Following the briefest of platitudes we stepped out into the mayhem of Bui Vien Street on a Saturday night.
Vy was wearing the same kind of outfit that, as I came to recognise, most young Vietnamese women seem to favour – an oversized T-shirt long enough to cover the top portion of the thighs with a pair of tiny shorts concealed beneath the shirt’s lower fringes, perhaps intended to give the impression that she is wearing only the T-shirt…
Do I think this style of dress is a good look for an attractive woman? In a few words: not so much. I realise it’s fashion and indeed, women everywhere now are donning this arguably provocative attire but seriously, for a beautiful woman with a tidy figure..? A baggy T-shirt covering a pair of, usually denim, shorts..? Yes, it’s quick, yes, it’s casual; yes, it’s probably very comfortable too but honestly, for a first meeting, I was a little let down. It wasn’t as if I had sprung this invitation on her either; Vy had been aware at what time I was coming in and I had said that I’d wanted to take her out that night. She was gorgeous but, call me superficial, I found myself a little stuck on her underwhelming choice of dress (and my God there were some utterly spectacular female ensembles to be seen that night on Bui Vien). In fact the first time I had truly taken notice of a woman wearing this kind of potentially risqué, but really not, outfit – Singapore, only a day ago – I had actually been fooled into thinking that perhaps, just maybe this woman was so bold that there was nothing substantial on under the shirt; of course when I later discovered she was wearing a pair of denim shorts I was suitably disenchanted. Denim shorts on women, in my opinion, are awful; they’re heavy, they’re unattractive, they’re not sleek, they’re not streamline, they’re not elegant, they evoke memories of dirty, smelly denim work-jeans which, in fairness is even more unattractive than the shorts themselves and ultimately, again it’s only my opinion, the only thing worse than ratty old denim shorts on an attractive woman, is a ratty old denim skirt.
…Vy and I pushed and shoved our way up Bui Vien; despite the almost shoulder-to-shoulder pedestrian congestion she appeared to know where she was going, while I was just taking in how much the street had transformed from the year prior. Talking was pointless as, while Vy’s English – although she would dispute it – was quite good, the volume of the music inside the bars was overpowering to the extent that, as I would come to understand is a theme in Vietnam, even out on the street with noise coming from both sides I could barely hear the sounds that I made let alone those coming from her.
Eventually she indicated an outdoor seating area where the level of noise was less ridiculous (but only mildly). We sat on barstools either side of a round table. A bargirl came by and, although I couldn’t hear what Vy ordered, I quickly scanned the drinks menu. Seeing no scotch on offer I pointed to the Jack Daniels. “You want with Coke?” The waitress yelled in a high-pitched tone – which I imagine was about the only kind of voice that would penetrate the background discord.
Desperately trying to maintain my sense of calm amid this bedlam, while being quite aware that my own low-treble drone wouldn’t have a hope of piercing the palpable audio (I swear, I could actually see the sound-waves), I simply gave an affirming nod…
Truth was I didn’t care what she brought; I just wanted to get the hell out of that place as soon as possible. This was insane; trying to enjoy a person’s company while being bombarded from all sides by this manmade cacophony..?
…The girl returned with the drinks and said something; I assumed it was along the lines of ‘I’ll start you a tab’…
Aware of the dangers of running tabs in Vietnamese bars – particularly ones where speech hence potential query of a charge is near-impossible, and that’s not even taking into account the language barrier – given the Viet propensity to overcharge when no one’s around to regulate them, I pulled out my wallet. I hadn’t even looked at the price of the drinks but assumed two 100s would cover it (I wondered momentarily if I would require change, or more to the point, if I did if she would return with any change).
…Vy glanced up at me, smiled, blew me a kiss of thanks and sipped her drink. I pulled out the straw I try to always have with me, dropped it in the glass and sipped my Jack Daniels; the sweet woody flavour of American whiskey reminded me why I had become a Scottish whisky drinker. Vy looked at me again and smiled which, given the noise, was all either of us had any hope of doing anyway…
I would later have another attempt along these same lines only this time I would be sure to take charge of location, making a point to steer well clear of Bui Vien but to sadly only encounter a similar, if not worse, regarding manmade volume, situation; I know the Vietnamese like it loud, I guess because if it’s not loud there is so little chance of it being heard over the ambient – traffic along with myriad people trying to make themselves heard above the traffic – noise, yet it is my belief that the main reason Viet folk promote volume the way they do, is in an attempt to befuddle the senses of their, primarily Western, patrons, because it assuredly does do that.
…At one point I did lean in and try to say something to Vy, alas any attempt by me to be sociable was futile. We finished our drinks and I gratefully stood. Vy was demonstrating why Vietnamese are typically not big drinkers; despite her flat-soled shoes (shit even I was wearing 35mm heels) she was looking a touch unsteady on her feet. We nevertheless walked back toward the Aston, into the comparative quiet, where she said simply, “I’m starting get drunk, I should go home now.”
I didn’t know what to say. We’d met, sure, but that was basically all we’d done.
“I busy now,” she went on, “I call you few weeks … K?”
“Sure…” I responded, not really understanding what was happening…
It wouldn’t be until around the three week point before I realised the way a Viet woman’s mind works regarding dating – or whatever the hell you’d call what we’d just done. As I came to understand it, the first ‘date’ is one on one (seemingly with as much noise and outside distraction as possible, perhaps so communication is scarcely an option), the second ‘date’ you meet her friends (I suppose so they can develop an opinion of you as well), the third date (alas I never made it this far as a lack of clear communication, along with Vietnamese women’s inherent unreliability, thwarted me) I think you meet her family and if they like you, and only then, I believe it is unequivocally not until the fourth date, that your relationship may become physical. (I ought to point out, this ‘four date’ philosophy, this applies only to wholesome, usually Buddhist – although as I would come to learn also, it is possible for a woman to maintain a devout Buddhist faith while still being a veritable harlot – women; most of the rest, among Ho Chi Minh City’s female contingent, will do just about anything for a couple of million dong, or sometimes less.) The point though: for a wholesome young Vietnamese woman – think Vy was 26 – making her way in the world of Vietnamese dating, it’s more of a ritual, a process if you like. They have to therefore endure the process in order to reach the conclusion; therefore technically what we did, awful as I felt it to be, did constitute our first date and would have meant, to her at least, that she was one step closer to the culmination, whatever form that was supposed to take.
…I placed my right hand at Vy’s side with the intention of planting a kiss on her cheek, but immediately the hand was brushed away (it was only our first date, after all).
“See ya,” she called cheerfully and disappeared into the swarm of revellers.
“Hen gap lie” (See you again), I murmured with less enthusiasm, turning to climb the steps to the Aston Hotel.
I didn’t imagine I would ever see Vy again.
Slowly, yet two at a time, I ascended the staircase to the fourth floor. I buzzed into my room, checked the air conditioning was maintaining a mild 16 degrees and, drenched in perspiration, flopped onto the bed. Lying there on my back, with eyes closed I went over what had just happened; had it been my fault the evening had been a disaster? What could I have done – what should I have done differently? Had it actually been the calamity I thought it was, or was it just me? It certainly hadn’t proceeded as I envisage a first date should but then maybe it had for her..? Yes, maybe it had played out just how Vy had expected..? Atop the bed I rolled onto my side and stared at the warped veneer of the sideboard (the sideboard in my room last year had been like that too, I remembered – I presumed it was something to do with the accumulating moisture content while rooms are unoccupied) – bent timber notwithstanding I realised I didn’t even believe my own logic; there was no way what we’d just done could be considered satisfactory by any lady. Nevertheless I consoled myself with the sentiment that the ‘Vy adventure’ was a lesson learned and that if I ever had the opportunity to do the whole ‘first date in Vietnam’ thing again, I feel as though I should perhaps find somewhere quieter.
Suddenly I had a thought. I opened my eyes and smiled; alright, next plan. I had been in online communication for over twelve months with a lovely Vietnamese woman named Lin; in fact when we had first became acquainted she was known as Ga Ra Lin but, as I have observed, Vietnamese folk seem to very much like changing their names…
In Vietnam it is not unusual for people to share the same, or similar, names; for instance over the weeks that I was there I met three women and one man named Thao (more like Towel), two women named Tao (Tar), two men named Dung (Dum), one named Ding (Dem), and one named Dong (Dohm); four women named Lin – sorry – three named Lin (as it looks) and one named Linh (same as the first), two women named Lan (Lahn) and one named Lanh (Lung), one woman named Min (as it looks), one named Minh (Ming), one man named Anh (Ang) and one woman with the same name, six, seven or perhaps eight women named Ngoc (Nyowp – no, try it again – Nyowp), and three women named Trinh (Chin). (I’m certain I met many more Vietnamese folk with similar names too but that stint of recollection just there, well that just wasted a good half hour of writing time and I was getting off-track anyway, so I probably won’t be doing much more of that in future.) The point is Vietnamese are not so big on names and in fact an eavesdropper will rarely hear a Viet person address another Viet by their name.
…Lin can wait, I thought as a wave of excitement flooded through me; I’m here for a long time and this is my opening night – this is Saturday night on Bui Vien Ho Chi Minh City and shit man, it’s still before midnight and I’m cashed up.
Still adorned in my first-date finery, but having had a quick rinse-off under the shower to disperse the perspiration that my body just would not stop excreting no matter how cool I made my room, I swaggered down the Aston’s front steps and made my way out onto Bui Vien Street.
What I had not considered, as I minced my way through the pulsating mass of revellers, was that this night would be not only responsible for stripping me of millions of dong – although I wouldn’t realise it at first – tonight I would meet the woman of my dreams.
Article by Tim Walker
Edited by Ruby Love-Money
Photography by Crazy Girls