Monthly Archives: September 2017

Tim Walker’s Vietnam IX

From Halong Bay we bussed back to Hanoi, and checked back in to our inner city hotel.

While the majority of the group were soon to be heading home or moving on to another area of Southeast Asia, I was booked into that hotel for yet another night…

I was shattered which, as I considered it, did make a lot of sense. Nevertheless I felt good. I felt as though my intention had been fulfilled; I had gone into this excursion with the intention of experiencing the real Vietnam and I reckon I had done just that.

…Despite my fatigue, the sense of liberty, the excitement I felt at finally being alone in this God-forsaken land flooded over me like a surge of ocean tranquillity. While the Intrepid trip had been wonderfully organised and brilliantly put together, I could finally stop feeling like I was having to perform with a certain level of decorum; I could finally stop with the acting…

I’m guessing that for those of you fine folk who have been taking the time to peruse each ‘Vietnam’ instalment it might come as a surprise to hear that my actions, until this point, have been in the least inhibited by thoughts of ‘decorum’ but, believe or don’t, this ‘Vietnam’ series has been an example of me on (close to) my best behaviour; the fact that I have entered into potentially dangerous situations, the fact that I have come so close at times to utter calamity, chaos, or worse, is simply the result of my irrepressibly inquisitive nature and, indeed I am certain, had I been content just to be a ‘tourist’, along with the rest of my tour group, my Vietnam excursion would have resulted in nothing untoward befalling me; but how dull would that have been? I’d have turned around and gone home having learned nothing about the ways of Socialist Vietnam, and that, in my opinion, would have been an entirely wasted trip. Alright, back on task: the time has just passed 11 a.m., therefore I now have half a day and one night before I am scheduled to be taxied to Noibai Airport, Hanoi.

…First order of business, I went back up to my room, locked the door behind me, went into the bathroom and brushed my teeth…

I was fortunate that most hotels in Vietnam provide a daily supply of single-use toothbrushes because, while I had been sure to bring my fully charged electric toothbrush, after ‘losing’ my bag in Ho Chi Minh City only to have it returned to me some days later, having been clearly repacked in the meantime, I found that in the course of those bag-snatchers’ unruly repacking, my toiletries bag – once positioned carefully in the end of my luggage bag so as not to squash the contents – had been completely squashed thereby activating the switch on my electric toothbrush, meaning that its fully charged battery – which I had hoped, in Vietnam’s warm conditions, would provide around 35 half-arsed brushes – must have been buzzing away for at least an hour before the battery ran out then, lo and behold, but as I suspected would be the case, Vietnamese power sockets do not take Western plugs.

…I rinsed under the sink faucet – then swigged a few more gulps of the smelly liquid – the overpowering chlorination ultimately forcing me away, before walking back into the main room, turning the air condition down to 14 degrees, and collapsing on the bed…

When I woke my skin was chilled. I checked my watch; it was almost 4 p.m. Nice one. I stood and grabbed one of the two bottles of water which had mysteriously appeared on the sideboard during the past few hours.

…I maintain I am typically a light sleeper, I just think Vietnamese folk move like the wind. It didn’t matter anyway; I’d taken to sleeping in Vietnam with valuables under my pillow. I slid a hand under my pillow and checked my wallet. I was down to my last 2 million dong. I decided to top up for one last time before leaving this land. I headed back down the stairs (most people take the lifts in hotels but I have found that unless you’re transporting a lot of baggage, after waiting for it to arrive then waiting for it to depart, before then waiting for it to move up or down the one or two levels, it’s more efficient just to take the stairs two at a time) and into the hotel foyer…

As well as clandestine water deliveries, over the past few hours my, once peaceful, hotel lobby had become packed with sweating, stinking (as it would turn out, European) youth. My initial assessment: the boys were wearing too many clothes while the girls, even by my liberal standards, were barely wearing enough; tiny European butts hung out of even tinier European cut-offs, while the boys maintained their impeccably fashionable looks with the latest designer sweatshirts and jackets.

…I approached the front desk, saw that my ordinarily friendly, affable and otherwise very accommodating Vietnamese receptionist was, between doing his best to rapidly translate French, Spanish, and Portuguese to Vietnamese while also distributing room-keys to those European folk who insisted that their needs took precedence over all others, looking beyond flustered…

I took a seat next to a pair of frightfully skinny legs that just didn’t seem to stop going up (I stopped tracking their length even before I reached whatever she was wearing around her hips, on account of my own feeling of awkwardness), and waited. Ten minutes later I stood and, pushing my way through the sweaty and stinky European horde, left the hotel.

…Out on the late-afternoon street, buoyed by my newfound sense of freedom, I turned and walked. My new boots felt like gloves on my feet – it was just fortunate the temperature had come down as the only pants I had to go with those boots were a pair of heavy, black denim jeans – my T-shirt read ‘Good Morning Vietnam’, my face was shaven, my glasses were smudged and as was becoming a habit, my Fedora had swung itself around backwards…

I strode around the corner, found a nice alcove which served food and drink, and rested on some children’s furniture. While waiting for my food I struck up a conversation with a well-dressed Vietnamese man who spoke perfect English and, as I was to learn (among other things) in the course of our conversation, he happened to hold a particularly lofty position with the Vietnamese Government. This piece of information thrilled me more than anything happening around me at the time (until just after this), and he appeared happy to indulge my inquisitive nature, ostensibly without fear of consequence. This being so, elated at the opportunity, I forcibly dredged my brain of all the Viet/Politic related questions I could locate, while making a further concerted effort to ingrain in my memory-bank each piece of new information he imparted upon me. (Despite storing every shred of Vietnamese political information he recounted – which shall be documented in a future ‘Tim Walker’s Communism’ piece – I do forget this man’s name.) My food came, I lost focus and when I looked up again the man had disappeared; the evening began to set in. I was enjoying my meal of ‘egg and bread’ when I glanced up to my left, and saw the most gorgeous young lady I’d seen (since, well, the day before). She turned and caught my eye also. In a flagrant act of impulsiveness I called out and made a few nonsensical hand gestures, attempting to wave her down. To my immense surprise she stopped, and turned. Minutes later she and I were sharing a bag of Vietnamese doughnuts – offered by a, conveniently located, passing street vendor – and chatting freely.

…Whatever the nature of my appearance it seemed to appeal to the stunning Taiwanese lass (who, in fairness, had caught my attention primarily because she was so much taller, also broader, than the Asian women I was accustomed to seeing), who, although she spoke with even more of an American/Asian twang than any other I’d encountered, spoke wonderful English and in fact showed herself to be quite the literary scholar. We chatted about everything from Taiwanese food to US politics. Over an hour later we stood and made our way back to my hotel…

She wasn’t a big Trump fan and, as much as I tried to help her to see that Donald J Trump is just a man who is in fact no bigger of a war-monger and antagoniser of North Korean Dictators than George Bush Junior was, she was immovable on her anti-Trump prejudice.

…Just after midnight I bid farewell to the wondrous Taiwanese woman and just like that – as she coined it – our ‘once in a lifetime encounter’ had passed. Watching her walk proudly down the footpath, exuding more self confidence/esteem than any Asian woman I’d met, I considered going to bed; there was, after all, supposedly a taxi coming to collect me a 9 a.m. tomorrow but on the other hand, I mused, why start dialling it back before you absolutely have to? I stepped back out into the Vietnamese street, wondering what else this city had in store for me – wondering what it was going to try and do to me – before morning…

As I swaggered down the street and in the direction of some bright lights, I had a bottle of water in one hand and several million dong in my pocket.

…The next morning I was showered, dressed and downstairs in the lobby, ready to go by 8:45 a.m. The taxi arrived shortly thereafter. I clarified with the driver that he was here for me by name, clarified furthermore that the ride was with Intrepid and that it was paid in advance (I had only 30.000 dong to my name at this point anyway), threw my bags in the car and headed for Noibai Airport…

Things I saw that night, people I met; the antics in which I partook shall never be recounted (and while this decision may indeed be frustrating to some, believe me, if you’d been there, you would understand). In this respect nothing carnal was indulged, but be assured, if you do happen to come to Vietnam and do decide you want your mind comprehensively blown, all you really need do, is be open to it; amazing what can happen if you just allow it.

…The taxi driver was an ebullient Vietnamese man who made constant attempts to fill the car with conversation; conversely I was weary, wary, and constantly on the lookout for anything unexpected. I sat in more or less silence throughout the journey, just waiting, in a state of perpetual readiness, almost expecting something undesirable to happen…

During the drive to Noibai Airport my driver appeared to, much of the time, be away in his own world and – despite travelling on a two-lane road at over 100kph and at times passing groups of slow-moving traffic at four or even five abreast – seemed more concerned with befriending his passenger than ensuring that passenger’s safe passage to the airport.

…As it turned out we made it to the airport, on time and without incident. I disembarked and, although the driver had dropped multiple jubilant hints throughout the ride (actually indicating toward the stack of money left by his last passengers, and praising their goodwill), I left no tip. I hauled my luggage out of the car, thinking to myself dryly: ‘You want a tip, you take it up with your buddies who charge tourists ten times the recommended fare’…

Sitting in the departure lounge of this Vietnamese airport, waiting for the gate to open, unbelievably, I heard a familiar voice. It was my buddy from the flight over, Zac, who, regarding the missing of our Vietnam transfer flight in Malaysia, had made the indignant remark about the airline paying for our lunch.

…I was approached while at Noibai Airport by a pretty young Vietnamese woman who was apparently writing a university thesis – as it turned out, in Seoul, South Korea, where she had in fact won a scholarship – on ‘Tourism in Vietnam’; she handed me a short questionnaire to fill out and said she would return to collect in ten minutes. Ten minutes later she sat down beside me and looked over my answers. She nodded appreciatively, concluding, “Yes, this is the same kind of thing most people said about Vietnam.”

I felt a tinge of guilt, knowing how brutally honest I had been thus how degradingly my answers might be perceived by a local person.

She then turned to me with a solemn expression and a tone of utter humility, and asked, “What do you think Vietnam should do to improve peoples’ perception of our country?”

I almost choked. This woman was brilliant. I turned to her with a disbelieving smile, looked into her deep brown eyes, took a moment, took a breath then said, “Your country is generally wonderful, but there is a large portion of your population who have adopted the culture that Westerners are nothing but walking money-bags to be cheated and swindled … These people need to learn that the best way to make money from tourists is not to cheat them out of it, but to treat them well … For example, I recall kicking up a big fuss when a Ho Chi Minh street vendor tried to dupe me out of eighty dong, then a few days’ later gave a two hundred dong tip to a Hoi An shop-owner who treated me well.”

“Hmm,” she looked thoughtful, “I understand, thank you … Is there anything else you think Vietnam people can do to improve tourism in Vietnam?”

“In fact,” I took another moment, “there is … By far the most stunning ‘tourism’ spot in your country, is Halong Bay, but it’s just so filthy, as though you don’t care about the state of its cleanliness … The same can be said for many of your cities though – I mean, I witnessed Vietnamese people in Hue urinating in the streets, and in Ho Chi Minh City they throw their garbage in the streets – I’m sorry, what was your name?”

“My name is Deborah, I am from Mekong.”

“Hello Deborah, nice to meet you – and you’re from Mekong, Vietnam’s southernmost city.”

A large smile came over her face, “Oh, did you go there?”

“We did, yes, on the tour’s second day.”

“Oh, what did you think – did you like it?”

“Ah, honestly, the smell was ghastly, the water was brown, but yeah, it was a great place … That’s what I mean though, your people, your Government needs to amend the Vietnamese culture, firstly about the way your people treat tourists and secondly, about the way they care for their land … I mean, Vietnam is tourism, right, and the only way your people can ensure that tourism remains a big part of the Vietnamese economy, is if you start operating responsibly, resourcefully and, more importantly, sustainably.”

“Yes, I have heard people say this before … It’s not good.”

I took an additional moment. “I could be good though, Deborah, your people just need to change the way they think – take Mekong, for example … Mekong – in fact in the islands of Nha Trang as well – the primary source of income is the ocean – the fisheries, yes?

She nodded.

“Well I can’t speak for Mekong because I didn’t swim there, but Nha Trang, and more-so in Halong Bay, the oceans are just full of flotsam – you can actually see the debris, rubbish, and tiny pieces of plastic floating in the water in front of your eyes – how are your fisheries going to survive when your oceans are so full of plastic? I mean the fish breath that water, therefore they are forced to breath plastic … I already knew China’s waters were like that, but if Vietnam’s not careful it’s going to go the same way.”

Deborah nodded, ashamedly.

“Look, it’s not even really the peoples’ fault, it’s the fact they’ve had this tourism boom effectively thrust upon them and are basically unprepared for the sudden influxes of everything that comes with that.”

She looked up and smiled. “So, what kind of thing do you think I should write in my thesis?”

“I think you should write that, Vietnam, for the most part, is beautiful … Write that the people, for the most part, are wonderful … Write that Vietnam is potentially the world’s greatest tourist destination … Write that, in order to realise this tourism potential, your people just need to work on developing a culture of ecology, sustainability, and decency … In New Zealand we go to great lengths to keep our waterways clean (I spoke these words on the 27th July 2017 and at that time, I thought little about them), it just takes the combined effort of a nation’s Government and population … New Zealand’s population is around five million and you’re what – about ninety..? – your country’s culture just needs to change, that’s all … Hoi An is without a doubt your greatest city, they’ve already nailed it – so let Hoi An be the template for the rest of Vietnam.”

“Okay, thank you,” she said with a hopeful smile.

“Good luck with your thesis, Deborah, it was nice to meet you.”

“Thank you very much for your help, Tim, I hope you have a good trip back to New Zealand,” she said before standing, shaking my hand and walking away.


My first words to Zac, therefore, referring to an instance now three weeks prior: “Oh hey bud … Did you get any lunch out of Malaysian Air after all that?”

“Oh, yeah man,” he said, sitting down, positively beaming, “couldn’t believe it eh, they gave us all McDonald’s vouchers, so nah, it was good, eh … What about you?”

“Lunch..? Dude, I had a lie down, then had to exchange some of my hard earned dong to pay for some bloody ‘authentic Malaysian cuisine’, airport food.”

“Ah, bugger, man – hey, do you like my teeth?” he smiled a toothy grin, displaying an oral vista more akin to a movie star.

“Nice, man – I don’t recall them being quite so white on the way over..?”

“Nah they weren’t eh, that’s pretty much why I came to Vietnam – had about five grand’s worth of dental work done in Vietnam, cheap as!”

“Huh, nice one – how cheap’s ‘cheap as’?”

“I dunno, few million dong, maybe.”

“You serious? Dude, that is unbelievable.”

“Yeah man, dentists are expensive as shit in New Zealand,” he added with a smirk.

“Yeah, they are, and evidently cheap as fuck in Vietnam … So you spent, what, about a thousand on flights to and from Southeast Asia, then a few hundred more on dental work that would have set you back multiple thousands at home..?”

“Oh, yeah, and also, we had our family reunion there.”

“A family of New Zealanders had their family reunion in Vietnam..?”

“Yeah man, Vietnam’s cheap as!”

“Huh, I suppose you’re right, and once you get past the shit, it’s not a bad country either.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t know, hardly went outside – oh, except to get a massage.”


I didn’t see Zac again until Auckland and – who on account of his reckless spending in Vietnam (despite it being ‘cheap as’) had blown every last NZD he had – bought him a coffee and a muffin from a New Zealand vendor.



Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Ima Dunn

Photography by Tull Nix Yare




Tim Walker’s Election’17

With more changes of leadership in recent times than New Zealand politics has ever seen, the 2017 election was never going to be without undulations.

Around 12 months ago Prime Minister John Key abdicated his reign meaning, in a sight not seen since – in fact the year of my debut vote – 2002, hitherto finance minister and deputy Prime Minister, Bill English took on the leadership role for National but not only that, MP Bill English then became New Zealand’s PM.

This shake-up came sometime after Greens leader Russell Norman had stepped down as head of his failing party to make way for deputy, Metiria Turei; a leadership which collapsed shortly thereafter following revelations of fraudulent benefit practices. This laid the foundation for the emergence of James Shaw who, well, he’s doing his best with what he was given.

Think back to prior to the election before today’s one; in an effort to boost party popularity, ostensibly personable Labour candidate Phil Goff had become leader of the Labour party. Push came to shove and he subsequently stepped aside for up-and-comer David Shearer, who was consequently forced out of way to make room for the almighty David Cunliff who, after steering Labour to its grandest election defeat in history, gracefully left the party. This left an opening for newcomer Andrew Little who, in fairness, I don’t think ever sat truly comfortably in his role as leader of the Opposition; thus it was little surprise when this man, more recently, relinquished control to allow his deputy to take the reins…

I never imagined that a woman who so alarmingly resembles a young Helen Clark could ever be considered ‘attractive’ but (this was an opinion formed by a large portion of Labour supporters so I don’t know how much belief one ought to place that assessment), the much-hyped ‘Jacinda Effect’ came next.

…That is a terrible lot of turmoil for any political party to endure, then just when the Opposition support seemed all but lost, suddenly Labour, who has been well behind in the polls for the better part of a decade, came from behind to again be a genuine contender in this current political race…

No one can deny it; Jacinda Ardern has the best interests of New Zealand at heart. The issue many right-wing supporters are taking with her, is the fact that Jacinda is an idealistic dreamer (I believe ‘hopey-dreamy’ is the accepted political term), with no leadership experience thus no real political wisdom.

…Nobody can be quite sure, but the theory is that this so-called Jacinda Effect has less to do with government policy and more to do with aesthetics; a hypothesis boosted by the consensus that ‘Bill English is too dull’…

Yes, this makes a lot of sense; if there is one area of international governance that is repeatedly being called into question, it’s a lack of exuberance shown by our countries’ respective leaders, and yes, obviously Jacinda’s unshakeable grin and unflappable optimism have the potential to remedy this New Zealand Government shortcoming.

…I just worry, if our nation’s team of resident malcontents do happen to effect a shift in governance, leaving Labour – thus Jacinda – in charge, what might happen when New Zealand starts facing some genuinely difficult issues, things that actually matter and which can’t be remedied with a broad grin, some firm hand gestures and a snappy catchphrase or two…

This is the main issue that I take with saying, ‘Every person who is of a voting age needs to vote.’, because while it may be difficult for us impassioned poliphiles to grasp, many people who are of a voting age, simply, don’t give a damn about politics and if they were to vote, would likely end up making some asinine voting selection based on member attractiveness or charm (which, I assume is why the last election saw Kim Dotcom’s Internet party do so well), and not at all related to government policies, which in the long term, might seriously contribute towards the disruption of a nation’s prosperity.

…Typical of bandwagon jumping Kiwis though, and in fact an exemplary illustration of the fickle nature of people in general, when Jacinda first emerged on the political scene – never mind that she is effectively a succession of Andrew Little and everything for which this man once stood – her novelty factor raised Labour’s popularity by around double. A few weeks’ on, once the voting population have accepted that, while the ‘flavour of the month’ is indeed a superb taste to have in your mouth – for about a month – for the next three years and while running your country..?

Poverty, Health, Law and Order, and Housing are some of the major issues facing New Zealand today; both leading parties are quick to point out the other’s shortcomings on these matters, but any voter who believes that any one of our ‘major issues’ can be remedied simply with a shift in government is, as a political analyst might coin it, ‘a touch hopey dreamy’.

Sadly, this is an example of – as has been thoroughly documented in fine publications such as ‘Tim Walker’s Concern’ – a country with so very little to concern it that it struggles to understand the concept of ‘genuine hardship’. New Zealand’s ‘major issues’, when compared to some of the rest of the world, are almost triviality; our waterways might appear polluted, but that’s because a team of eco-warriors took a camera around New Zealand and photographed whatever dirty, stagnant bodies of water they could find. New Zealand’s ‘starving children’, by world standards, are not ‘starving’, they’re hungry – they’re hungry because their parents don’t prioritise their spending and in likelihood, should never have been allowed to procreate at all. Our hospitals are full because many people panic when they see blood and don’t seem to know how to apply a sticking plaster, or bandage a scraped elbow. Petty crime is rife largely because our Police Force is enfeebled after too many mothers-who-never-should-have-been-allowed-to-procreate procreated thereby raising a generation of (gang related, drug dealing, ultimately good for nothing) delinquents, which is largely the fault of the solo-breeding incentive offered by New Zealand’s DPB (but I don’t see any political party with plans to abolish that, do I?). Houses in Auckland are high because of an under-supply of basic housing in the area caused by an over-population of people in the area, leading to a shortage of land on which to build, in the area. Again, that’s more people than Government.

On the topic of ‘a nation’s genuine concern’, Winston Peters who, after honourably stepping back from politics some years ago only to bumptiously force his way back in to NZ First’s leadership some years later, as always seems to be the case, is reported to be this election’s potential ‘king-maker’; ‘king-maker’ of course being the political term for a party that lacks the ability to garner any real bulk of voter support, but which earns just enough to make them impossible to avoid, and in an MMP system of government, ‘impossible to avoid’ essentially translates to ‘problematic’.

(The following was to be this article’s leading paragraph; alas it kept having paragraphs written on top of it until) Paddy Gower called it ‘the most exciting election build-up in New Zealand history’, but then, he’s a little odd too so, in this election, I still don’t know who to trust.

Vote responsibly, New Zealand.



Article by Tim Walker

Edited by E Luck-Shinn

Photography by Bill Dip



Tim Walker’s Vietnam VIII

I have never understood why I did what I did next, but perhaps storming out of my room, wallet clenched in one hand, head down, wearing nothing but tight black underwear; striding down to the ATM on the corner to replenish my funds with an additional three million dong, made me feel somehow less naked.

Maybe it somehow mitigated the sense of violation I was currently experiencing by accepting last night’s loss as ‘just one of those things that happens to tourists’, thereby enabling me push the memory from the fore of my mind – where it was currently beating at the inside of my skull, screaming at me about something to do with ‘…call yourself a light sleeper..?!’ – to somewhere nearer the long-term recollection bank, thus allowing me to move past the entire ordeal…

Alternatively, this surreptitious act of ‘refinancing’ likely aided in the delusion I was quickly fabricating to reassure myself that no, there had not been a man or men last night with the audacity to let themselves into my room before turning on the light and going through my belongings then helping themselves to my carefully managed remaining funds while probably laughing at the idiot Westerner lying comatose on his mattress thus oblivious to whatever level of deceit Vietnam wishes to effect upon him; no, that preposterous turn of events could have in no way happened – I must have lost all my money some other way and just forgotten about it – so I should now forget this outrageous notion of ‘duplicity in Vietnam’ and simply continue to ‘enjoy’ all that this ‘wonderful’ country has to offer.

…From Nha Trang we took some more overnight trains, allowing me to become witness to further criminal acts – where my silently rolling over and, from my bottom bunk bed, ‘unintentionally’ kicking one of these men in the leg, as he attempted to plunder the pillow in the bed above me, I like to think prevented one such act from being perpetrated – to end up in the city of Hoi An…

Having endured and left behind Ho Chi Minh City, Nha Trang, also the ghastly (but admittedly, highly convenient) overnight trains that folk are forced to use to go between these destinations, I can honestly not say a bad word about Hoi An.

…The city is lovely and – having reportedly some years back fallen under the leadership of a man who abhorred thievery, treachery, and in general anything lawless, leading to the unequivocal and immediate incarceration of any character seen to be practising these acts – ultimately Hoi An is Vietnam’s (clean, friendly, honest and law-abiding,) marketplace.

While it is indeed true that much of Vietnam’s tourism sector hinges on commerce, Hoi An brings something different; Hoi An is like the origin of the marketplace or the beginning of Vietnamese trade – delightfully quaint and always bustling, Hoi An to Vietnam is what, I imagine, Venice (undoubtedly the world’s greatest city marketplace) must be to Italy.

Hoi An was to be the group’s longest time in one city, which by all accounts, suited us fine; we stayed at the Sala Hotel – without a doubt the finest hotel we had, or in fact would, experience in Vietnam – with amazing rooms, wonderful staff, stunning facilities, and the most brilliant swimming pool out front.

The group, having separated into our ‘sub-groups’, for the next few days walked the streets of Hoi An with confidence, with wonder, and with intrigue…

Hoi An’s beach, which we were shown initially as a group on pushbike, while glorious, illustrated an alarming example of – perhaps rising sea levels, or maybe it was other factors resulting in – a clear change in ocean and tidal habits; much of Hoi An’s beautiful, golden-sand beach was being slowly devoured by the ocean. Reportedly it was not an uncommon sight around Vietnam to see beaches being taken back by, or returning to, the almighty ocean; this of course, in the process, was devastating to nearby buildings and/or infrastructure. (Perhaps even more interestingly, when our tour reached Vietnam’s northern Halong Bay, we would see an example of exactly the opposite phenomenon at play.)

…A number of women in the group were quick to take advantage of Hoi An’s many fabric/clothing and shoe/leather distributors/tailors. For a woman I supposed it was quite an honour to have a dress/dresses personally crafted/tailored by Vietnamese designers/seamstresses, and even I elected to have a pair of leather boots hand-designed (primarily by me) then handmade (entirely by a professional) for the princely sum of 1.400.000 dong (1.4 million VND is the approximate equivalent of 85NZD, while the boots themselves, I believe could retail in somewhere like Leather Direct NZ for around $300).

Over the coming days I felt as though I developed relationships with most every shop owner along Tran Hung Dao Street (this was the street on which the Sala Hotel was situated, making it the group’s most traversed Hoi An street), and by day four I knew most of these affable characters by name. Wandering along that street, for example, recognising a happy Vietnamese face and calling out, “Bao, sin chow!” The usual response, in that horrendous (but now permanently ingrained) American/Viet timbre, would be, “Tim, hello!”

The afternoon that I excitedly walked back down to ‘Oceans’ (this shop’s name is additionally mingled with some Viet text I shan’t bother to include) to pick up my handmade boots – having been especially crafted in the past 24 hours – it was a little before four p.m. I was halfway to this particular leather-goods shop when I encountered a deluge (which, given the time of year, so I was told, this wasn’t out of the ordinary). I noted how it took only minutes after rain had begun to fall for the streets to become awash with – yes, water, but indeed more notably – plastic-poncho salespeople. Despite having zero inclination to adorn my body in one such flimsy monstrosity – particularly when my body hence shirt was already moist with perspiration and the falling rain more or less matched my body temperature, meaning I barely felt it falling on my bare skin, anyway – I did enjoy haggling with the salespeople as they continuously badgered me with offers of these tawdry ponchos; as with most Vietnamese commerce, a vendor can usually be knocked back by 20 – 30 percent, which, when referring to a piece of plastic that they’re pushing for ‘50’ (50.000VND – under 2NZD), it inspires the question, ‘How the hell do they make this crap so cheaply?’…

As I had by then come to realise though, locally made products are typically cheap while imported products are typically less cheap (but still rather cheap).

…I made it to Oceans a few minutes before 4, saw my boots and almost had a joy-gasm – they looked, smelled (and probably tasted), glorious. I was in the process of showering the shop owner in gratitude when I discovered that, despite being 4 p.m., she had not yet eaten lunch. I had a brilliant idea: “Alright, Ngoc, let me buy you lunch … That can be my tip – for making such a wonderful job of my boots.”

She eventually agreed (despite her first putting up unexpected refusal), wrote down exactly what she wanted (in Vietnamese script), told me it would cost ‘180’ – I believed a perfect sized tip – and directed me where to go. I walked, in a direction perpendicular to the street, for some ten minutes into the depths of the market district, through shady, dirty, smelly, water-logged alleyways, alongside dilapidated corrugated iron fences (where if I were anywhere else but Hoi An, I might have been worried) and past apparently deserted, derelict properties. I eventually found the desired ‘restaurant’ and approached the man who, despite his diminutive appearance, seemed to be in charge.

I showed him the piece of paper Ngoc had given me, then showed him the 180.000 dong. He looked up at me with fury in his eyes. “Who give you?” he demanded.

Taken aback, I pointed in the direction of the street, responding, “The woman who works in Oceans, ah, Ngoc.”

The emaciated Viet’s eyes became, if possible, even more enraged. “You,” he pointed at me, shaking his head wildly, “you no come here!”

I looked around, taking in the frantic activity – the food preparation, the exchange of money, the bustling Vietnamese people – realising, this was not a Vietnamese tourist market; this was where Vietnamese folk came to eat.

The furious little man took the offered cash with a grunt and relayed some Viet gibberish to his cook. He then turned back to me, still with madness in his eyes. “You wait, there,” he pointed to a place against the wall. “You get food, you go,” he said forcefully, “you never come back here.”

Ten minutes later I received my order. The food turned out to be enough to feed a family; there was around five times what I would have expected for 180.000 dong.

I returned to Oceans, shaken and confused. Ngoc appeared relieved to see me; she appeared relieved that I had made I back. I suspect she knew the kind of hostile reception I would encounter at that place…

Given that around 60 years’ ago Vietnam was under total Communist rule, they didn’t have a lot of contact with the rest of the world and, of course, they had far less – if any – international trade. To clarify: Vietnam is technically ‘Socialist’, which is to the right of ‘Communist’ (North Korea), but still not as far right as ‘Capitalist’ (NZ’s National Party), which is still a shade left of ‘Republican’ (Donald Trump, say no more). I came to learn also, in a single, mind-blowing, realisation, that ‘Communism’ is in fact not the filthy word that many believe it to be. ‘Communism’ is effectively the act of a nation exerting its individuality, but to the extreme; it’s like saying, ‘We are us and we don’t need you because we can survive on our own’. The truly mind-blowing aspect of it all though, was this: providing a nation’s people are content with who they are, providing they are content with where they are, providing they are happy to do what they are doing but moreover – and this is the keystone of the operation – provided that nobody yearns to get ahead of anybody else, in fact Communism Can Work; indeed, done properly, Communism is a harmonious existence.

…Vietnam is remarkable in the sense that it produces everything which, as a nation, it needs to get by. From essentials like food and fresh water, clothing and houseware; to recreational products such as cigarettes and alcohol, it’s all ‘Made in Vietnam’, and it’s all dirt cheap for tourists, but it’s even cheaper – as I experienced firsthand – for locals…

The classic, and indeed widespread, belief about Communism is that, ‘There is no incentive to work because every person is paid the same regardless of what they do’, and yes, if the Western world were to suddenly abandon Democracy and embrace Communism, there is no question, it would fail terribly; however, we must bear in mind that this is a people immediately descended from one of the world’s oldest races, where the process of working as one to achieve one basic goal, and in turn being provided with the wherewithal to propagate a basic existence (I guarantee New Zealand’s Polynesian population would be into it) is their culture.

…Sure they cheat, sure they lie; sure, many of the Socialist/Commies I encountered were filthy rotten shit-bags, but they are happy. They are peaceful. They live for the day. They live for the moment; they live for excitement. Vietnamese folk live devoid of worry because they know they are no worse off than the next Socialist/Commie…

We were sad to leave the Sala, having met such wonderful people in and around Hoi An. Nevertheless we travelled northward by bus a comparatively short distance, to end up in the city of Hue (pronounced more like ‘Whey’). While our newest environs were lovely, bordered on one side by the ominous stone walls of Hue’s famous ‘Forbidden City’ (which, as much intrigue as the name engendered and indeed, as excited as many of us were to discover just why it was considered ‘forbidden’, upon entering, while it was definitely a spectacular sight, alas I felt little foreboding, let alone forbidding), and although this hotel did have a pool as well, after the wonder of Hoi An, the group was experiencing a collective sense of let-down.

… I recall my last night in Ho Chi Minh City, I was outside the hotel drinking Jimbean with the Aston crowd, at about 4 a.m. Suddenly there was a power failure. The entire street went dark. Almost immediately a simultaneous cheer went up. I had no idea what was going on. I think I was expecting bedlam to ensue. Fine grabbed me and led me closer to the street for a better look. I peered up and down; I could see no lights anywhere. Aside from the odd scooter headlight traffic was nonexistent. Then the sound of a siren could be heard. The street became packed full of cheering Vietnamese folk, all laughing and having a great time. The siren became progressively loud and discordant until it was utterly deafening. While I had ducked away to protect my ears I saw a pathway clear in the street, as a fire-truck rolled ominously by. It stopped at the next intersection, with locals milling around, screaming, yelling and, still, having a grand old time. It used its ladder to reach some overhead cables, did something then moved on, to do the same thing at the next intersection down, before disappearing around a bend. A moment later electricity was restored but the faces, those little Vietnamese faces, they were positively oozing joyfulness – they were alive.

While swimming did not appear a popular choice among the group (in fact the whole time we were in Hue I saw not one other person use the pool), I spent my spare time walking the streets – eating street food and drinking iced coffee – and swimming in this older, less glamorous but still wet hence refreshing, hotel swimming pool.

We left Hue on the overnight train, headed north and bound for the nation’s capital, Hanoi. (That particular trip onboard the train yielded a sequence of unspeakable moments, of which I shall never speak.) I have never been happier to hear the sound of shrieking locomotive brakes, than I was coming into the station at Hanoi that morning.

As a group we saw some amazing sights in and around Hanoi then the next day, we took a bus to the very top of Vietnam, Halong (‘Descending Dragon’) Bay.

We boarded a small, but wonderfully ornate, cruise liner (this boat would have been 15 metres long with a similar number of berths) and, along with myriad other vessels all with seemingly the same intention, made our steady way out one of the famous island beaches within Halong Bay…

Cruising through the water on the way to this particular island the view was breathtaking; also it was somehow familiar. I then realised, I had seen it before; the tiny island formations, the vibrant greenery, the rocky structures emerging from the water, I could have been in Fiordland. The difference was, where Fiordland’s landscape has largely to do with tectonic movement and volcanic activity from beneath the ground, as our guide would later explain, Halong Bay’s natural (it turned out, limestone) landscapes are the result of aeons of water-borne erosion from above.

…The golden-sand beach on which we docked, we were informed, had been created entirely by man, for man. Halong Bay, on account of its unique formation, is currently rather shallow (whereas a few thousand millennia ago it was supposedly very deep) and had had, presumably, thousands of tons of sand laid atop a naturally formed limestone plateau in order to create a, world famous tourist destination, beach…

From what this layman understood of it, many millions of years ago, over another many millions of years, the eastern Vietnamese ocean beat itself against a limestone cliff at the north of the land, eventually finding an area that was more pliable than the rest, thus gradually forging a path into the stone. Over the millions of years that followed this small indent/path/channel was augmented by the thrashing ocean, thereby creating an inlet, slowly eroding the softer limestone while leaving the harder areas to stand like pedestals amid this majestic harbour.

…A well-maintained staircase carried a large number of the group – at some points almost vertically – to the top of this particular island (although by the end of this climb the numbers had fallen back to just one other woman – who for the record barely broke a sweat, while I had sweat literally dripping – and me), from where we were able to look out across the harbour and take in the entire transcendent view.

That night, back on our cruise liner, after our meal the group congregated on the top deck; it was a marvellous feeling, lying on the loungers, under the stars. As a group, we chatted, we drank and basically we were at ease. One of the younger guys had some music going that, despite not being ‘90s grunge rock, surprised me in its decency. Like this we bonded until before too late we decided to turn in for the night. (As usual I had been allocated a double room to myself and, by myself, I was quite happy to utilise every portion of that bed; after a day at the beach under the northern Vietnamese sun, I was exhausted.) As I carefully slid down the steps to the boat’s main floor, I had left three people still on the top deck.

I walked through the boat’s main dining area, thanking the three Vietnamese men (all staring at me with unnerving intensity) who had provided us service that night, stumbling slightly as the water under the boat (or the alcohol in my veins) shifted. I had just walked past the bar (also the disconcertingly fixated eyeballs) when I stopped, turned and came back. “Shit,” I said, “I need to pay my tab, don’t I?”

The man who had slid in behind the bar looked at me with confusion.

“My bill..?” I began to remove my wallet. “Ah, lahm urn..?”

“Ah,” the man understood, riffling through a stack of papers under the bar. He brought up a selection of four possible accounts and placed them on the bar. Glancing at the others’ bills, having been drinking the insanely cheap local beer, I saw they owed up to 200.000 dong each; I sighed at the sight of my bill, having been going between Ballantynes, Johnny Walker Red and (I couldn’t believe they had) Johnny Walker Black Label, to see that I was liable for just under 1 million dong.

I grudgingly indicated which was my bill then opened my wallet to remove two 500 dong notes, aware, as always, of all eyes fixed on my stash of cash.

The bill settled I made my way to the end of the corridor, to my room. I could still feel those Viet men looking. Putting my key in the lock and turning, I was reminded of the frustration of the last four occasions I had used this infernal door: key goes in, key turns freely to the right, stops dead. Key turns all the way back to the left, stops dead. Key turns again to the right, key contacts resistance, latch can heard moving. Door still appears locked. Shoulder is applied, door opens.

Before going in I turned and gave my three onlookers a wink. Once inside the room, as always, I turned and locked the door. I then took of my hat and glasses, and unloaded my pockets on the chest of drawers at the back of the room. I then hung my damp shirt (or in this case, singlet) over the stool provided, and laid my shorts on top of it.

I stepped into the tiny bathroom, brushed my teeth, wiped my face, and climbed into the bed. I was exhausted, I was tired and yet, I was not sleepy. Of course, they’d had no ginger ale so I’d been mixing my scotch with Coke; that’ll do it. After what felt like hours of mind games I had just felt myself drifting off, when I heard a key being thrust noisily into a door. I couldn’t avoid noticing how close it sounded – the timber panelling on the boat’s interior must readily transmit sound waves – it almost sounded like my door. A moment later I heard the door opening then the quiet audio of the occupant going about their routine.

A little after that I was torn into full consciousness again, as another key was pushed into another lock; the sound travelled so crisply, again, I couldn’t believe how close it sounded. I then heard that door open, I heard a voice, or voices; I had no idea how late it was by now but I just wanted to sleep.

Finally I hear the key in the third lock. I really cannot believe how close it sounds; I would swear that key is in the lock in my door. Oh well, I think through my sleep/alcohol fug, at least this occupant is being more considerate; not just jamming in the key with no regard to how sound travels throughout these sleeping quarters. I think of the three faces I had left out on top deck, and of their names, their nationalities. Of the thirteen person group there were two Kiwis, seven Aussies, two Brits, and two Scots; I had left out on the top deck two Aussies and one Scot…

Shit. Lying on my right side with my back to the door, suddenly I am wide awake.

…Those two Aussies are together; they’re sharing a room. I silently roll to my left side. That key has been working that lock, with almost increasing noiselessness, for quite some time now. Still with eyes closed I recollect the sequence of audio I’ve heard from the lock; key went in, key went one way, key went the other way, key went the first way again – I now hear the latch slide across…

My mind was working furiously: after witnessing me stumble out there those Viet crewmembers likely assume I am very drunk. Add to that is my typical drunken tone, also my typically drunken demeanour, and they must think I’m well past it. Additionally, I know they know I’m carrying a good deal of cash on me. They’d be fools not to try and help themselves.

…My right eyelid flashes open. The room is dark, but not in total blackness. With my right eye I can just make out the outline of the door handle. Is it moving? Surely not. I blink my right eye. I would have sworn I saw that door handle jiggle…

I thought of Nha Trang, such a lovely place, such wonderful people; there was no way I was going to let the slimy pricks do it a second time.

…I hear the key do another rotation, hear the latch silently slot back into place, then hear the key being withdrawn…

My entire body was trembling. My right eye was aching from maintaining a wink for so long. I shifted position in the bed and closed my eyes. I tried to be calm.

…I hear a key slowly, silently, being pushed into a lock. I know it’s my lock. I hear it rotate once. I hear it rotate twice. I realise I am holding my breath as I hear the key perform number three rotation. As expected, I hear the latch slide slowly across. From my left side I open my right eye. Can I hear whispering? Is the handle moving? What are they doing? Are they playing some sort of game with me – have I become the target of every Vietnamese swindler in this God-forsaken nation? …

My mind felt clear, as though the adrenalin had evaporated the whisky fug. I found myself willing the filthy seamen to come, willing them to try it; willing them to try and take anything of mine. I was amped. I wanted them to try; I wanted them to see how far they’d get.

…I hear the door creak. I know they’re leaning on it. I’m waiting for it to pop open. I’m waiting for them to step into the room and quickly check they haven’t woken me. They won’t have; I’ll have closed both eyes again by then. I’ll hear them shuffle towards the drawers at the back and I’ll open my right eye again. I’ll see the dirty little pricks going through my belongings and I’ll smile. Their backs will be to me as I’ll slide out of bed and descend upon them, wrapping my arms around filthy little throats…

I realise at this point that whoever was at my door has gone.

A few hours’ later I’m out of bed and up on top deck to catch the sunrise.



Article by Tim Walker

Edited by D Sending-Dragon

Photography by E Onza-Go

Tim Walker’s Cathedral IV

Christchurch officials are, once again, claiming that, for this one last time, the decision, this time for certain, regarding the fate of the Christchurch Cathedral has, definitely, been made.

Forgive me, I did suppress the compulsion to write this article for a number of weeks, but that infernal New Zealand Media just kept rubbing it my face; every night, from three or four weeks’ ago, they’d be on at me, with all their ‘…over six years on…’, ‘…remains an eyesore…’, ‘…fate of the Christchurch Cathedral…’, ‘…rebuild or demolish…’, ‘…so many years on and still not been decided…’

‘But that can’t be right…’ I was, three or four weeks ago, thinking, while hastily referring to my own documentation of this monumental debacle – in the form of ‘Tim Walker’s Cathedral, Cathedral II, and Cathedral III – to find that, (three or four weeks’ ago) shock horror, those unfathomably dilatory yet unquestioningly devout, followers, in fact did have yet to come to a decision.

2015, approximately five years after Canterbury’s 7.1 quake had precipitated the downfall of the Christchurch Cathedral, (as reported in the original ‘Cathedral’) Christchurch zealots, frustrated at the continuing state of disrepair of their beloved church (having some years prior banded together to erect a ‘temporary replacement’ in the form of a $5 million cardboard cut-out of their place of worship; because of course at this time there was still plenty of insurance money left to fritter away on outlandish and frivolous enterprises of that nature), indeed so frustrated they were at the continually changing status of their church – from fixable to irreparable then back and again, and so forth – they finally decided they were going to fix it…

The problem with this apparent (2015) solution was that after over five years’ of litigation costs (along with, I assume, the tea, coffee, and the muffin breaks inherent in the litigation process), generous insurance payout notwithstanding, regarding a potential rebuild there was a mild funding shortfall; within months a new decision has revealed itself – Christchurch’s religious community had again decided to demolish the remains of their existing Cathedral and ‘start anew’.

…A reasonable person might well have expected that the time taken to construct a cardboard cut-out replacement place of worship, then to flip-flop on the decision of what to do with their genuine holy structure, would have provided sufficient time to farewell their beloved, albeit dilapidated, Cathedral, and to prepare it for demolition, thereby making way for this newer, wholly modernised version to be constructed, but no; flick forward to ‘Cathedral II’, and one will see that these infernal God botherers, rather than electing for the logical choice of upgrading to a modern, plush, centrally heated and air conditioned design (estimated at under $100 million), have again elected to repair their existing, broken construction (estimated at up to $200 million).

Flick forward now to ‘Cathedral III’ – where it is clear just how weary I am becoming of this topic – six years on and one will see that the question of the Christchurch Cathedral rebuild has still not been properly answered.

The problem as I recognised it back then, I recall thinking, was not so much to do with the issue of re/construction at all, and nor was it to do with the inevitable bureaucracy that tends to surround this kind of endeavour; indeed shockingly, for the first time in just under six years, those idiot bloody malcontents couldn’t even blame our Government for their church’s ongoing disrepair (because contrary to what most of these Kiwi malcontents seem to believe, it is not our nation’s Government which is in charge of recruiting builders to build stuff, it is in fact our nation’s people). That’s right, on this rare occasion, it turned out to not be the Government’s fault at all; no, as it transpired it had more to do with the fact that Christchurch’s band of religious fanatics had, and evidently still do have, less decision-making ability than a party of 14-year-old girls getting ready for their first big high school dance.

Christchurch’s religious community, typical of zealots, want everything their own way; both ways, if you will. They initially considered their church rebuild a priority that needed to be fast-tracked, despite the majority of Christchurch also requiring extensive repair; ‘We need a place to house and to worship our Lord and Saviour’, they demanded, while many of Christchurch’s tangible residents went without shelter at all.

They then wanted a cardboard monstrosity to be built in replacement of the Cathedral, presumably to house God while they considered their options regarding the fate of His other Christchurch residence. Then after that stage had passed, indicating no progress had been made on the matter at all, with renewed zeal they returned to the ‘Cathedral rebuild/demolish debate’, which is apparently ongoing; but here’s the thing, all the money, and resources, efforts and time that have been wasted in the meantime, are now shown to have been just that – a total waste of time.

The fact is that every bit of this past discussion and debate has been pointless; Christchurch’s religious community were never going to accept that their beloved Cathedral should be demolished.

Now – given that the bulk of their insurance payout has been wasted on deliberation, litigation; ultimately on funding professional procrastination – along with financial assistance from the Government, and of course the always faithful (yet largely atheistic) taxpayer, the Cathedral’s fate has been decided for certain this time (and dear God let’s hope that’s the truth).

The Christchurch Cathedral is to be rebuilt and, to the delight of God-botherers everywhere (just probably not so much the atheistic taxpayers who will likely never step foot inside their investment for as long as they live), restored to its former glory.



Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Jesus Marianne Joseph

Photography by Jesus H Christ

Tim Walker’s Vietnam VII

I can’t be sure just how far I had ventured into the depths of Nha Trang city on foot, but if the return trip was any indication, it was farther than any sane man ought to walk in one night.

It felt as though I was riding on the back of that scooter for hours.

In fact, balanced as I was on that bike’s pillion seat, I suspect I spent a good deal of the journey slipping in and out of sleep, as I have numerous recollections of our stopping, of my snapping to consciousness, of Dan consulting his map – followed by (what I imagine was) Vietnamese profanity – then our again setting off.

I recall returning to full attention at the sight of the towering Camellia hotel; “Well done, Dan,” I recall jesting, giving the frustrated little Asian man a hearty slap on the back, “you found it, bud!”…

I recall at this point Dan being too busy cussing me out to fully appreciate any of my gratitude.

…I climbed down from the bike and gazed up at the side of my sole landmark – the Camellia Hotel – trying to work out why Dan was so filthy with me; the words ‘Camellia Nha Trang II Hotel’ shone back down at me in large gold lettering. “Ah come on Dan, ’Camellia Hotel’, ‘Camellia Nha Trang Two Hotel’ … Whassa difference?”

“You waste my time, Tim, you waste my time … You pay now, you pay my wasted time.”

“Yeah man, that’s fine,” I replied, having just been in the process of removing my wallet anyway, “like I said, bud, five hundred dong, thank you.” I removed a blue note and handed it to him.

“No, Tim! You pay now, you pay my wasted time – you pay, seven hundred!”

Ah shit, deja vu. “Dude, don’t do this,” despite Dan’s last statement having raised my hackles, I spoke with calmness and clarity. “I offered you five hundred dong for a ride across town … That on its own is a very generous fare” – calmness dwindling – “now don’t you dare try and screw me.”

“Oh come on, Tim,” perhaps sensing danger Dan appeared to have calmed – transforming from angry taxi driver to pathetic Vietnamese dog – and was trying a different angle, “you give me wrong address, man … I’m driving around for hours searching for your hotel, because you give me wrong address, man…”

“I did not give you the wrong address, I simply abbreviated the name … Any decent Internet search engine should have been able to find” – glancing upwards – “the Camellia Nha Trang Two Hotel, with the key words ‘Camellia Hotel’ … So don’t you fucking dare try to screw me, you fil-thy lit-tle rat.”

“Oh, come on Tim…” he continued to push with that awful American/Viet twang.

I turned away, towards my hotel, to see the gates had been loosely chained closed for the night. I was done; I’d had enough of this. Resignedly I turned, unspeaking, to Dan.

“…Oh, come on, Tim, seven hundred..? For my time … Come on, man, I got a family, Tim, I got bills, man … Come on, Tim, I know you got money … Come on, Tim..?”

I knew what he was doing, I had seen it before; this variety of sympathy/guilt tripping appeared to be an accepted Vietnamese sales technique and, pathetic as it was, I did find it difficult to not be sucked into its current. I pulled out my wallet again; a wad of – flicking through – eight blue notes were stacked at the back, along with some differently coloured, smaller denomination notes towards the front. I pulled out the bunch of smaller notes and studied them. One was a 5, there were two 10s, and the other was a 20.

“Nah, come on, Tim, give me some real money, man…”

“You serious..?” I asked in disbelief, holding up the 45.000 dong, “You don’t want this? Really?”

“Nah, come on, Tim” – that ersatz American accent was really starting to grate me – “you owe me another two hundred, man.”

I looked up at Dan with an uncontrollable rush of contempt; “You ungrateful little prick … I don’t owe you anything,” I told him, before turning and stepping through the (Vietnamese-) person-sized gap conveniently left in the otherwise closed hotel gates.

“Yeah, well, fuck you too, Tim,” I heard come drifting through the gates half a minute later; Dan’s genuine voice surprising me in its coarseness.

I stepped into the hotel foyer, saluted the vacant desk then pressed a button for the lift. Up three floors I turned right and walked down the corridor to my room, to be hit by a wave of panic. I went momentarily cold all over. I dug hopefully in my right pocket, and found my key (complete with hotel name and address; a mistake I would not make again), where it had been the entire night. Breathing relief I fumbled the lock, several times, then stepped inside.

Flicking on the light and removing my hat, I walked across the room, took off my glasses and emptied my pockets onto a desk in the far corner…

Possible future regrets notwithstanding, I was pleased with how I had handled the night; I was satisfied with how things had worked out.

…I took off my sneakers and socks then made a point of situating them as far away from my mattress as possible…

In this hotel, ‘bedding’ comprised a thin double mattress – lying on the floor – complete with sheet and two pillows.

…Finally I pulled off my damp shirt and hung it over the back of a chair, slinging my shorts over the same chair’s seat…

I spun/staggered back and caught my – tired, boozy, and without glasses hence astigmatism at full force – blurred reflection in the wall mirror; I looked hideous.

…Walking back to the door I unthinkingly pressed in the lock button before flicking off the light. I then practically fell backwards onto my mattress and there I remained, considering, for the most part how I had managed to spend under four million dong in the entire night…

My brain awoke (I still have no idea why, when going through the process of emptying my pockets at the desk across the room, I had brought my phone to bed with me; yet there it was, buzzing away under my pillow), yet my eyelids remained closed.

…Still with eyelids closed, my brain had kicked into high gear; in the few seconds that ensued, it was working furiously…

My brain’s first thought, at hearing the phone under my pillow, was that I was onboard an overnight train; quick to debunk this theory though were a sequence of rapid deductions pointing out the folly in that assessment.

…I was uncomfortably warm; yet given the trains’ excessive use of air conditioning, in the supposed hope of generating a ‘Westernised climate’, onboard the train excess warmness was seldom the case. Additionally I was on a soft mattress but without any covering; beds on the trains are uncomfortably hard yet they do provide decent blankets. Finally I was lying on my back with arms relaxed yet I did not feel squashed, meaning this bed was wider than the standard overnight train 700mm…

I once spoke with a Vietnam native who claimed to be ‘coming down with a cold’; I recall finding this odd, given that the most common ways, in my experience, for a cold virus to break through a person’s immune defence are, either, overexertion (and nobody overexerts in Vietnam – if they become exhausted, simply, they sleep), or allowing oneself to become chilled and, with the ambient temperature hovering between mid-twenties and mid-thirties, as I mentioned, I just couldn’t see it. I then recall his pining words: “Vietnam isn’t warm for Vietnamese anymore…”, which at the time I thought was referring to the outside climate and the fact that they’re acclimatised to it but no, this chap worked in the hospitality sector – inside a restaurant where the air is constantly at ‘Western room-temperature’.

…It took under a second to transition through ‘overnight train’ and onto my brain’s second thought which – upon realising that I was in a Nha Trang hotel – was the fact that, although it felt as though I had barely been asleep at all and indeed still felt very much drunk, I could see light through my eyelids therefore it must have been morning…

I cursed the world. Around three seconds after my brain had woken, still with eyes closed, I reached under my pillow and pulled out my phone. I half-opened my right eyelid and brought up the message; of course, at 4:27 a.m. Vietnam time, my brother was sending me birthday wishes all the way from – five hours ahead – New Zealand.

…Hang about – 4:27..? I opened my eyes fully. Ah, shit, I’d been so boozed when I’d gone to bed that I’d forgotten to turn off the light. My God I was parched, though. Still lying supine I lowered my chin and cast an eye over myself. Presumably in the same place I had fallen, in the centre of the mattress I lay on my back, arms at my sides, legs straight, wearing nothing but a pair of black Spandex boxers, the mattress’s top-sheet still neatly folded under me.

I sat up. My head started spinning. I lay back down and contemplated. No, I couldn’t put it off; I was too dry. I bounded up and in a couple of ungainly leaps made it to the desk in the corner of the room. I grabbed a bottle of water and, unscrewing the top and biting the neck, managed a couple of massive, but messy, gulps. Placing the water back on the desk, I shook my head and chuckled at how keen I must have been to go to bed last night (which, as I would soon realise, was only about one hour prior); I picked up my shirt and shorts from the floor and hung them over the back of the chair.

On the way back to my mattress I glanced at the door handle; idiot, I had forgotten to lock the door when I’d gone to bed. Shaking my head at my own carelessness – thinking of how fortunate I was that I’d spotted it before anything happened, thinking of the kind of misadventure that might have befallen me had someone come into the room as I slept; a thought that actually made me shudder – I pushed the lock button and flopped back down on the mattress.

At best I dozed for the next few hours; at worst I lay awake until seven. Something wasn’t right in my head. The night didn’t seem as successful as it once had. I wasn’t certain but a number of factors didn’t appear to line up anymore. Memories were jumbled, as though things had happened out of sequence. Incoherent thoughts led the way for incongruous conclusions. My mind was a battleground of disconnected realities. There were too many instances that didn’t make sense anymore. In my head something was telling me that this outcome wasn’t right. Too many things didn’t add up. I knew something was not right.

Ten minutes after 7 a.m. I pulled myself up and strode straight over to the desk in the corner. I stared at my clothes, all neatly positioned on the chair…

Ah fuck it. I cast my eye upwards at the light bulb in the ceiling, with its filament unlit; ah fuck it. I looked across the room at the door, with its lock button firmly depressed; ah, fuck it.

…I grabbed my wallet from the desk. Already I knew it was light. I opened it; 5, 10, 10, 20, and no more. Fuck it.

Of course, this was Vietnam where, as I would come to learn, every lockable door has two keys.

Indeed this was a reality of which I would be later reminded although, at least on this future occasion, I would be ready for it.



Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Ryder Dann

Photography by Theo Vin Rut