home; thus the obvious question, the same one in fact I had put to Vy, who had essentially left me alone for four weeks before deciding she wanted to ‘see you before you fly home’ – ‘Where have you been?’ Also, ‘Why now – why not weeks ago?’

Not unexpectedly Mai gave me the classic, ‘Oh, but Vietnam lady very busy, you see, Tim’ – leading my perpetually exasperated mind to flash through image after image of so many sedentary Viet women – occupying a chair, sofa, or just a clear spot on the floor, splayed out, relaxed, or sometimes sleeping; granted, some Vietnam ladies might be ‘very busy’ but most (I’m guessing, any daughter who is not an eldest daughter), they take their merry time and do essentially as they please amid the tropical cesspit that is Ho Chi Minh City.

Predictably we’d met outside the Yen Trang hotel, where I noticed immediately, Mai had done herself up for this ‘date’; she was wearing a lovely floral summer-dress, sensible heels, with the typical (utterly hideous) Vietnamese stockings – ghastly, thick, woollen, skin-coloured things – but the most amazing thing, for the first time since I’d met her, Mai was wearing makeup (most younger Vietnamese women have the kind of skin and facial features that receives little benefit from the addition of makeup; indeed most Asian women appear to wake each morning with a congenital dusting of foundation and lick of mascara), and my God did she look beautiful.

I ordered a couple of fruit smoothies from Loan’s Café behind us (an additional 80 dong, on top of the 500, because I couldn’t very well renege on my generosity at this late stage), and we chatted.

My mood, having been exposed to this intermittent Vietnamese shitstorm for quite long enough to leave me feeling very much under the weather, was understandably deflated. I was happy to notice, however, compared with the first time I’d met Mai (Aston Hotel Saigon, circa tour of 2017) or even to just three weeks’ ago, her English had improved markedly; evidently I was not her only ‘English’ friend though, and in fact (I recall her noting excitedly), I was not even her only English friend from New Sealand – apparently she also kept in communication with somebody named Tietrian from Tietreurt which, after some blind guessing and cryptic extrapolation, I was able to deduce this was ‘Christian from Christchurch’ (as previously noted, the Viet palate struggles with its ‘chr’ and ‘rch’ sounds), who chatted with her regularly.

As our beverages were dwindling and Mai’s departure was nearing, I could appreciate that she had become strangely concerned; turns out she was worried that I might neglect to maintain our (let’s be fair, already very tenuous) lines of communication. With that though, almost in a revelation, I understood why it was so important to her that we had this meeting; it wasn’t about her further leading me on with implied assurances of an intimate relationship, it wasn’t about her setting me up now to dupe me out of more cash later or in fact, far as I could tell, almost unbelievably, it wasn’t directly related to money at all. It was simply that, as a Vietnamese woman, seemingly, Western friendships are extremely valuable (which, in fairness, is still a little bit related to money).

Mai puttered away on her scooter; I shook my head in the hope of expunging some of the fug left by her pining words, also by the last month in HCMC in general, then staggered up the steps to the Yen Trang lobby. Walking through the glass doors, first thing I saw was Lieu, almost in tears, looking decidedly shaken.

“Lieu,” I began, with as much tenderness as I could be bothered employing. “What’s up?”

She looked at me, nerve-wracked, terror-stricken, but said nothing.

“Lieu,” I tried again, more firmly, “what the hell happened to you?”

“I … I just got mugged,” she eventually mumbled.

I almost laughed. It seemed so ridiculous. Tourists in Vietnam get mugged, not locals; not this quint essentially Vietnamese woman who has lived in Vietnam all her 20-something years thus who knows and understands the ways of the Vietnamese people, and who should presumably know how to avoid this filthy Vietnamese scourge…?

She peered up at me, her big dark eyes wet around the edges.

“Are you serious – you were mugged – what, by Vietnamese dudes?” I blurted the inquiries, disbelieving.

Lieu nodded, “They attack me, they try take my phone.” She held up her Smartphone as if illustrating how close it was to being stolen.

“You serious?” I was still finding this very hard to believe, “Vietnamese men assaulted, and tried to steal from you, a Vietnamese woman?”

Lieu nodded silently, no doubt wondering why this peculiar Englishman was asking her so many stupid questions.

“That’s unbelievable,” I had turned off the filter and was now dis-compassionately speaking my mind, “those gutless little shitheads … Stealing from tourists,” I went on, “I mean I kind of get that, but from your own countrymen – from people who they must know are finding it just as tough as they are … That’s fucking disgraceful … So what happened, Lieu, where did they attack you – where were you?”

“It was on bus, on way here,” it was her turn now to blurt speech, “I was using phone, then at stop, some guys stood up get off, they try snatch my phone, as they go past, and I wouldn’t let them, I stand up, I try push them, but they are two guys, one try take my phone, Tim, I start yelling, ‘Thief, thief, thief here!’, and they run away…” With that she dissolved into tears.

I shook my head, placing a spread hand on the outside of Lieu’s shoulder. “I’m so sorry you’ve been through that, Lieu, it sounds awful – sounds as though you did very well for yourself, though.”

The pretty young Asian woman smiled, nodding. “I din wan lose my phone,” she mumbled, tears bubbling at her lips.

 

Once Lieu had cooled off, she booked me a taxi to the airport, then I was ready to leave Ho Chi Minh City and not look back.

Hours later I was being driven from Changi Airport to Hotel Boss in Singapore. The place was surprisingly dead; shortly after my check-in, I was in bed.

I wake. Someone is scrabbling at my door. Mental assessment; I am quickly aware that I am a resident of Hotel Boss, Singapore. Even with eyes closed I can tell it’s still dark. I suspect it must be a mistaken, or drunken, handle-grabber, in which case I’m not worried – feverishly alert, but not too worried. Suddenly my eyelids are lit up. Somebody has just opened my door. My heart, my blood, adrenaline; everything inside me pulses with such immediate force at that moment I feel as though my heart might burst. My eyes are still closed as, now from a supine position in my Boss hotel room, I hear an intruder shuffling along the foot of my bed, between the bed and the room’s sideboard, where I had carefully laid out all my belongings the night before…

Before getting into bed the previous night, I recall chuckling to myself as I had removed my wallet and, where in Vietnam I might have slid it under my pillow or suchlike, last night I recall thinking, ‘Nah, no security issues here, bud – we’re in Singapore now’ then, as if in some kind of defiant statement, I recall mischievously catching my eye in the mirror then casually dropping it onto the sideboard.

…I listen to a pair of, what appear to be soft – slipper, or perhaps sock – feet shuffling across the carpet at the end of my bed, and I realise, in horror, all of my belongings are either on that sideboard or crudely stuffed into bags on the floor just below, but still very much in clear view for anyone who wanted to see what was available to idle hands.

In my Boss bed, eyes squeezed shut, body clamped by adrenalin’s frightfully icy grasp, I curse my complacency. I might be out of Vietnam but, lest I forget, I am still very much in Southeast Asia; indeed, the only person I can trust in this place, essentially at the behest of this continent of depravity, is me.

I blink, once, twice; then in a frantic movement with a puff of air exploding from both nostrils, I throw myself upright in bed.

 

 

 

Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Arf Bucket

Photography by U R Boned

Tim Walker’s Vietnam XXXXIV

Last night in Vietnam, just as I was deciding I would never return to this hellhole, I was invited to a Bui Vien Street birthday party for two friends of, none other than, Vy.

It was the day before that final night, though, that things became truly revealing.

There I am, strolling, slowly, proudly, confidently, down the footpath of the narrow avenue that joins the main Bui Vien Street and my favoured ‘back way’ home – for those instances where I’d rather avoid the clamour of Bui Vien the second time around – watching three small motorcycles execute unwieldly U-turns before again coming at me, this time, from the front.

Although I avoided eye contact with any of the four incoming youths, with my peripherals I could see, and with my being I could feel, all their eyes upon me. From around ten metres out I detected the revs dropping of the salient scooter; as he coasts to a stop I neither engage his eyes nor alter my pace. Suddenly brakes are squeaking as he tries to pull up before I go past. The two trailing bikes are forced to abruptly halt also, as it becomes clear that no one in Vietnam is proficient at maintaining their motorcycle braking systems. “Hey, hey!” the leading rider attempts to stop me.

I honestly don’t know what he expects from me; he and his trio of scooter-bandits have basically just ‘attacked’ me from behind and now he wants me to stop – for what – a chat…?

“Hey, you,” the leading rider has kicked down the stand and is now clambering from his bike.

Deciding I’m not in any immediate danger from the scrawny youth, I stop, turn, clench my teeth, tilt my head, elevate my jaw, and literally stare down my nose at the little punk.

He steps forward, having pulled off his helmet, chest now all puffed up, seemingly trying to staunch me out, exuding around ten times the level of machismo than is warranted by a man of his stature.

Over the following moments I observe as his confidence steadily dissipates, his initial belligerence going with it.

“Heh,” he now utters with attempted gruffness, in a peculiar burst of air, as though trying to remove a lump of phlegm from his throat.

“Sin chow…?” I reply slowly, almost comically, appreciating the irony.

We lock stares for some time longer before he finally speaks. “You … You sleep with my sister…?” he says with uncertainty, as though he isn’t sure if he has the words right.

I look deeply into his eyes and see a scared little boy just trying to look out for his big sister; admittedly, I admire him for it. “Noobie,” I eventually say, nodding.

“You gon marry her?” he demands, his confidence returned.

I step forward, he shuffles back; I notice that his buddies have stayed seated on their bikes throughout our discussion, which surprises me. I continue staring into his deep, soulless eyes. “Honestly, yes, I would like to … I would very much like to marry your sister…”

A glimmer of a smile appears on the face of the youth.

“…But the thing is, I don’t think she likes me – anymore.”

“You sleep my sister, you need marry her,” his response is immediate. “She Buddhist, you know.”

“I know she is,” I reply, feeling strangely bashful. “Your sister is a good person, I like her a lot.”

He smiles now, openly, fully, as though he has made a friend for life. “So you marry my sister, when?”

I attempt to soften my expression and shake my head slightly, “I’m sorry, Noobie doesn’t want to marry me … You should speak to your sister – ask her – she doesn’t want my love.”

The poor lad looked as though he was going to cry; truly I had to admire that kind of brotherly adoration for an elder sister, and in fact I almost asked him – ‘Say, do you carry on like this every time a tourist or other White man becomes besotted with your sister and takes her to bed, because, my God, it must happen a terrible lot?’ – but decided to leave it on a tasteful note. “I’m sorry,” I said, and offered my hand.

He took it, gave it a limp embrace; then I turned and walked sedately home (what the hell? One month in this place and I’m already referring to my hotel on Bui Vien as ‘home’…?).

 

 

Article by Tim Walker

Edited by D Fee Ted

Photography by Tia Rust

Tim Walker’s Vietnam XXXXIII

I liked Lan. She was cool. We chatted for half an hour then established a tryst for the next morning.

I was shattered so, soon after saying ‘Hen gap lie (see you again)’, I grabbed a snack then headed excitedly up to bed for a big morning tomorrow.

The plan had been to meet at 8 o’clock that next morning where Lan was going to give me a guided tour of an area of Ho Chi Minh City that she didn’t expect I would see on my own; also given that she had been able to promptly locate my Facebook page on her phone, with assistance from the Yen Trang PC, we now had some basis for communication.

I had gone to bed around 7 p.m. the previous day; I was up shortly after 6 a.m. that next day. I quickly showered and shaved, put on some fresh clothes, then headed down for a big Western breakfast. I shot down the hotel stairs just after 7 a.m. and, aware that Loan and her husband opened the café at around 7 o’clock each morning, I excitedly conveyed my order, filling her in on my plans for that morning. I then ducked back into the hotel lobby deciding I’d best check for any new Facebook messages, just in case there had been alterations to Lan’s and my scheduled rendezvous.

This was going to be great; every other prospective woman in Vietnam had ditched me but Lan was awesome – we were going to have a great morning…

The first thing I saw when I opened my Facebook inbox:

I won’t come

I’m sorry

 

…My heart sank lower than I can even describe. I glanced above that message, looking for explanation. There was none. I typed a message, requesting a reason for such an abrupt turnaround.

She’d blocked my page.

I couldn’t work it out; what had happened? How did she go from being so happy and cheerful, so ostensibly excited about our impending meeting, to blocking me from further communication? I felt like crying with exasperation. What was I doing – what was I doing wrong?

I went downstairs and ate my breakfast. I thanked Loan for the wonderful meal and took to the streets. As always Bui Vien was markedly different in the morning; I barely noticed the group of street-youth who eyed me menacingly as I went by.

I cut through my perpendicular avenue and, avoiding puddles in the potholes, started along the back-way home. I walked past the seedy bar where Noobie and I had played pool the morning after our first night together at Crazy Girls; I saw in the distance the street-food restaurant where Noobie and I had shared breakfast, before playing pool at a seedy bar, after our first night together at Crazy Girls. I heard a motorbike behind me; unable to use the footpath for the clutter of trailers stacked with produce, I walked as closely to the curb’s edge as I could manage.

A motorbike rushed by closely, spraying muddy water onto my lower legs. I tried to step onto the footpath but there was still too much junk in the way. Another motorbike raced past; there were no puddles at this point in the road – this rider struck me in the arm as he passed. Another bike; a resounding thump this time between my shoulder-blades. That one was hard; took my breath away. I looked up and saw the pillion had removed his helmet and was using it as a bludgeon. I could hear no more engines behind me and, ironically, there was finally now room to walk on the footpath. I stepped up the 200 millimetres onto the sidewalk and continued walking; I wasn’t surprised, I wasn’t annoyed, I wasn’t perturbed, and I certainly wasn’t worried.

I had been warned it had been brewing, I just hadn’t cared; ‘Let the piss-ants have a go’, had been my thinking, ‘let’s see how far they get this time.’

As I watched three motorbikes turn and come back, one with a passenger, the only action I took was to perform a habitual swipe of my back-right pocket.

 

 

Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Vee T Numb

Photography by Toff Guise

Tim Walker’s Vietnam XXXXII

My fleeting acquaintanceships were rapidly evaporating; deluges were occurring regularly and with each washout more overstayers seemed to drift away.

During a respite from the rain I wandered over to the second Bui Vien and past the Pink Tulip hotel, to see a minibus depositing its load of flamboyantly dressed middle-aged men to the sidewalk.

I strode along the main Bui Vien Street for perhaps the 317th time that month and, as had become the way, was largely ignored by everyone; food vendors, shop owners, massage girls, street merchants – no one even offered to sell me a set of nail clippers anymore.

I barely looked sideways as I paced along the street; my mind was in turmoil – I was being tormented, oppressed by my own brain and I just needed to feel free again.

In my head I saw image after image of gorgeous Vietnamese faces, nodding, smiling, giggling, laughing, playing with their hair, as I attempted to articulate their language; then their happiness, their willingness, their almost eagerness, to put in place a future meeting yet, invariably, when that time came, how they would never be there as arranged.

As I approached the dark end of Bui Vien I realised, I think I was intending to stop in at Crazy Girls bar, I think in the hope of catching up with Noobie. Why I should want to do that I do not know, but that’s what it appeared I was doing.

My brain controlled my body’s actions as expected, but then there was me; it felt as though I didn’t know what the hell was going on anymore.

I heard Noobie before I saw her. My heart fluttered; God that annoyed me – why did it keep doing that? Then I saw her; she was seated out front of the bar with workmates, poring over some documents, typically ravishing. She saw me; her face at that moment became one of consternation. She spun and said something to a nearby bargirl; they both turned to look at me with expressions of distaste. “Why you still here?” Noobie called out to the street.

I responded with an expression of apathy.

“You go home now,” she said, making dismissive gestures with her hand. “You not wan here anymore.”

I gave the one-time love-of-my-life a brief nod and kept walking.

Performing the usual circuit, I ducked down a perpendicular lane and walked home the back way; then stepping into my avenue of Bui Vien I was momentarily halted by a particularly demonstrative street vendor, playing the game, trying to sell her wares to a group of (I believe) Australian tourists. This attractive young Viet woman – who I’d met, to whom I’d chatted and from whom I’d purchased, numerous times in the past – Lan, had been seemingly convinced to put on a display for these decadent middle-aged husbands and wives. The vivacious Viet, so keen and willing she was to ingratiate herself to these potential customers, having set down her tray of assorted bric-a-brac was now spinning and twirling her thick wire loop of friendship bracelets (every street vendor carried one of these, pieces of Number 8 wire circled into a half-metre ring with hooked ends, through which around 100 colourful bracelets were threaded, with the ends latched closed), as if she was some exotic dancer performing on a stage. Mid-dance, Lan spun, mischievous smile at her face as she swayed her hips provocatively, holding her wire loop in both hands at arms-length; she saw me, flashed a brief grin of recognition, just as her wire ring swooped and collided with the back a passing tourist. The tourist in question didn’t appear to even notice but of course, the youthful Lan was immediately gripped by contrition. She allowed her wire loop to hang by one hand, bumping on legs as she tried to bustle through the crowd, in the hope of commanding the tourist’s attention to offer an apology; alas the pedestrian had merged with the crowd and was gone. Lan looked back at me with a sheepish half-grin, her cheeks dimpled as she walked in my direction, biting down lightly on her tongue, allowing her wire loop to bump forcefully against her knees as she came. I glanced down to where the ring now hung, unmoving; it appeared to have sprung open at the ends. All but about four friendship bracelets had just finished sliding off the wire and now lay in a haphazard pile on the road. Without thinking I stepped forward and dropped to my knee, surrounding the mess. Lan followed me down with her eyes; she saw what had happened and froze in horror. I shot a look upwards, endeavouring to convey reassurance, while at the same time attempting to protect her livelihood from so many oblivious feet (to most Westerners, Vietnamese street vendors are purveyors of crap; to those vendors though, that ‘crap’ is their livelihood – they lose that merchandise and they are the ones who have cover the shortfall). From a kneeling position I surveyed the situation on the ground – myriad bracelets scattered over almost a one metre diameter – and, still just seconds after the disaster had been spotted, decided upon the most effective way of rectifying the mishap. With my left knee on the road I braced my spasmodic right arm, at the elbow, against the inside of my right knee. With one last glance upwards at the horrified Lan (how does a woman who earns no more than 2.000.000VND – around 140NZD – each month, reimburse for 100 items each retailing at 120.000VND? Let’s just say I felt as though I could understand Lan’s concern), using my left hand like a scoop and the right like an immovable horizontal stake, tensing shoulder muscles to the point of excruciation in order to mitigate tremulous limbs, in several juddering movements I carefully manoeuvred every last one of those fallen friendship bracelets up and onto my right hand/wrist/arm. I looked up at Lan, saw a face of radiant relief, then with my right hand grabbed the lower end of her broken ring and simply rose to my feet. Lan watched joyously as the colourful array of straps threaded themselves back onto the loop, then she quickly snapped closed the hooks and breathed, possibly, for he first time since seeing they’d come apart.

She looked at me and, although it is not considered acceptable for a street vendor to touch or, particularly, embrace a client – they must, of course, respect a tourist’s space – the warmth in her eyes was thanks enough. As I turned and continued walking towards my hotel, I heard one of the group of Aussies observing in a commanding voice, “Oh, good man … Shit, that’s a good man, right there! … Isn’t ‘e a good man, isn’t ‘e, sweetheart, ‘elpin’ you out like that?”

At the Yen Trang I afforded Loan the usual salutations then ascended the marble staircase to the hotel foyer. Lieu could tell something was awry the moment she saw me; “Hello Tim,” she began tentatively, “What is the matter?”

I looked up and, in response to her query, simply shook my head. Suddenly I had an uplifting thought, “Hey, did My Hanh call?”

Lieu looked at me blankly.

“My Hanh, from Nhan Tam, you know? When I was there the other day, she said she’d give me a call at this number, so we could, you know, organise something.”

“Call you, at the Yen Trang?” Lieu asked confusedly.

“Yes, it made sense, given that my phone went down weeks ago and the dental clinic have this number on file…”

“Oh, sorry Tim, she might be busy, I have not heard from her – but you should ask Thao, she might have had a call.”

“It’s fine, Lieu, thank you,” I forced a smile and opened the door to the stairwell.

“Tim…?” Lieu’s small voice pulled me back down.

Turning to face her, I cocked my head and gave a questioning look.

“Tim, I think you have very bad impression of Vietnam lady, yes?”

“Honestly, Lieu, currently, yes, I do.”

“No, Tim, you should not … We very busy, you see, to make time for nice man, like you.”

“Hah,” I shot back sarcastically. “As I see it, you are so very busy, because you have not enough time to get through all the White men like me, falling at your feet.”

“No, Tim, please don’t think that about Vietnam lady … We want love nice man, we just don’t know you yet.”

“Oh, come on, Lieu, you, ‘Vietnam ladies’, have had ample opportunity to know me, problem is, you, are never there when you say you will be there … You, don’t appear to give a damn about ‘nice man like me’.”

“I know, Tim, Vietnam ladies, very busy.”

“Anyone, anywhere, is able to make time for things they consider important, Lieu.” On that note I took four flights of stairs, two at a time, to my room.

Half an hour after that I was back down, having showered, changed my clothes, shaved, and washed my hair (this ‘clean and pleasantly aromatic hair’ thing, this is a novelty which, upon leaving Southeast Asia, I will sadly not maintain). Walking by reception I couldn’t hide a smirk as Lieu made a big, Vietnamese/broken-English, fuss over my ‘dep chi’ appearance. I headed outdoors and, bombarded by the late-afternoon heat, also the sun that shone almost directly into my eyes, made my way down the hotel steps. “Hey Tim,” called a very cheerful Loan, from the café to my left, in her thick Vietnamese accent, “what you want? I cook any food you want.”

“Ga com tien,” I said with a smile as I stepped off the bottom step and turned immediately leftward, towards the Loan’s Café facade.

“No, no … No matter, I make you any food, whatever you want – it cost you nothing.”

I stepped up to her counter. “Why would you do that?” I asked with an abashed grin.

Loan beamed and was manifestly ecstatic. “You make my business grow, Tim – you have faith in me, you believe in my product … You tell the people, and now, look!”

I turned into the sun’s glare, squinted my eyes, and was genuinely astonished; every table at Loan’s Café was occupied. I couldn’t believe it; after a moment I turned back to Loan, “It’s your food that’s done this, not me.”

“You,” she replied warmly, “it was you made the people stop, take notice my food … Thank you, Tim.”

I stared at the face of the elated Viet woman and smiled; it was surprising just how satisfying it felt, knowing that I had made her so happy.

“So what you want?” she asked again, laughing, “Anything”.

I grinned, nodded, tilted back my head and in my sharpest Viet accent, announced, “Café sua dah!”

As Loan poured the dollop of condensed milk in the bottom of my iced coffee I gazed around the seating area – she was right, I could recall stopping and speaking to, convincing, to come in for a meal or otherwise, every one of these people over past days, and now they were repeat customers – then promptly swallowing my outpouring of pride, which was threatening to pour out all over the floor, I breathed in the fetid air and continued waiting on my sumptuous Vietnamese iced coffee.

Taking my beverage, I went to sit out on the road where, in fairness, the only spare seats were located anyway. I had barely sat down when I saw, walking in my direction, just one more of Vietnam’s utterly stunning woman. ‘Do I bother?’ I asked myself, ‘Or do I just let her walk on by then later when I’m berating myself wishing I’d stopped and chatted with her I can console myself with the reality that there was never really any hope with a woman like her anyway?’

“Ah, sin loi (Ah, excuse me).” No, I didn’t seem to have a lot of decision-making power anymore; my brain just did what it wanted to do, and I had to go along with that.

She slowed her progress and looked shyly in my direction.

I stood up.

She looked startled, impressed even, stopped, appeared to slightly overbalance, and took a small step backward.

“Sin chow (Hello),” I started again, consciously employing my Viet accent.

She smiled, but with uncertainty.

“Ban co quear com? (How are you today?)”

“Doy quear… (I am fine…),” she said with what I perceived as mild trepidation.

I raised my hands to waist height with splayed fingers to show I meant no harm and, smiling in a hopefully reassuring way, continued my ingratiation, “Den doy la, Tim … Den la gee? (My name is Tim … What is your name?)”

“Den doy la, Lan,” (different Lan to street-vendor Lan; although in fairness I recall pointing out in an earlier instalment how, among the Vietnamese population, names are frequently repeated, so go with it please, this is reality). “Ah, hi, Tim … I speak English, if you’d prefer…?”

“Lan,” I extended my hand, grinning wildly, “pleasure to meet you.”

 

 

Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Wan Moore-Shot

Photography by Justin Knicker Thyme

 

 

Tim Walker’s Vietnam XXXXI

Alright, first, let’s clear up the awkwardness. To all you clever buggers out there, thank you, I am quite aware that the Roman Numeral for 40, 41 and so on, would ordinarily require the use of Roman Numeral ‘L‘ – 50 – which is all fine and accurate but, the issue, I have tried this convention in the past – see, Fustigators – and it just became awkward. Example given, ‘Fustigator XL’ – without ‘XXXIX’ coming before it giving it context, honestly, who the hell knows that ‘XL’ is 40 and not just something quite large? In other words, if somebody is perusing the Your Daily Dose of Profundity site and decides they want to locate, from the ‘Search’ box, say, instalment number 42 – XLII – (which they very well might do because it’s going to be awesome), if they’re regular folk, by which I mean not Roman history fanatics,  honestly, what are they likely to do? Seriously, and this is not a dig at the intelligence of my readers this is reality, given the modern-day proclivity to use numerical numbers rather than Roman ones, most people, let’s be fair, are a touch uncertain of what comes after, say, XXXVIII; indeed, most people would probably, logically, think, ‘Shit, right, if number 39 was XXXIX’ (as it realistically is), ‘then 40 must be XXXX and 41 must be XXXXI, thus 42 will obviously be XXXXII’, which does make for good logic, but it would be erroneous logic nonetheless. (In Roman reality, 40 is ‘XL’ – 10 before 50; thus 41 is ‘XLI’, and 42 is obviously ‘XLII’.) Therefore, I have made the management call and, given there should be only three or four more instalments before the gripping (still 100% reality) conclusion, I am more than comfortable flouting legitimate Roman Numerals for the benefit of our modern-day ease of comprehension.

Hm. After that sizable first paragraph, let’s make the second one tiny. Alright. Done. Good work, team.

Anyway, back in the good old Arsehole of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City, District 1, while everyone was glad to see Stu’s plans for English Teacher grandeur back on track and no one was really giving a damn about my almost-conflict with the man named Gary-Garrick-Derek, when I considered it, I was somewhat disconcerted by Stu’s initial words upon our reunion – I still smelt the booze on his breath and felt his whiskers against my neck as he’d drawled something along the lines of, ‘…thought they might’ve killed ya.’

Now, I understand that in Vietnam, particularly after dark, if one is not constantly on-guard, in fact anyone is susceptible to being mortally injured by another, but Stu had used the pronoun ‘they’, and he had said it with such ominous vehemence – ‘they’ – as though whomever had occupied Stu’s time on that most worrisome of nights, was the same group, or were perhaps affiliated with that same group, of people who he’d thought may have been responsible for my demise. As I said, disconcerting, particularly as it was now accepted up and down Bui Vien that I, the bespectacled Englishman with the multitude of hats, could be found frequently roaming these darkened streets, seeking out scenes of interest or unrest – of course, unbeknown to the scene-makers, all with the projected intention of documenting the aforementioned scenarios upon my return to New Zealand – alone, unguarded and ultimately, at this late stage in my tour, fair to say, with a sense of confidence, or even, as some might have noted, moxie (interesting point, first time ever writing that word; in fact same goes for ‘bespectacled’). It occurred to me as a sudden revelation, however, that even after spending 20-something days canvassing this fetid environment, I still really had no right to be brazen; indeed, in no way should I have been so damned bold. I mean, other than my own basic knowledge of self-defence, I was unprotected. Against multiple assailants I was entirely vulnerable.

At this point I had no real idea why anyone on these crooked streets should want to harm me anyway, although I did suppose that ‘third night on Bui Vien’ unpleasantness may have caused some perceived ‘loss of face’ to various face-holders, and I was now well aware how seriously Asians – namely Vietnamese Asians – tended to respond to people causing depletion of said face; aware furthermore I was just how long they might retain a grudge brought about by this act of so-called face-stripping.

I probably should have been more concerned than I was because ultimately, I didn’t give a toss; these Viet street-youth were largely piss-ants – if that was in fact who was going to be targeting me – they were small, they were weak and, at this time, I felt they scarcely warranted my upset.

Therefore, I wasn’t, upset.

 

 

Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Washer Back Mann

Photography by Te Gunner-Gitcher

 

Tim Walker’s Vietnam XXXX

That well-dressed, paunch-harbouring, self-satisfied, cigar-smoking Yank had been largely forgotten throughout the Stu fiasco, although I could usually sense him a few metres behind me, pompously puffing away on his cigar.

After a small ‘welcome home’ ceremony for the beloved one, Stu disappeared up to his room to sleep…

It mightn’t have been my business but, so determined I was to ensure nothing disastrous should befall my new best friend, Stu, I took the initiative regardless; the night of his return, and before I had watched him clamber drunkenly up the hotel steps to his room, I had checked with the man himself then confirmed via his electronic recording device (because let’s be fair, at that point in the night I was struggling to believe a word that came out of Stu’s mouth), and was able to clarify that the date/time of his first ‘English Teacher’ interview was still over a full day in the future. I then relayed this day/time to Lieu at the desk, requesting ‘If Stu was not out of bed by a day/time several hours before the aforementioned day/time, please, afford him a rigorous wake-up call’.

…“Hey Tee-im…?” I heard from behind me. I didn’t turn immediately; I knew exactly who it was, and I just needed a moment to choke down the lump of abhorrence that was forcing its way up my oesophagus. I didn’t like the way he looked, I didn’t like the way he sounded, I didn’t like the way his shirt pulled tight over his belly when he sat back and smugly chewed on the tip of his fat cigar. Add to that, I didn’t like his demeanour, I didn’t like his aura, I didn’t like his accent, I probably didn’t like the way he smelled, I didn’t like his haircut and I guess, ultimately, I didn’t like this guy’s face.

“Teim,” he called again. I could just visualise him resting complacently on his chair, leaning back with all the self-satisfaction of a preening pussycat, speaking effortlessly and without exerting a muscle because nothing was worth this guy’s time or effort; making no attempt to engage anything but his self-indulgent Yankie-doodle voice-box…

Against my better judgement I half-turned and gave my addresser a nod.

…“Good to see your friend back safe, ay?” he asked.

I gave an affirming flick of the eyebrows and half-smile in response.

He smiled broadly and moved his arms in what appeared to be a languid ‘come hither’ gesture, “Come on, sit, I’ll buy you a drink.”

I had to do it, had to find out for sure if this was the creep supposedly hacking Facebook accounts, casting scurrilous aspersions and making juvenile threats, all in the supposed quest to ensure he was successful in wedding a Vietnamese woman half his age; I needed to know if this was, after all, the infamous, ‘Gary’. With adrenaline pulsating throughout my body I slowly stood, then even more slowly pushed in my timber chair, hearing it scrape across the timber deck (the height of irreverence in Vietnamese etiquette; I needed him to know that I didn’t give a damn about proper behaviour), lifted my fruity/bourbony concoction, turned back from the road and made my way towards the Loan’s café counter, beside where the Yankie-doodle arse-wipe poser was relaxing with all the grace of a sunbathing manatee. I placed my drink on his table and took a chair, offering my hand, “Tim.”

“Yeah, hey Tim,” he clasped my hand in an expectedly pithy grip, “Loan told me your name before, says you’re a real good guy.”

I cringed at his pronunciation of the Vietnamese name ‘Loan’; just as any Westerner would articulate the word ‘loan’ – Lown as opposed to her actual name, Luhn – nevertheless, I smiled and nodded, “Yes, Luhn, is a good woman.” I then hesitated, cursing my anxious disposition, “So, when you’re at home, what do they call you?”

“Oh, yeah, sorry Tim, right,” he leaned forward, unintentionally I’m sure, exemplifying his smarmy grin. “My name’s Gar –” he began; I froze, but then, instead of adding the ‘ee’ sound as I had expected would come next, he enunciated what, to my ears, was “– rick.”

I leaned forward, casually sipped my drink, consciously trying to outwardly calm myself, and looked askance at the man; inwardly trying frantically to decipher the dual syllable sound that I had just heard. After two enduring seconds I conceded, “I’m sorry, I think I missed that, did you say, ‘Garrick’?”

He just smiled at me, that same, intentionally endearing but realistically off-putting, grin, and, in what were probably supposed to be passively-aggressively patronising words, assured me, “Sure, no, no, it’s my accent, I’m Canadian … Sorry Tim, no, I said my name’s, Garrick.”

Seriously? I thought. Is this guy messing with me? I’d said, ‘Garrick’, then he’d said ‘No, no, it’s Garrick’. Is he trying to screw with my brain here? ‘Garrick’ versus ‘Garrick’ – where is the disparity? More interminable moments passed, then it came to me; probably it was a mildly nasally voice coupled with a presumed sloppy palate mingled with a thick North American accent – idiot, it wasn’t ‘Garrick’ it was ‘Derek’.

“So, Derek,” I said, backing myself, putting it out there (to which he smiled and nodded, indicating my gamble had payed), “what brings you to Vietnam?”

“Me?” he looked surprised at the question, “Why, Tim, I live in Vietnam.”

“Oh, wow … Do you live in Ho Chi Minh City, then?”

“Yep, sure do,” he confirmed (as, with an overwhelming sense of speculation cum paranoia I screened his accent, almost certain that what I was hearing was in fact little more than an overcooked US accent), “I work at the Casino … Have you been?”

“Huh, no,” I said without raising my eyes.

“Sure, not a gambler.”

“Oh no,” I laughed, “I most certainly am a gambler, it’s just that, on Bui Vien, I’m finding that, basically, every night’s a gamble and, typically, I can’t afford to gamble every night.”

Derek chuckled, “Sure, I hear you there, Tim … So, are you winning?”

“No shit no,” I replied without even needing to consider.

“Yep, that sounds like Ho Chi Minh, alright – you should come to the Casino, try your luck there…?”

Yeah, the frustrating thing about this supposed ‘Derek’ – who had supposedly taken a Vietnamese wife some years earlier, whom had supposedly blessed him with a brood of Vietnamese children – was that, once I got past all his perceived negative points (including that ghastly Canadian accent, ay), he was actually quite a likeable bloke.

In fact, I had further drinks with ‘Derek’, indeed, ‘Derek’ introduced me to his (stunning) wife and their four (gorgeous) Canadian-Vietnamese children; so now my paranoid theory about Derek being Gary was collapsing around me and I felt as though I was going to drown amid the rubble of its destruction…

Skip to the present. I am currently aware that the man named Gary Cooper, the 50+-year-old man who was evidently more appealing to the 26-year-old Lin Aug than I was, operates a menswear chain out of the US (his large fiscal package undoubtedly the reason Lin’s Viet father – who was in fact several months younger than Gary himself – gave them his apparent blessing to wed), and appears to make frequent trips to and around the Asian continent (go ahead, I did, find the creep on Facebook, send him an ‘embarrassed’ emoji, if you like); then Derek, the man I met out front of the Yen Trang while my brain was spinning from being perpetually bludgeoned with buttloads of duplicity then further cudgelled with, and finally asphyxiated in, the leftover bucketfuls of shit, reportedly, worked Casino surveillance and, despite my initial assessments, probably deserved every iota of happiness that his life, and wife, in Ho Chi Minh City was affording him.

…I recall seeing Stu, some days later, looking a veritable picture of health, bounding down the hotel steps, presumably on the way to his interview, departing from our lives without so much as a wave, a hug, or kiss, or even a peck on the cheek and a gentle ‘I love you’; I wondered if he’d been able to get out of bed on time or if Lieu had had to deliver him his wakeup call.

No question, I was ready to go home (although in fairness, I recall thinking that very thing by the end of week one). I was a wreck but the worst thing, I felt as though Vietnam had beaten me again.

Mind you, what I did not realise is that the glorious Vy (current tour, first night) was set to reappear and even Mai (2017 and 18 tours), would make a strange kind of, belated, if you like, final effort for me (which, now I hear myself say it, sounds more bizarre than the moment itself).

Only a few days to go and, where I feel as though things are naturally, finally, winding down for a steady transition to the end, my God, if I only knew the shitstorm that was brewing over the Vietnam horizon.

 

 

Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Ana Spected

Photography by D Lights

 

 

Tim Walker’s Vietnam XXXIX

Shortly before that all-important ’24 Hours Missing’ stage, seemingly under his own volition, Stu had returned to us; still worrying me though was the genuine concern I’d seen in his eyes when he spoke of fearing for my safety.

“Dude,” ignoring his drunken ramblings I commenced my interrogation, “where have you been – where did you go?”

I watched Stu’s eyes widen in recollection, watched the big stupid smile grow bigger and stupider, before refocusing and looking at me, “When?” he asked with a puff of air, like I was playing some silly game with him.

“Last night man … We were ready to go, you ducked back inside to grab your fucking jandals, and that was it, you never came back out … So what happened – where’d ya go man?”

Again, Stu put on his thinking face. I awaited explanation. Stu stared at me as though waiting for me to speak. I nodded, prompting him. Stu snapped back to his thinking face.

“Stu,” after an enduring silence I decided this was going to take more than basic interrogation techniques; I needed to lead the witness. “Last night, Crazy Girls…”

Stu nodded, an even larger grin forming on his face, as recollection seemingly returned.

“…You remember, we were at Crazy Girls, yeah? But then we left…”

I watched Stu’s face, taken by stupor as, looking now to the sky with glazed eyes and a wide grin, he seemed to slowly mouth the words ‘crazy girls’.

“…Rather, I left, Stu, but you didn’t leave, you went back in for your fucking jandals, then you didn’t come back out – remember?”

Stu was nodding rhythmically; I was unsure if it was agreement or if there was a song in his head.

I glanced down at the pitcher of local beer clenched in his fist, from which he periodically swigged, and which was periodically sloshing onto his legs as he knelt at my side. “Have you been drinking since then – since last night?”

Stu smiled and slowly nodded.

“So where’d ya go, where’d ya sleep, man – have you slept at all?”

Again, Stu became vacant; I gradually came to realise that I was witnessing a veritable shell of a man who, across the last 24 hours, had not stopped imbibing alcohol, much less taken a few moments to lie down.

Suddenly I had a sickening thought. “Stu, check your wallet.”

Stu did as he was told, maintaining eye contact as he reached around to his back pocket. I heard the button ‘pop’ (a fastened back pocket is the only kind of back pocket that one should ever use to hold a wallet in Vietnam); I breathed relief as I sighted the palm-sized leather envelope. Still though I felt bile in my throat. “How much money’s left, bud?”

Stu very slowly, gingerly, as if he was snooping in his little sister’s diary, pawed through the various folds, the pouches of his wallet. I watched his eyes again widen then, with fingers of one hand splaying the divisions of inner material, above my table he speechlessly inverted and shook the wallet. Three crumpled tens and a twenty dong note fell out (they never bother with the small stuff).

I nodded knowingly, “How much should be there – how much did you have yesterday?”

Stu’s typically swarthy façade turned pale; he looked horrified as if just now realising what must have happened.

“It’s cool man, that kind of shit happens here – your cards are still there though, yeah?”

Once more, Stu checked; he came up nodding, yeah.

For the first time since Stu’s disappearance I felt light-hearted; thankfully, it seemed, Stu was not about to become another victim of the Curse of Vietnam. Mind you, I still had a lot more interrogation to do before I was letting the man away tonight. “So how much money were you carrying, bud – how much did they get?”

Just like that Stu was sober (more sober, anyway). “At the airport,” I couldn’t even tell what accent he was currently employing, such was the meek nature of his speech, “I converted ten thousand rand…”

I recall being shocked; in fact utterly aghast – 10,000? According to my hasty arithmetic, 10,000NZD would have been around 150.000.000VND; enough to buy a new car in Vietnam. I calmed myself though, knowing the rand was worth somewhat less than the dollar, and tried desperately to recall the NZD/South African Rand (yeah, I couldn’t even remember their damned currency code, and no, thank you, it is not ‘SAR’, in fact, as I recalled at the time, SAR was reserved for the Saudi Arabian Riyal) exchange rate; generally, similarly to international capital cities, international currency codes along with the approximate exchange rates they represent is something that I pride myself on knowing by heart (evidently, South Africa’s currency code is ZAR and it turns out there are currently, approximately 9.5ZAR in 1NZD). Alas in this case, at this time, consoling a dejected Stu, with that particular line of recollection not forthcoming, it was all I could do to downplay his obvious sense of violation…

Skip forward to the present. Having spent a great deal of time considering the aforementioned chain of events, I would like to offer my best theory on what happened that night. Here it is: Stu was spotted, by me, on multiple occasions throughout the night, in discussions with a rather large, somewhat ill-favoured, woman who, apparently, had some indirect affiliation with Crazy Girls bar; I believe she was an ‘errand lady’ or something. I never pushed Stu at the time regarding the content of these conversations, suffice to say the (clearly English speaking) woman in question appeared delighted to have such a charming gentleman taking the time to speak with her. Now, whether Stu did or whether Stu did not, at the height of his inebriation, deliberately organise an after-hours tryst with one or more disreputable ladies, is incidental. The reality, as I believe it to have happened, is that when Stu went back into that bar to ‘collect his jandals’, his mind had become distracted, his plans diverted by lingering female staff members then, suggestable as (anyone could appreciate) he already was, this level of intoxication was then likely heightened/prolonged through whatever toxin these crazy girls had at their disposal at the time – alcohol, cannabis, cocaine, crack cocaine, meth, or it might have been any number of colourful pills I would always see floating around on tabletops in that bar. They will then have done exactly what those crazy girls in Crazy Girls bar are paid to do – they will have entertained the hell out of our poor Stu. The thing though about entertainment, particularly entertainment in Vietnam, it seldom comes free; thus while he sat in an entertained stupor those licentious ladies will have been steadily depleting his wallet – not stealing strictly, simply charging a(n exorbitant) fee for services rendered – until his wallet was bare, of all but 50 dong. I didn’t ask at the time, but Stu would soon have discovered just how much the possible trips to ‘ATM!’ (positioned conveniently about 12 metres from the Crazy Girls doorway) cost him, because an empty wallet, to those girls, means nothing. When it comes to extortion of White men, Vietnamese woman are merciless.

…Depending on how much money he spent that night of his own freewill, given that 10,000ZAR is tantamount to somewhere in the vicinity of 16.000.000VND, fair to say Stu was taken for more than ten but less than fifteen million dong; to put this in perspective, the boots that I had made in Hoi An in 2017, my ‘Vietnam boots’, cost 1.400.000VND.

In other words, effectively, Stu lost ten pairs of exquisitely hand-crafted, Vietnamese leather boots that night; judging by his post-warzone appearance though, he had one hell of a time doing it so I guess, it could have been worse.

Fair to say most men have a blowout during their first week in Ho Chi Minh City.

 

 

Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Vienna Meece

Photography by Viola A Shurn

 

 

Tim Walker’s Vietnam XXXVIII

I wandered home from Crazy Girls bar that night, alone, confused; what had happened to Stu? In fairness anything might have happened to Stu; highly intoxicated, first-time-in-Vietnam, solo traveller Stu, and while I wasn’t worried per se – reckon the man could talk his way of any situation – it was certainly odd.

As it happened, a few days after that ordeal Noobie emerged from her den up the dark end of Bui Vien and afforded me a visit at the Yen Trang hotel (in reality I think her conscience was eating at the inside of her brain); I was stationed outside Loan’s Café at the time, contentedly sipping a glass of café sua da, when she showed up. Deciding it might be nice for Noobie and me to have lunch together, and although I was aware her preference is pizza, in buying a greasy meal of ‘Hamburger and Fries’ from Loan’s Café, I really thought I was doing the next best thing; she nevertheless grumbled and moaned her way through much of it, clearly pining for her squalid upstairs shared-living quarters also the dankness of the Crazy Girls bar and obviously not wanting to be there in the daylight much less the open air, additionally complaining of a sore stomach throughout…

I was asking around, but nobody had seen Stu; of course, everybody remembered Stu – that amazing British/South African dude whose dreamy smile and radiated warmth appeared to have touched the hearts of all involved (women were smitten and guys had man-crushes) – they just could not seem to explain his disappearance. At this point, while I was still not willing to concede ‘worry’, upon having made it out unscathed to then witness your buddy dash back inside a seedy bar, to fetch their footwear which they have inexplicably removed and left therein, then not return, if nothing else did elicit a decided sense of bemusement. That afternoon I sat in my usual afternoon spot and, as I usually do from my afternoon spot, I pondered.

…Noobie’s stomach pains were worrying; she had assured me they weren’t the usual bought of womanly pains and in fact they’d been a feature of almost all our time together. Evidently alcohol aggravated the discomfort which, given her profession, made it particularly worrying (I didn’t say anything at the time but shooting around my brain were the terms ‘ulcer’, ‘cyst’, ‘tumour’, ‘stomach cancer’ among others) therefore, being the gentleman I am, I had insisted that whenever I bought us drinks at her bar, she was to make mine the regulation Johnny Walker Black Label but I wanted hers to be Coke, or ginger ale, or something of a similar hue that she could pass off as alcohol but which was not going to aggravate her stomach pains like alcohol did…

Since checking into the Yen Trang and becoming a regular patron of Loan’s Café, as well as perceiving passers-by in their daily activities, using my limited grasp of basic Vietnamese, (also some English depending who was the target audience) I had been passing the days in a concerted effort to drum up custom for the incipient business that was Loan’s Café; before Stu arrived I had been relying on a charming demeanour and mispronounced vowels to win over tourists and locals respectively – then imagine my delight to have at my disposal a bona fide advertising guy. That was it, I was now officially concerned for Stu’s wellbeing.

…In fact the masterful deception of a bargirl drinking soft drink and passing it off as liquor (in order to satisfy the ‘bargirl’ expectation) is not a concept for which I can take credit; as I’m sure is documented in one of this year’s earlier instalments, given that it’s the bargirls who work the floor and it is also the bargirls who work the bar, the duplicity of ‘false drink representation’ was a scam to which I fell victim during my first week frequenting Crazy Girls; if a lady feels she is becoming perilously inebriated while her mark is not, instead of pouring a round of, for example, vodka for her and the aforementioned male, she’ll make his a vodka and hers a tonic water or similar, invariably still charging ‘220’ (the price of two alcoholic drinks) for the service.

Evening had descended upon Bui Vien and still the people were bereft of Stu. Several hours earlier Loan from the cafe had asked me if I knew of Stu’s whereabouts then later Lieu from reception had asked me the very same thing; his room at the Yen Trang was still ‘occupied’ yet he was not there.

Stu had come to Vietnam, following a career in advertising, as an insanely youthful 45-year-old man (in fact upon meeting for the first time, the question had come up of our respective ages, where he had – at the time, of course, drunkenly – responded, ‘Guess how old I am then’. I had said, ‘I dunno, let’s say, what, 35…?’. Then regarding his attempt at my age, ‘Hm, your look, your overall presence, hm, I reckon you sound, oh, reckon you’d be, say, 45…?’ Suffice to say we were both surprised; more-so to find that the correct ages had been guessed, they were just around the wrong way), where Stu was intending to secure employment as an English Teacher for Vietnamese students.

In Vietnam ‘English Teachers’ are very well paid, reportedly, even by Western standards. I believe Stu had lined up a number of interviews over the coming days and I was becoming concerned (I suppose like every good fleeting acquaintance ought) that should he not resurface soon he might end up like so many other Western-Vietnamese hopefuls; come to Vietnam on a one-way ticket, ready to shirk the old life of obligation, keen to live it up amid a world of heat and beauty, excited to throw off the shackles of oppression and just cut loose – only to blow out in the first few days, to become disorientated by flashy lights and seductive aromas, to grow infatuated with so much smooth skin and batting eyelids, enamoured by promises of unimaginable delights and to be cajoled into wilfully giving away everything, then be forced to abjectly retreat, with nothing, and to mope home just a few weeks’ later on a friend’s credit card, bewildered, penniless and dejected, yet another victim of the insidious ‘Curse of Vietnam’.

I was determined to not let the same fate befall Stu; it seemed like he was genuinely keen to make a go of this ‘English Teacher’ racquet and he was, after all, ‘such an amazing guy’. At this point, relaxing out front of Loan’s Café as I was, in the semi-darkness with a fruit concoction pleasantly spiked with a double measure of Beam, I am not ashamed to admit, I was very concerned about Stu.

That was when I heard it, the unmistakable South African timbre – momentarily I forgot whether this meant he was drunk or sober – so glancing to my left, to the backpackers’ hostel, which appeared little more than a threshold for scantily clad European women – often giggling and usually trailed by a horde of eager men – to emerge and disappear, along with the seating out front of this threshold, there he was.

Engaged in one of his fabled ‘heart-to-heart sales pitches’ Stu had employed his typically stooped posture leaned over a table, placing himself awkwardly up on one shoulder to ensure eye-contact with his audience, positioned ostensibly at the ‘behest of his client’, and looking as though he was attempting to convince this (presumably English-speaking) tourist of something rather complicated. From my position not ten metres behind Stu (admittedly, feeling massive relief), in full view of the adjacent seating arrangement but technically at a different establishment, in a loud voice I called, simply, “Stu you wanker.”

I watched his ears prick up, watched him slowly turn; the grin, the animated expression on his face telling me that yes, he was still very much the drunkard. Standing now at full height Stu threw his arms in the air as if in celebration, “Tim you cunt!” he yelled with similar volume to my own then, dismissing his prospective client, slowly jogged the short distance between us. He stopped half a metre from where I sat and took a knee by my side, his mouth agape in a wide smile; I turned, grinning and nodding slowly, gazing upon the droopy-eyed, swaying specimen before me. With that, unexpectedly, Stu lurched forward, throwing his arms around my shoulders, stuffing his whiskery face into my neck. A moment later he pulled back, “Oh Tim mate,” slobber speckled my left cheek as he enunciated in his South African tone, “it’s so good to see you … I thought they might have killed ya.”

 

 

Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Stuart Reet-Urn

Photography by Con Fusan

 

Tim Walker’s Vietnam XXXVII

I was battling. My head felt on the verge of combustion. Too much information coming in; so much unwelcome speculation going out.

That evening I sat, sipping one of Loan’s brilliant fruit concoctions – which I’d had her spike with a generous measure of bourbon whiskey (not real whisky but best she could do) – and tried to straighten out the recent influx of knowledge in my brain…

Lin Aug appears to have married a Yank by the name of Gary Cooper.

Gary Cooper appears to be some deranged middle-aged creeper.

Across Ho Chi Minh City, sex is money and money is love.

As established last year, ‘HCMC is the unequivocal arsehole of Vietnam’.

Most people here are not above lying and/or cheating to get what they want.

Men don’t typically work, and Ho Chi Minh City is ultimately run by women.

Bars in Southeast Asia use ‘bargirls’ to seduce men/promote the sale of liquor.

A family’s eldest daughter is beholden to provide for her parents in later life.

That being so, ‘Moneeey!’ is an eldest daughter’s number one priority.

Eldest daughters will say and/or do just about anything in the pursuit of money.

A bargirl will act/say however/whatever is required to push the sale of liquor.

Pleasant as they may appear, in Vietnam, no person is to be trusted.

Most Vietnamese women are not ‘prostitutes’, yet many accept money for sex.

Sex is money and money is love.

…I had reached the final week in my tour of duty; there was a chance I was going to make it after all. It was from this state of mind that I came upon perhaps the most enchanting character (and as it would turn out, perilously so) who I would meet while in Vietnam. I ran into this paragon of charisma, this personification of enigma, out front of the Yen Trang hotel on Bui Vien Street. Name was Stu, and Stu did what he could (I originally imagined unintentionally but now am not so sure) to ensure that in my final week, I would struggle to make it out alive…

Perusing Facebook profiles of the few Vietnamese ladies I had come to know well – then perusing further, more deeply into Facebook’s astonishing breadth of stunning Vietnamese women – I noticed there was a hallmark; a quirk or idiosyncrasy that many of these ladies tended to project in their photographs – just as one might witness a Japanese person displaying the ‘peace’ sign, in these Vietnamese women’s photographs the fingers of one hand were brought up into a light fist but with their thumb and forefingers held together, with these digits crossed at the first knuckle (also I imagine, in real time, gently oscillating), in the internationally recognised symbol of, there it is, moneeeeeeey!

…He wore a hat not unlike my own, dressed not unlike myself, displayed mannerisms not unlike my own, was a solo traveller not unlike myself; in fact the first time I saw Stu, seated as he was at Loan’s café, looking down as I was from the Yen Trang hotel lobby, such was the nature of his presence, indeed such was the present fug-state of my own brain, I actually thought, albeit briefly, that I may have been having an out-of-body experience and, in total seriousness, I actually thought, if just for a moment, that the gentleman I was viewing down below was me…

One afternoon, a few days before I was due to leave Vietnam for Singapore, Noobie came by the Yen Trang, because apparently, after all I had done, all I had given her, she believed she owed me one last visit (I would have liked to have learned the formula she used to equate those factors; over the past month I must have spent around twenty nights at her bar, with every pair of drinks I bought us earning her a commission, and at an average spend of five million dong per night, thus, 20 X 5,000,000 = 1…?

…When he was sober, he was clearly British; when intoxicated it could not be overlooked that Stu came from South Africa. I suspect this was a game he liked to play with people, although it did not take long to appreciate that this – evidently England born but South Africa grown – former advertising executive might just have been the most charismatic chap I’d met to date; certainly, Stu knew how to speak to people’s souls.

That night I showed Stu along Bui Vien; I wasn’t surprised to end up at Crazy Girls bar, nor was I surprised when, around eight hours later, the place began shutting up for the night. Stu had become exceedingly drunk in the meantime; that didn’t surprise me greatly either, the guy was a big drinker. He and I began making our way out and onto the street then unsurprisingly, Stu realised he’d forgotten his jandals.

He ducked back inside; I waited for over ten minutes, but he didn’t come back out.

 

 

Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Darce Ted Lee

Photography by Anne Ticks

Tim Walker’s Electric

One month ago, I found cause to cease my incessant derision of the New Zealand Government and the fuel prices they so clearly dictate.

In fairness the Government still pisses me off and even when my preferred right-wing party is back in power, you can be damn sure I’ll still be vociferous in my bemoaning of the Opposition.

Back before Christmas 2018, as documented in an earlier instalment, our beloved Jacinda reduced the price of petrol from an unprecedented $2.45 per litre to a decidedly reasonable $2.03, then assured besotted Kiwis there would be ‘no more price hikes in the next twelve months’.

As I saw it, and despite our Prime Minister’s mellifluous wording surrounding the issue, fuel prices were only ever going to become increasingly unaffordable, and the thing is, although I was only clocking up a comparatively meagre 4 to 500 kilometres in a week with a relatively fuel-efficient car and with an extremely conservative right foot, I was done having my weekly budget dictated by the fluctuating cost of petrol.

Since Jacinda’s pre-Christmas fuel cost reduction – ultimately Government respite from massive Government tax increases – the price at the pump has been increasing steadily, by at least one cent a week, as we all should have known it would (from $2.03 over Christmas, what is it now – what will it be this time next year?).

After a great deal of researching and an even greater deal of real searching, I stepped into the 21st century of motoring and purchased an electric car.

The Nissan Leaf goes like a dream – in that no one on the outside can hear it running – it is remarkably well appointed – the interior is plush and reportedly constructed from recycled materials – it is technologically advanced – from my old-school perspective it’s dead-set mind-blowing – and, other than a few trivial, superficial aspects, one month on, I have zero complaints about my new car.

Nissan’s entry into the world of Electric Vehicles appears to have been a successful one, devoid of any significant mishaps; the moment one begins to operate a Leaf it becomes clear that these are well thought out vehicles. In order to keep up with the world’s growing desire for sustainability Nissan could have so easily rushed into production of their debut EV, neglecting vital aspects thereby bringing to the market a car of substandard quality; Nissan most certainly have NOT done that. The countless electronic features – Keyless Entry so you’re not always digging your keys out of your pocket, or the Reverse Camera which I had thought would be a waste of time (I back with my mirrors, don’t try to change me) but is actually awesome because you no longer have to leave that half-metre ‘gap of uncertainty’ between bumpers, or Charging Timer so you can choose when and for how long you charge, and then there’s that little (electric rather than electronic) light that comes on when you clip open the charge-port flap just in case it’s too dark to see what you’re doing – are so logical yet are the kind of thing that could have so easily been overlooked by a manufacturer trying to save time or, pointedly, money.

Like most cars, driven economically, the Nissan Leaf is not a fast car yet like some other cars, when one totally disregards economy, one finds themselves driving a very fast car indeed; I can comfortably, sedately, drive over 100 kilometres in my 2013 Leaf (after around a 4% annual battery degeneration), or I can race, foot right up it, for about 40.

Most evenings I sedately drive a 70 to 80 kilometre circuit, then park up and put the car on charge overnight. Given my solo living arrangements, also my inherently frugal nature, in the past a heavy month of electricity usage would have cost me under $60; charging my Leaf effectively doubles that thus, fair to say it is costing me around $2 a day to run – used to be more like $20.

At this rate, and providing no major expenses along the way (which after numerous reviews, I can’t help feeling, this is the expectation), based on a past fuel bill of over $4000 per year, in three to four years I’ll have funded my Nissan Leaf in petrol savings alone; then let’s not forget there is also the cost of lubricating an internal combustion engine, and the associated engine wear/repairs/costs that come with that.

Of course I understand that electric motors wear and may similarly require repairs but come on, electric motors have far fewer moving parts and if they are not abused (thinking of an antique shearing plant motor in a hundred-year-old woolshed that still ticks away), they can go forever.

I’m doing my bit for the environment, too, which is additionally awesome.

 

 

Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Leigh Fuss Great

Photography by Nee San Leif