Monthly Archives: October 2018

Tim Walker’s Vietnam XX

Arguably the major reason for my going to Vietnam was to have my teeth fixed; I had already booked a consultation at Ho Chi Minh City’s Nham Tam Dental Clinic on Tuesday the 31st at 8:15 a.m. – I just had no idea how many obstacles I would be forced to overcome before making that appointment.

When I awoke it was Monday afternoon; this was to be my third night in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 1…

As per my pre-trip booking schedule I had since moved away from Bui Vien (albeit just around the corner), from the comparatively high-priced Aston Hotel to the cheaper Bali B (think it’s alter-ego is the Bali Boutique) on Nguyen Thai Hoc (Nyooyen Tie Hoe).

…Upon waking I felt good; then I remembered how much money I had spent the previous night, also the night before that…

The Bali B was a nice enough hotel and the bed was glorious, the main issue I took with the place is that I just didn’t feel comfortable there, and I wasn’t spending enough time in bed to truly appreciate the latter point.

…Last night had been more of the same; the same ridiculously coquettish Crazy Girls, the same sexually provocative advances, the same implied assurances, the same exorbitant drinks. On the plus side though, the woman of my dreams was there and at that point in my journey I would have done just about anything to be in the same place as her; additionally, we did make a formidable pool duo…

The reality however, my budget to cover the following 25 days in Vietnam was not even close to being on schedule, and this was a genuine worry; worrying me less but still a genuine concern was the fact that my phone wasn’t functioning, and I really ought to have contacted home to update family on my progress.

…Noobie and I had just finished annihilating a very confident, very cocky, but just not very good, young European pair who I guessed were hoping to show off in front of their hot little European girlfriends but who, by the end of the game, were made to look less like pool sharks and more like posers – their girlfriends appeared to have lost interest in them by then anyway and had gone off to find themselves some real men – therefore my partner and I were now looking around for other challengers. There were none so, looking up at me, Noobie asked the question, “You wan play?”

“Me play you…?” I responded with a to/fro gesture, “Sure.”

“You set, I break,” she ordered and strutted towards the bottom of the table.

I set up the 15 balls in perfect formation then watched as the petite little lady steadied herself at the edge of the table and smashed them apart; two were down – big and a small.

“You wan ring?” she asked.

I gave her a 500 and she trotted away; I missed my first shot.

She returned with the drinks and handed me 280 change. “Wha down?” she asked.

I shook my head to indicate I had had no success.

Her shot also went astray.

As we walked toward each other, each holding our own cue, Noobie grinned at me and refused to let me pass, instead delighting in prodding my stomach and pinching my nipples. I laughed and pushed her gently away; she made a show of stumbling then deliberately falling back on the pool table, her tiny (denim) skirt lifting and exposing her underwear. Immediately popping back up, hurriedly smoothing her skirt while pretending to be embarrassed, giggling hysterically with a beaming smile she launched herself off the pool table and collapsed into me. Her huge eyes were bright with excitement as she posed the deal, “OK … You win … I come home with you.”

“Sure,” I said, inwardly feeling a jolt of tension, “I win, you come home with me.”

“OK,” her smile was scintillating as she spoke, “you win, I come home with you … But I win … I come home with you.”

It was the longest sentence I’d heard come out of Noobie since I’d met her; she seemed a little drunk – or high…

As I would come to learn, when a guy buys a drink for him and the bargirl, while her first one or even two might be alcoholic – generally they will claim to be drinking whatever the client is drinking thus in my case Black Label with tonic (Coke keeps me up) – given that the ladies work the floor and the bar simultaneously, usually before the alcohol truly takes effect they will start pouring themselves non-alcoholic beverages of a similar hue; although as I believe I began to mention in a previous instalment, on two separate occasions I saw unconscious young women being carried upstairs on a male employee’s shoulder – Crazy Girls employees having drunk too much – both times after, reportedly, talking a ‘rich Westerner’ into buying a bottle of booze then being talked into helping him drink it – they can’t very well fill their shot glass with ginger ale when he’s pouring from a bottle of bourbon.

…Huh, I thought, she must have actually been drinking with me; I had learned towards the end of the night before (with Noobie jokingly complaining that ‘I was drinking all the booze but I not getting drunk’ I wasn’t terribly surprised to notice how over the course of the night my drink was coming to me with an increasingly potent alcohol content, yet on the one occasion when she actually tasted it to check – ‘Is there even booze in that?!’ – her head had whipped back in disgust and she almost vomited on that awful – awfully good, mind you – scotch flavour) how the ladies in Crazy Girls don’t generally drink a lot of alcohol…

Anyway, I decided that if anyone could survive in Vietnam on around a tenth of their original budget (I had put away enough cash to allow for a daily expenditure of about $100 – which before the Labour Government caused the value of the NZ dollar to plummet with its reckless and crippling taxation thus ultimately kneecapping the NZ economy this equated to approximately 1.200.000VND – which, given that Vietnam is one of the cheapest tourist destinations in the world, should have been plenty. I even had a security cushion in place in case of emergency – yeah, who would have imagined the ‘emergency’ would turn out to be meeting the woman of my dreams on the very first night), I could. The plan: I worked out I needed to separate around 5 million for future accommodation, I found a great street-food joint where I could get a ‘buhng mee, op lah’ (spelled ‘banh mi’ and essentially a bread roll with egg along with assorted Vietnamese ingredients) also my favourite ‘café sua dah’ (iced coffee which, last year, I recall I made the mistake of referring to as ‘café sua’ – coffee, white – ‘nuok dah’ – water, frozen – when in fact the term ‘café sua dah’ is quite satisfactory) for a meagre 55.000VND.

…Drugs though, drugs are rife on the streets of HCMC’s District 1; most every time I walked the length of Bui Vien Street, for example, the offer of ‘illicit’ substances (inverted commas because, come on, this is Vietnam baby, anything goes in Vietnam…) was posed to me – ‘Sir, marijuana Sir…?’ (one must imagine the aforementioned and the following words spoken in a seedy whisper; the later the hour the seedier the whisper too, and uttered with an accent that scarcely allows for articulation of consonants, making it all the more repellent) – that was all through the day until early evening – or, with often the very same vendor doing the propositioning, ‘Sir, cocaine Sir … Sir, crah cocaine, Sir…?’ – that was early to late evening and perhaps after – or the most sinister one – ‘Sir, ice, Sir … Sir, methamphetamine’

Upon hearing this one I actually stopped, turned and looked at the dude – the face of whom, by now, I had grown familiar – and said, “Are you serious – meth?”

“Yes Sir,” the scrawny character replied with a sly grin, his thin lips spreading up over his tobacco-stained teeth, “best ice you can buy … Buy right here … Vietnam meth … Buy from meee.”

I recall exhaling deeply, shaking my head and walking away; although that shady narcotic vendor and I would run a similar theme – if only for comical value – almost every day/night that I was in Vietnam.

…I learned on about day six, from a Canadian expat named Aiden having retired to Vietnam at age 60, sitting outside a (blessedly licensed) Bui Vien coffee shop drinking a ‘café sua dah, whikky’ (see last year’s Chronicles), that most young men, and often even the women across HCMC, in fact use (Vietnamese) methamphetamine like many Westerners might use coffee; the main point of difference, of course, is that where caffeine has a pleasantly uplifting but generally controllable effect, meth usage (in the Western world at least) tends to manifest more of a frenetic disposition…

The thing that I had difficulty tolerating about these kinds of guys, though – I could deal with the fact that they were making a living from the pervading of illicit substances thus potentially destroying the lives of others – was that they are all self-promoting, unscrupulous, loathsome and ultimately shit-headed, liars; one never can be certain of a single word spoken by these kinds of people (interestingly in ‘the book’ that I will later read but which I have yet to encounter in my travels, there is a line that reads: ‘They say if a Thai’s lips are moving, he’s lying’; from what I experienced in Vietnam I’m pretty sure the same ruling applies to the majority of Viet folk as well), meaning that one never truly knows what they’re buying. In fairness though, the same really applies to anything one buys for consumption in Vietnam; a consumer can never be certain exactly what the product they have purchased, at a rock bottom ‘genuine Vietnamese quality’ price no less, will contain – buy a drink over the bar, as I did, ceaselessly, of course one has no idea how much Rohyphnol they’re putting in it (in the projected hope of rendering you sufficiently agreeable to hand over your last thousand dong, then perhaps talking you into going to an ATM to get some more), just as one has no idea when one buys a few grams of meth, or cocaine, or crack cocaine, or even weed, just what that product contains.

…That night on Bui Vien, Monday night and with a devastated budget that I’m still hoping to pull back into shape – having spent under 200 dong so far that day – I’m feeling as though I can afford to head down the street for a few (overpriced) drinks. Currently residing at the Bali B hotel, off the hype of Bui Vien but with around ten times the pollution due to a main thoroughfare, Nguyen Thai Hoc – with a minimum of six lanes of slowly moving traffic honking, merging and cutting off but never hitting each other – running past the hotel front, it was just a short walk, including several perilous street crossings, to get back to Bui Vien…

‘Best marijuana in world, only seven-fifty’, was a claim I frequently heard; I stopped on one occasion in the hope of gleaning some further intelligence on this ‘best in world’ claim.

“Oh wow,” I said, feigning interest in his product, “you say that’s the best in the world – where do they grow it?”

“It grow rie here, Sir, Vie’nam weed, bess in world.”

“Interesting, see, I always thought the best weed in the world was grown in California, or Jamaica…?”

“Oh no Sir,” he waved his hand dismissively, “Vie’nam weed, bess weed in world.”

“Hmm, that’s impressive, and you were saying five grams will only cost me seven-fifty (750.000VND)?”

“That rie Sir, three gram, only seva hun’red and fiffy dong … Bess in world…”

Now, I tried some of his ‘best in world’ weed and, having only days earlier sucked on Canadian Aiden’s bong packed with Vietnamese pipe tobacco (you talk about not knowing what’s in a product; I would guarantee that ‘pipe tobacco’ contained several ingredients other than pipe tobacco), I can honestly say, whatever it was, I preferred the ‘tobacco’ hit.

…That night, Monday night, my third night in HCMC, turning onto the top end of Bui Vien it was still just over an hour before 9:30, the time I had intended to show up at Crazy Girls. I decided to try my budgeting skills at a bar that, while I did recall entering last year, this year I had not; I approached and was immediately cajoled the rest of the way by a very ‘hands-on’ yet, by Vietnam standards at least, not a very attractive, bargirl. This situation was oddly reminiscent of something else – somewhere else. I didn’t ever get the name of this place because in fairness, it gave me no reason to remember its name other than to say, it was across an intersection from my (blessedly licensed) coffee shop. In this instance the bar was deserted but for a few straggling patrons and one woman playing a game of pool with herself. Without hesitation I approached and asked if she was interested in joining me for a game. She agreed to the challenge and I asked her if I could by her a drink. She chose to drink local beer while I drank local scotch with Coke…

While budget constraints meant I didn’t purchase any myself, later in my tour of duty, later one evening, I found myself in the company of an Australian man, Bruce, who did take advantage of the, ‘Sir, cocaine Sir’, offer and, as is the theme in Vietnam, therefore so did most people in the vicinity; honestly though, I reckon I gained a bigger rush from ‘backdrafting’ Shisha (directly inhaling the exhalation of pink vapour from another’s – ideally a beautiful woman’s – lips) than I took from a line of, worryingly affordable, Vietnamese cocaine.

…The first game went to me by a ball; the second went to her by three. She then asked me if I could buy her a ‘balloon’ for 90 dong; I had seen people – mainly women – on past nights with large pink balloons in their mouths and wondered if this was a craze that had yet to make it to New Zealand. Given my budget constraints I considered telling her to buy her own damn balloon then thought, ‘Shit if I were in Crazy Girls I might have already spent ten times that amount’; ultimately, of course, I bought her a balloon. She was an attractive young lady wearing a yellow singlet top (which I couldn’t help noticing showed off a paunch), a pair of tight denim shorts (really?) and an exquisite pair of heels (absolutely the shoes making this ensemble). I couldn’t believe it though, I didn’t even know her name; that wasn’t like me at all. I asked her name and she told me ‘Nguyen’. (Like ‘Ngoc’, also ‘Anh’, Nguyen is very common as both a Vietnamese name and a word/label, also just like ‘Ngoc’ and ‘Anh’, the name/word/label Nguyen can be seen all around Vietnam.) Nguyen the person was wonderful and she was gorgeous, and she drank beer by choice (when there wasn’t a giant condom-like balloon hanging from her mouth) yet she was strangely aloof; while she appeared to speak good English I couldn’t seem to elicit any real conversation from her – typical of many Viet women questions regarding life, family, or work was met with brisk deflection followed by giggling, nipple-pinching and butt-patting. After the fifth time checking that my wallet was still where it should have been I checked my watch; I told Nguyen that this would have to be our last game as I was expected down the other end of Bui Vien in a bit…

That same man, Bruce the 40-year-old Aussie cocaine fiend, upon the consumption of his flour/icing-sugar/cocaine stopped another late-night street vendor. Here he bought a terribly ornate cannabis pipe then, seeming to know exactly where he was going, at sometime after 4 a.m., he ventured out for a stroll. Nobody even seemed to notice his disappearance. He returned some time later to our group of white-skinned tourists/expats and pulled from his pocket a handful of small bags.

…Nguyen won that game and I immediately challenged her to another. “I thought you have somewhere else you need to be tonight…?” she teased in her near-perfect English.

“I did,” I remarked, “But something more important seems to have come up.”

She grinned and gave my butt a smack (I presently checked my wallet was still in its buttoned back pocket).

I bought her another beer and another balloon; I asked what had happened to her last balloon, she told me it had gone down. I asked her why she had undone it, she told me she liked sucking in the air inside the balloon. I recall thinking at the time, that was somewhat of an odd thing to do but then again, I’m somewhat odd myself (it would not be until sometime later that the significance would be revealed of these so-called balloons), so I wasn’t ready to judge…

Bruce was proving to be quite the middle-aged hedonist; taking a seat most people watched as he first packed his ornate pipe with cannabis, lit that, took a few massive hits then passed it around. Using a clear space in the table he then doled out some more of this white substance and fashioned it into short lines; they disappeared in less the half the time it had taken to form them. Bruce then withdrew from his pocket a different pipe which, as there were around twelve English-speaking men sucking on his other one, I supposed it was sensible that he should have two. Nobody else at the table was paying a great deal of attention to what Bruce was doing yet, without looking overly interested, I watched him fill his secondary pipe with contents from the third small bag. He ignited a Zippo lighter any held it beneath the bowl of the pipe; I heard a hissing, popping, fizzing sound coming from within.

…When I finally left ‘Nguyen’s Bar’ the sun had gone down and I was ravenous. I strode down the street – which is to say I walked as fast as the Monday night pedestrian congestion would allow – looking for somewhere I could grab a bite to eat. I had a feeling there was a banh mi vendor down here and right now I could really go one of those a banh mi op las. There it was, just up there on the left…

There was a rumour going around the table that Bruce was smoking meth but, judging by the fumes wafting past my nose, it was something decidedly less sinister.

…“Ban co quear kohm,” I started.

“Ah, doy quear,” the lady smiled with a gracious bow.

“Buhng mee, op lah…?”

The lady nodded and started putting together the morsel…

Bruce had fallen asleep before his pipe was even passed back to him; put to rest were my suspicions also about the contents of the pipe being from the amphetamine gamut.

…I had stepped around the back of the food cart to take a seat as I dined but as I sat, requiring two hands to eat yet with one holding the banh mi and the other gripping my water bottle and 120 dong change, was forced to set down the two right-hand possessions – placing the small wad of cash beneath my water bottle – on the chair beside me and stood in order to rearrange myself. I flipped my wallet from back to front for ease of sitting then turned back to the water bottle; it was just where I’d left it only now it was rocking gently back and forth…

Some other guys around the table were talking about a scuffle they’d witnessed on Bui Vien a little over a week ago. Seemingly a Western tourist had inexplicably antagonised a group of bored, also potentially high, Vietnamese youth; as the man’s story went, the situation had become gory when one of the delinquent Viet Cong had used a blade to open up the White dude’s cheek – it was at this point, through my fug, I realised they were recalling the incident just last Monday, which had befallen me right beside the banh mi vendor’s cart.

…I grabbed the bottle. As I had suspected it was not somehow obscuring my money. I looked up; a lean Vietnamese youth was walking casually away from me down the alley running perpendicular to the main street, to my right. As there was nobody else in the vicinity this man was clearly the guilty party. “Oi!” I called to the disappearing figure.

He made no effort to stop.

Before I knew what I was doing I had taken chase. “Hey, you,” I called again, now more forcefully.

This time he stopped, and slowly turned. He was an alarming good-looking young man and I almost felt bad accusing him of petty theft. “Dude,” I said lightly, even close to chuckling as I spoke, as though this was just some kind of silly misunderstanding, “come on bud, you can’t do that – I was standing right there.”

The young Viet looked at me in confusion and made some unintelligible sound, I guess implying incomprehension.

“My money…?” I extended an open palm with a friendly yet quizzical expression. “Tien…? I asked again, in Vietnamese.

He shook his head in apparent confusion and shifted from foot to foot; at that moment I noticed the corner of a yellow Viet banknote – my Viet banknote – protruding from his left jeans pocket.

“There,” I pointed, again almost laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation, “you have my money,” I stepped closer. “Give it back…?”

The youth shook his head vigorously and refused to even look down, instead thrusting both hands in his pockets.

I stepped closer still; now just a metre separated us.

He lifted his hands from his pockets and started to back away.

Suddenly annoyed at the youngster’s unwillingness just to accept when he’s been caught in the wrong, keeping my head upright (never show your opponent the back of your head – jiu-jitsu), I made a lunge for the money in his pocket; as I wrestled my 120 dong (just $10) from his pants I gazed a disbelieving stare into the young Viet’s deep and frighteningly dark eyes.

Suddenly there were three more Viet youths staring at me with their deep dark, soulless eyes.

Four Vietnamese youth with a combined age of no more than 100 and oh my, did they look pissed.



Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Nev R Buckdown

Photography by D Lin Quint




Tim Walker’s Vietnam XIX

Honestly, I didn’t much care for Shisha; I just could not embrace the concept of inhaling strawberries and anyway, without a calyx to chew, how can one be certain they are strawberries?

My return to the game of pool had been a success and I was excited about hopefully replicating Saturday night’s efforts tonight; Noobie had returned to her dingy lair in the upstairs of Crazy Girls for sleep, before the start of her workday, that night, Sunday…

I on the other hand wasn’t so accustomed with long periods of sleep while in Southeast Asia; worst to worst I knew I could take a nap tomorrow. I felt as though I could really get into this ‘5:30 a.m. to bed, 12 p.m. (or later) rise, perhaps followed by a mid-afternoon nap’ schedule; Vietnamese mornings just aren’t so ‘invigorating’ in the way that I find mornings in New Zealand – in Vietnam the mornings are hot and they’re smelly, they’re just not terribly uplifting.

…9:30 p.m. Sunday I stepped off the pavement and into Crazy Girls premises; I was greeted warmly by employees and noticed that most of them were even addressing me by name (which I found odd because while I had, naturally, retained all of their names I never expect that people will bother to recall mine because, let’s be fair, in New Zealand at least, most people don’t; but which I now realise was/is a brilliant tactic by the bar manager/bargirls at Crazy Girls to make a longer-staying, potentially repeat customer – I believe I had mentioned to Noobie on Saturday night that I intended to be in Vietnam for weeks rather than days – feel important therefore more likely to spend time thus money at the establishment in question)…

This was to be my second night in HCMC and if I was get my budget back on track, I had to ensure it was more cost-effective than the previous night had been; that plan sadly vaporised the instant I heard Noobie’s shrill, nasally, but classically Asian timbre virtually screamed at me from across the floor, “Tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiim!”

“Noobiieeeeee!” I called back as the doll-like little lady precariously burst forward on a pair of 6 Inch heels, propelling herself/stumbling/falling/collapsing into my waiting arms.

Recomposing herself she looked up at me with a face of disingenuous indignation. “My name not Noobie,” she said forcefully, uttering each word in a clipped manner; furrowing her brow but still with a grin in her eyes. She was exerting a concerted effort not to break into laughter as I observed her winding up for her next line; her big eyes lit up then her eyebrows went up, her chest went up then her little shoulders went up as well as the breath went in and finally, “It Rrrrrrnnoobie,” she attempted to enunciate the English version of her name with her Vietnamese tongue/palate, and in a tone similar to that of a child with a head-cold.

Feigning surprise I pulled my head back suddenly, clasping her delicate shoulders while still maintaining contact with her big shiny eyes. Taking an exaggeratedly large breath inward and dropping all expression from my face I abruptly blurted, “Noobiiiiiiiieeeeeeeee!”

With that her head rolled back and she laughed; not cute Asian giggles, not the kind she is paid to do, not fake, not ‘canned’ laughter – this was genuine, hearty, stomach laughter. (I reckon it was the most beautiful thing I saw that night, too, and if you knew some of the sights I saw that night, believe me, that statement would astonish you).

I stood there with my forcedly blank expression, staring at this exquisite little Asian princess as she uninhibitedly howled with laughter, and wondered how I could be so fortunate.

She eventually stopped laughing and regained eye contact. “You craaazy,” she said meekly with moisture around her eyes and the cheesiest of grins pasted across her face.

“You say I am a crazy boy…? … You are the Crazy Girl.”

She giggled (canned laughter), “You craaazy boy.”

I stared into her eyes, “Ah, come on, you lurve my crazy.

“Tim craaazy,” Noobie spoke thoughtfully, then as though she was playing word games with herself she went on, speaking each word individually rather than in sentence form, “Love … Tim … Crazy … How you?”

Initially confused by the swift change of tack I responded presently, “Oh, I’m good now, thanks.”

“You good day?” she asked, leading me to wonder why the English language uses so many obviously extraneous words; although she only used half the word-count that I did her wonderfully broken English was still fully comprehensible.

“It was alright, thank you.”

“What do?” (Even fewer words yet still totally comprehensible.)

“Walked, mainly – how was your nap?”

“Good – where walk?”

“Oh, around – across a couple of Districts.”

“I see you.”

“What?” I was shocked, “Where?”

“You walk by bar.”

“I did, yes,” I smiled, “I passed your bar twice – I would’ve expected you’d be asleep – once heading out, and once heading back, several hours later.”

Noobie’s face became distorted with confusion, or perhaps it was distrust; insecurity. “Where you go?” she pushed.

“’Where did I go?’ What do you mean? … I just said, across a couple of Districts – nowhere in particular.”

Her face brightened. “Why?”

“’Why?’ Because I enjoy walking,” I leaned back and surveyed the gorgeous specimen before me; I decided she looked hurt. With no idea how anything I’d said might have had a negative effect, but deciding that I wanted to see her smile again, I put on a macho voice and said, “Walking keeps me fit and muscular, see?” Standing at full height with hands now at my belt buckle, wearing jeans and a tight white T-shirt, I gave my right pectoral muscle a few twitches. Seeing a mild reaction from my audience I then twitched my left one a few times.

Noobie’s eyes widened and that glorious smile returned. “Do again,” she ordered.

“Do what?” I said as, with thumbs hitched into my belt and looking aimlessly around the room, I twitched the left then the right in succession a few more times before resting my eyes back on her.

“You amazing,” she stepped forward, “you craaazy, but you amaaazing.”

I tilted my head, pursed my lips and flicked my eyebrows in acknowledgement; Noobie stepped closer and I draped my arms over her shoulders. She pressed closer and wrapped her arms around my midriff; I kissed the top of her head.

She suddenly pulled back and looked up at me with a start. Still standing in my light grasp she cocked her head and looked at me, her eyes beseeching. “You buy ring?” she asked with a smile.

I went suddenly cold. I understood that I was not totally aware of Viet custom regarding dating/marriage, but surely just one sexual encounter did not constitute a platform for betrothal – surely she didn’t expect that the purpose of my stroll today was to purchase an engagement ring…?

I looked into the eyes of the Vietnamese doll peering eagerly up at me and tried to read her face for more information (and for the record I had decided, in those few moments, that if she wished it, then yes, blown budget notwithstanding, I would buy an engagement ring for Noobie).

She must have detected my confusion as she brought to my attention the drinks menu…

Incidentally the third hotel at which I stayed during my voyage was, overall, the best hotel (I am leading somewhere); in fact I would have extended my stay at the Pink Tulip, situated on an offshoot of Bui Vein Street – while not technically ‘Bui Vein’ there are two parallel streets near the top of Bui Vein Street running through one city block perpendicularly to the main Bui Vein – but sadly, by the time I had finally decided that I wished to stay on amid the Pink Tulip’s inviting atmosphere, the place had become flooded with British and Dutch homosexuals (more on this later, also the male owner/manager named Annie) meaning, in that hotel at least, there were no unoccupied openings to be found.

…With her black-painted fingernail underlining ‘Johnnie Walker Black Label’ she asked again, “You wan riiing?”

Finally I understood: the Vietnamese language is composed primarily of vowel sounds thus consonants – the main point of distinction for most English words – are not afforded so much focus; this means that a Viet’s ability to enunciate a language’s hard consonants, unless they have had extensive diction training at a, usually American, language school, is generally lacking – hence Noobie’s inability to properly pronounce her own English name. (Like so many Viet women her Vietnamese name was Ngoc – ‘Nyowp’.)

Many Viet names, as already documented, to the Western ear, are almost identical, yet to a Vietnamese ear, the highly nuanced articulation of vowel sounds is what sets apart one form of address from another. Interesting (as a White man) learning a Vietnamese name, one must listen extremely carefully then mimic the sound exactly – or risk becoming the source of great amusement because while a mispronounced vowel sound mightn’t seem much to an English speaker, to them, it might be tantamount to calling a Michael ‘Michaela’ or a Brendon ‘Brenda’ – and the same goes with their everyday speech – consonants are often dropped from the beginning and end of Viet words, yet provided that clear enunciation is projected of the word’s inherent ‘sound’ the intended word/meaning is generally conveyed; it is for this reason that foreigners (like me) who, although the words spoken might have been accurate, with their (my) inaccurate accents hence ‘sounds’, they (I) sometimes have (had) difficulty being understood…

The Pink Tulip hotel on Bui Vein was wonderful; it was comfortable, it was homely and importantly, it was cost effective. What I had not realised when I made the booking from New Zealand however, is that apparently the Pink Tulip is registered online as a ‘Gay Friendly’ (curious, two terms which, in one sense, mean practically the same thing, yet in another sense, take on a mildly different meaning), meaning that if a homosexual tourist from, for example, Netherlands, or Great Britain, wishes to stay in Vietnam but wants to be assured their sojourn will be free from persecution, or just want to be surrounded by like-minded travellers thus free to revel in their gaiety, they should come to the Pink Tulip. I did initially find it odd, when chatting with a well-dressed, middle-aged Brit seated outside the hotel having his customary midday bottle of local Viet beer, that he should, (in context mind you), disclose his sexual orientation to be homosexual, and this only hours after speaking to a Dutch man who had revealed to me the very same thing (I realise this is beginning to sound queer) which was just the day before I would speak briefly to a homosexual woman who in fact, (as I was by now noticing a pattern) didn’t need to reveal a thing, and that was shortly before bumping into a veritable bevy of, pleasantly aromatic, men of a similar persuasion.

…The only times Noobie seemed to have difficulty understanding me though was when I embarked on one of my famed rambles, or if I tried to explain something about which she had no clue, or better yet, if I had one of my impassioned rants; she would step back from wherever we were or whatever we were doing, armed with a face of consternation, in a big (albeit shrill, nasally, and typically Asian) voice then, while looking all flustered and upset, she would angrily flap her arms while demanding that I ‘Stop talking!’ This was usually followed by, in her clipped-words manner, ‘You … Too … Many … Words!’ Then finally my favourite, also I believe their favourite as it affords Vietnamese folk a great deal of liberty regarding commerce and ultimately any kind of dealings with foreigners – with a shake of the head and often a pull of the earlobe (for some reason) – ‘I no unnerstaan!?’

The manager/owner of the Pink Tulip was a lovely Dutch man of around middle age – who would also turn out to be homosexual – who introduced himself to me as ‘Annie’. I spent some time ensuring I was hearing him correctly and yes, as he confirmed, it was a typical girl’s name, and as it turned out, Annie had come to Vietnam some years ago from Netherlands with the very intention of investing in a hotel in Ho Chi Minh City. While Annie loved the people and had embraced the ‘HCMC 24/7’ lifestyle, he admitted, in fact he had arrived in Vietnam ‘Arnie’ (or it might have been ‘Ernie’, I’m not entirely sure); yet given the Viet people’s unwillingness/inability to enunciate consonants, Arnie (or Ernie) became ‘Annie’, which the gentle homosexual eventually accepted as his handle.

At the bar, Sunday night, I gave Noobie three 100s and watched her trot off to fetch the drinks; admittedly I was left feeling a little dejected – I had three goals that I wanted to achieve while in Vietnam and the possibility that, on only my second night here, I had located an exquisite Vietnamese woman who was willing to share a life with me, that would have effectively been one goal achieved.

Alas, Noobie did not expect a marriage proposal and the question ‘You buy ring?’/’You wan ring?’/You wan buy ring?’ (along with a variation of the international ‘blowjob’ symbol – loose fist to mouth in a twisting motion – which I presume was the Crazy Girls version of subliminal messaging) was an inquiry that I would hear many times over the next 23 days.



Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Noah Ring

Photography by Tue B Bort



Tim Walker’s Vietnam XVIII

We slept until after midday then, woken by housekeeping, Noobie and I went out for breakfast at a nearby street-food restaurant.

There is something inherently romantic about being fed by another; that goes tenfold when using chopsticks.

Wandering back towards Crazy Girls, I already understood she worked in the bar but was shocked to learn that Noobie lived there too – as I would later see for myself, along with a number of other ladies all crammed into an upstairs ‘loft’ in a setup not unlike a scene from what I imagine might comprise a news article on ‘Inhumane Living Conditions for Workers at Chinese Sweatshop’ – we stopped in at another café/bar for a quick game of pool and a drink…

Crazy Girls didn’t technically start trading until early evening yet, checking my watch to find the time was nearing 2 p.m., I had no compunction about drinking my first scotch for the day (90.000VND), and at a different bar.

…There were no other customers in the small establishment which – as the supposed bar manager observed us from a table near the wall looking half asleep/drunk while smoking a cigarette and sipping a heavily iced drink – afforded us the freedom to talk, laugh, be idiots and moreover, to be happy in each other’s company. Looking around the inside of that bar, watching Noobie as she elegantly pranced around the table balanced atop ridiculously high heels (it had yet to occur to me that when she removed those shoes in fact she became ridiculously short), seeing the bar manager go behind his bar to fetch himself another beverage; watching the woman of my dreams sink yet another ball, then the black, before grinning, giggling, turning and wiggling her butt in my direction in an apparent display of mockery, I actually found myself wondering how this moment could be any better. I thought about the night before, stepping up to the Crazy Girls pool table as challenged; how it had struck me but not terribly fazed me that I had actually not played pool in around 15 years…

I used to play all the time, used to love it; shit I even used to be considered good at pool. I recall back in 2003 shooting down to the pub to play pool after work, drinking lime-water and catching up with buddies (obviously these were different times; still working a real job, still teetotal, still with a circle of people I could call friends); alas with the progression of the severity of a Post Traumatic Tremor, the first aspect of that former life to become little more than a cherished memory was the career in diesel mechanics along with the majority of any hands-on abilities, then at around the same rate the ‘friends’ had dissipated, the booze was reintroduced. Huh, funny how that worked out.

…I remembered the night before, the sense of exhilaration as I assumed the position at the edge of the table, cue in hand but having no idea how my body, after all these years, would react to the concentration, the immense pressure faced in a game of pool…

Sunday morning – sorry, afternoon – in Ho Chi Minh City, having recently eaten (been fed) a breakfast of that same meal that I just could not seem to avoid during my last visit to Vietnam (see last year’s Chronicles), followed by a glass of scotch and a fairly intense game of pool, and Noobie is claiming to be ready for bed (sleep in Vietnam, as I did learn last year, given the high number of night-time workers also the way many people choose to sleep in their air conditioned rooms rather than endure the daytime heat, is generally taken whenever and indeed wherever one can manage it); as she points out, anyway, she has to start work in about five hours and is hoping to grab a few hours’ nap before then.

…Saturday night, as I recalled, forcing calmness – difficult given the massive speaker mounted on the left wall pelting inordinate volume in my face and indeed, through my entire being (as I recall this particular songstress was repeatedly demanding that someone ‘give it to her’) – I surveyed the table. Even from afar I could tell it was in awful condition; while the felt was intact it was the table’s surface irregularities that concerned me – for someone hoping to get back into the game of pool following a 15 year hiatus, I didn’t know if the challenges presented by a lumpy table were going to be altogether surmountable.

“You break..?” Noobie asked, cocking her head, batting her eyelids and giving me the cheesiest smile, with the brightest red lips I’d seen.

I gave a casual nod and stepped up, carefully adjusting the white ball’s position on the D (in fairness the table bore no markings at all, players simply had to presume where the dot, the line, and the D was located); meantime I was just being careful not to allow a spasmodic hand to slap the white down the other end of the table. I was actually a little anxious; I didn’t know what I was going to do if my nerves refused to cooperate – I could hardly step out of a game before we’d even got into it, but nor was I willing to make an idiot of myself if spasming limbs did become prominent. I’d just drained my sixth glass of supposed Black Label with Coke and Noobie was pushing me to buy us both another. I gave her 3 100s and she trotted away…

I felt at that point – definitely feeling the effects of the booze but still a few from ‘drunk’ – the alcohol ought to have been working for, rather than against me; just the right amount of booze, I’ve found, renders me calm and comparatively steady and while not enough has little or no effect, too much, well too much alcohol and it appears my nervous system starts getting pissed again, and not in the good way.

…Good, I thought, hoping to relieve some of the self imposed mental pressure, she’s gone – at least now if I mess this up I can quickly reset and re-break.

Splaying my right foot back and left foot forward, cue gripped in right hand pressed against my hip to hold it steady, slowly bending my torso over the table, I felt everything just slot into place; it was as though I’d played the game yesterday – my stance, my cue coordination, even my hand bridge (well, with a few minor adjustments to take care of twitching fingers that I didn’t recall posing an issue 15 years ago) was on point. Noobie had set up the balls horribly, leaving the triangle well off centre and with the peak directed almost at a corner pocket. Never mind, I thought; just bash ‘em up and see what happens. I drew the cue back and forwards a few times, smiling wryly at the way my right arm spasmed and jerked throughout the movement…

This was always the thing back in 2003; I used to shake a lot, I used to look downright awkward, but I could always somehow get the job done. At the time, sinking balls with a jiggling cue, I’d flippantly maintain that I would just wait until the constantly moving cue tip passed over the centre of the white then I would give it a quick tap but realistically, I don’t know how I did it. At that moment, watching the cue tip jump about, I remembered the first piece of advice I was ever given regarding the game of pool: ‘The first thing you need to do to make any kind of shot in the game of pool is, for Christ’s sake, hit the white square on.’

…My smile became broader as I felt the adrenalin surge through me; this was it. Spasmodic limbs, flailing arm notwithstanding I felt good, like I was meant to be in this position. I drew back the cue for one final practice manoeuvre, squared it up against the white and…

At that moment, from my right peripherals, I saw Noobie returning with the drinks.

…I wasn’t worried; I knew I had it nailed. I gave the horrendous set my strongest break with a powerful follow-through (the misconception with breaking a pool triangle is that the shot has to be hard; on the contrary, the force of the shot is not so important, it’s the follow-through that gives the ball its inertia – its ability to break). There was a satisfying ‘crack’ and every ball on the table scattered – every ball other than the black…

I’m told that’s a sign of a good break – when every ball scatters but the black doesn’t move.

…I straightened my torso as a few errant balls came to rest in the lower half. I saw, far left corner pocket, number 10 down; I was on ‘bigs’ (or ‘stripes’, or ‘overs’, depending where you’re based). I walked calmly past Noobie who was looking on with suitable admiration. “What you on?” she inquired.

“Bigs,” I replied, making a ‘large’ gesture with my shaking hands. I then identified my drink, leaned over the table and, with one hand placed on the corner and one foot hovering slightly in the air, I placed the straw in my mouth and with five massive slurps, drained the glass.

Noobie looked at me wide-eyed, grinning like a maniac, “You wan ‘nother?” she asked.

“Sure,” I said, handing her another couple of hundreds and turning back towards the pool table, “less ice this time though, yeah?”

“OK,” she answered eagerly. Somehow over the pelting audio I could still hear her clip-clopping most of the way towards the drinks dispensary area.

Back on task, I lined up the 13, having left it wonderfully close to the adjacent corner pocket. It was a simple shot, but awkward, given that I had to access the shot from the wrong side (also I could see the table surface around that pocket was particularly uneven). I raised a foot, leaned forward, extended my posture, and my neck started to spasm (which wouldn’t be so bad only a thrashing neck is effectively a thrashing head which tends to result in a quivering torso; also I struggle to see through a blur). I stood back on two feet and swung the cue around left handed…

I was never a fan of left handed shots back in the day but in fact over the years, given my increasing difficulty with both sides, feeling it could be a beneficial skill to learn, I have been working on my ambidextrous ability.

…It was awkward and the Tremor, if anything, was additionally troublesome yet, by clasping the cue butt between extended fingers rather than a gripped fist then rotating my hand outwards and holding the cue far away from my body, with a little effort and a lot of discomfort, I made it work; boom, 13 down.

I heard Noobie clapping and cheering from back at our table and wondered momentarily if Vietnamese appreciated sarcasm. The next best shot, the 15, was a side-pocket shot and involved a great deal of angle; the kind of shot, back in the day, at which I used to excel. Nowadays, I was less confident. I lined it up anyway. It didn’t matter; I had already sunk two – already surpassed the point of total incompetence. No, damn it, that didn’t matter; now I knew I could still play, shit man, now I wanted to win.

I assumed the position and lined up the shot. I saw the lines in my mind; I transferred the lines to the felt. It was a big angle but I could make it, all I had to do was make sure I hit the white squarely. My head shook, my shoulder jerked; I stood up again. I surveyed it from a standing position then resumed the pose. I didn’t waste so much time this time.

I swung the cue gently (never hit side-pocket shots hard); perhaps too gently. Crap. Still doubled over I watched the white meandering towards the burgundy ball. I was surprised to see it contact exactly where it was supposed to, glancing off and starting the 15 rolling directly towards the side pocket. (In that moment I was impressed that at least I had struck the ball at the correct angle and, irrespective of outcome, expected Noobie would be too.) The ball still had around 250 millimetres to go before it reached the pocket. Wow, I thought as it continued to make its gradual way across the table, that felt must be really worn. The ball just kept on rolling. The 15 rolled for about 200 millimetres, slowly but with inertia, then began to pull up. It now had only the width of the ball to go but was practically stopped. I couldn’t believe it though; it just kept on moving. It was as though it was propelled by some otherworldly force, it just kept on moving. I could see Noobie from the corner of my eye, watching with anticipation; never had I seen a pool ball travel so slowly towards a pocket but still keep moving. This shot, where most pool shots are over in a matter of seconds, seemed to be taking minutes to play out. Either way, I conceded, I’ve left it close. Finally it was there. The ball appeared to hesitate right on the precipice. I couldn’t believe how close it was. I glanced at Noobie with a grin. Her mouth was agape. Suddenly the ball dropped. Noobie jumped off her stool, clapping madly, then ran over and threw her arms around me. “You amaaazing,” she said in a tone of admiration/adoration.

I tried to play it down but couldn’t stop the massive grin spreading across my face. “Damn right,” I muttered with a laugh.

Suddenly she pulled back, a big smile plastered to her face and almost screamed the word, “Shishaaa!”

I didn’t know what to say; I didn’t know what she was saying.

She was still looking me with that mischievous grin, “You want Shisha?” she asked, cocking her head.

“I … Don’t … Know…”

With that she grabbed the drinks menu and pointed, “Shishaaa!”

I looked; ‘Shisha, 350VND’, it read. “Sure,” I said.

Noobie again dashed away to return a while later holding a large jug/urn/bong-like structure, and the word “Shishaaa!”

Shisha. Now I understood. I had seen this around Christchurch bars a bit but had never known the name; two 30 by 5 millimetre pellets sit smouldering atop this ornate bong, then participants inhale their smoke – having first passed through water (hence, bong) – from two hoses protruding from the sides…

A variation on an Indian method of tobacco-smoking, where it has reportedly been used for centuries, where Shisha differs from a conventional tobacco pipe is that firstly, the tobacco, similar to vaping, is blended into some awful strawberry flavour and secondly, the act of passing the smoke through the water supposedly rids it of its tar along with various other pollutants. Make no mistake though, this is not an innocuous alternative to cigarette smoking; Shisha is equally – some have argued more – harmful than conventional tobacco smoking. The technique used to smoke Shisha is similar to the way one would smoke a Cannabis bong – rather than easing the smoke into the mouth then regulating how much one actually inhales, this is direct inhalation – a Shisha smoker inhales a lungful – and after watching it being done, alluring as the pink vapour looks filtering from the nostrils of a beautiful Asian woman, again similar to vaping, they are inhaling massive volumes of smoke; studies believe that in a night smoking Shisha a user might inhale the equivalent of 200 cigarettes and even if the tar is removed, that’s only one of tobacco’s deadly constituents – let’s not forget, nicotine, like most heavenly drugs, is ultimately a poison…

I feel as though we’re getting off track; toxin or otherwise, I want to take a moment to reiterate, during this recent voyage to Vietnam, if only to find out what happened when I did, I did not shy away from any substance I encountered and if it was airborne, oh you better believe I inhaled it.

…Like most poisons though, take just the right amount, the outcome is heavenly.



Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Puffy McGee

Photography by Sukkan Shisha

Tim Walker’s Taxing II

The point that Jacinda and her Government of Losers appear to be missing is that to raise the cost of fuel is effectively, to raise the cost of everything.

National had it right when they ran with the mantra ‘Improve the economy and the people will benefit’…

The problem with this, and likely the reason Labour couldn’t comprehend it, is because it’s not a ‘quick fix’ like our governing party of losers seem to favour; building a stable economy takes time.

…This principle makes so much sense it ought to be a millionaire; the idea is to boost New Zealand’s economy by, for example, improving the cash-flow of our big exporters so that the money they make can then trickle down through small businesses enabling them to pay their staff better wages meaning they have more money for their families which would put an end to child poverty also probably a lot of the domestic violence we see about at the moment and hey, everybody’s happy – but certainly not the way it’s currently being done where the idiot Government simply demands that employers pay their staff more; what if the businesses can’t afford to pay more, what if they’re struggling themselves? Forcing a small business to pay its staff higher wages can easily be the end of that small business; then what? The alternative, the businesses lay off employees until they can afford to pay their staff more then we’re even worse off than before because while existing employees might now be earning a better wage, taking into account those redundant employees and the failed business owners from before, now unemployment has gone up steeply.

If unemployment goes up we have more people on unemployment benefits, which the Government pays anyway and (although one could argue in that case they’ve shot themselves in the foot) with so many people no longer contributing, the country’s economy will begin to slip; if we’re not careful it will fall right back to where it was before National took charge in 2008 and fixed it – back to the way Aunty Helen left it before she happily handed over the reins of a broken sulky to Uncle John and he had to bring us back on course from, basically, national bankruptcy – then the Global Financial Crisis hit so Uncle John and National had to steer us clear of that calamity as well.

Possibly the worst thing to come from higher fuel prices thus higher commodity prices thus less expendable cash for families thus renewed demand for higher wages thus increased minimum wage thus increase in unemployment thus loss in overall production thus less national income thus falling value of the New Zealand dollar, is increased inflation.

Inflation is a tricky one; it’s always going to increase, the goal is to ensure it increases as little as possible because ultimately, inflation is the value of money.

When a country is doing well, for instance when competent governance ensures a nation’s economy is healthy, inflation remains low; when a country begins to slip, for instance if poor governance means a country is spending more than it can afford (Helen Clark led Labour Government), inflation will rise sharply.

When this happens interest rates tend to rise also; I feel as though New Zealand’s homeowners will be pleased with the way National left New Zealand’s interest rates but, you can be damn sure that with Jacinda’s coalition of losers at the helm and with a Finance Minister who struggles to do basic sums also a Deputy PM who seems hell-bent on all things outrageous, they’ll be back up soon enough.

Roads need to be built and maintained therefore money needs to be spent, yet the Government’s exorbitant tax on fuel, as outlined above (and if I can see it where the hell are they looking?), is not a prudent way to go about sourcing that funding.

Worrying as it sounds, it’s as though New Zealand’s Government doesn’t understand how money works anymore; does our Labour led Government not understand that the economy is a fragile beast?



Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Acon Nomie

Photography by Esther Unsar

Tim Walker’s Taxing

Across New Zealand the cost of fuel has reached insane new heights, yet fortunately our beloved ‘Jacinda’ is stepping forward to relieve this pressure.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern maintains these rising fuel costs are ‘unfair on hardworking Kiwis’ and is reportedly taking steps to ‘subsidise the cost’ of petrol and diesel.

Make no mistake, in my opinion the Labour Government can go to hell, I’m a cold-blooded right-wing National supporter until the end; you better believe I was outraged by the outcome of this recent election and the way Labour threw together its coalition of losers – they complained about there being ‘no democracy’ in the recent US election but at least in their election the winner was the party which received the most votes

This time last year the cost of petrol had dropped below $2.00 per litre as the price of crude oil fell back to its lowest point in years; 12 months later that price has peaked at almost $2.50.

…In the lead-up to the last election the Labour party promised voters that it was going to use New Zealand’s ‘massive budget surplus’ (which National’s own Finance Minister assured us was non-existent) to boost funding across a multitude of sectors which many naïve voters thought sounded brilliant and it did, sound brilliant…

12 months on from its record low and the price of a barrel of crude oil has risen – slightly; 12 months on from New Zealand’s notable reduction in the cost of fuel and it too has risen – astronomically.

…Labour planned to use New Zealand’s ‘massive budget surplus’ to improve roads, to boost the health and education sectors; so Jacinda, tell us please, how much ‘boosting’ has Labour actually done? …

Labour promised us, in the lead up to the recent election, (taking into account New Zealand’s ‘massive budget surplus’) there would be ‘no need for any major tax increases in the near future’, making this blowout in fuel prices almost inexplicable.

…In fairness Labour has ‘boosted’ the cost of petrol by more than 50 cents per litre over the last year, so I guess that’s something; what, did they actually think that if they imposed this fuel tax incrementally we wouldn’t notice? Does the Labour Government think that most Kiwis are daft? …

It is a fact that New Zealand (Auckland) roads need maintenance; they always need maintenance and maintenance always means money, but it seems unreasonable that New Zealanders are expected, across one year, to fund a 25 percent increase in the cost of such a vital commodity (and particularly with such a ‘massive budget surplus’ left by National at the lead-up to last election).

…No, clearly Prime Minister Ardern does not think Kiwis are daft as she has now also conceded that ‘fuel prices are too high’, and is reportedly planning to subsidise these costs; in essence then she intends to temporarily reduce taxation imposed on fuel by her Labour Government.

Again Jacinda Ardern comes off looking like the People’s Prime Minister, yet all she has really done is try to screw the ‘People’ then upon hearing them moan, she has agreed to screw them a little less firmly.



Article by Tim Walker

Edited by P M Ardern

Photography by Nissa-Wan D Foll



Tim Walker’s Vietnam XVII

Across the Western world it was once expected that the man went out to work while the woman stayed home to raise the children and keep house; in Vietnam it is currently expected that women work while men generally go off to cafes, drink coffee, smoke cigarettes and chat with their buddies.

For some time I just stood in the middle of the road down the bottom of Bui Vien Walking Street as the frantic horde of revellers bustled around me; taking in the sounds, the sights and perhaps less enchanting, the smells…

Women run Ho Chi Minh City while the men, well the men often take token positions such as ‘gofer’ to their wife’s enterprise – performing the menial tasks or doing the heavier lifting – alternatively they wear a shirt with the word ‘Security’ printed on the back then stand or sit on the footpath (usually drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes) outside a business run by their wives or significant others. (It ought to be noted, younger, single men – men without a woman to keep them – they do generally work also.) Where many Vietnamese businesses/organisations might appear to be run/operated by a man – in that it might be a man who seems to have the power to make things happen – this is typically just a front; behind the masculine façade (probably intended to provide reassurance for chauvinistic Western customers) there will always be a woman in control.

…I had made my decision; I now made my move. No sooner than I had stepped off Bui Vien and onto the footpath I was accosted by several attractive – I assume ‘Crazy’ – girls, where I was handed a drinks menu and shown to a stool…

As with most bars on Bui Vien Street, Crazy Girls has no definitive boundary between the edge of the footpath and the beginning of its premises; the bar entrance itself is a few metres back from the road’s edge in the form of a totally open front gaping out onto the street, and is a 30 centimetre step up from the outdoor area which is often under an awning and splays onto the footpath.

…As my eyes adjusted, although I was seated outside I found I could make out the inside of the bar; to the left was a pool table under constant lighting but to the right of that, in the shadows, beyond an oddly placed pillar, appeared to be the music station – the area from where a ‘DJ’ pulled tracks each night from what would turn out to be the same 18-song playlist (which he just might have dubbed from the bar down the street which had possibly dubbed theirs from the other bar across the street, which had definitely been borrowed from the premises up the road). Further to the right, around a corner where I was noticing many staff – most adorned in their long T-shirts and denim shorts – were disappearing or reappearing, amid even more murky shadows was located a small ‘dance-floor’ yet strangely, I observed, despite the deafening background noise, not a great many customers…

Almost every bar in Vietnam and (as I will learn through reading the book that will ultimately save my soul and which would have saved me a great deal of money too but which, at this stage in my journey, I still have yet to purchase let alone read) Thailand employs women – bargirls – for the specific task of warming up their male clientele and essentially, loosening wallets; of course they dispense drinks and wipe tables as well but primarily, predominantly, these gorgeous ladies are floozies for hire.

…Seemingly the ‘clinking’ I had been hearing was coming from around that corner to the right where, judging by the number of staff who kept disappearing then reappearing holding a drink in each hand, there was obviously some kind of beverage dispensary…

They weren’t dressed as elegantly or seductively as the ladies in red over at Blueskies but the Crazy Girls bargirls sure knew how to make a guy feel important; the girl/s would sit a man down and commence their flirtatious Asian style of ‘fussing’, involving a lot of giggling/eyelid-batting (or if he is standing this becomes butt-patting/nipple-pinching which I initially thought was an odd form of seduction and I was right; as you too will soon discover ‘seduction’ is merely the unwitting by-product of this hands-on show), where the man then buys a drink for himself along with whatever lady decides she also wants one.

…I was at a table surrounded by three beautiful women as well as the one who seemed to have ‘claimed’ me, and with a Johnnie Walker Black on the way; I have a feeling I had agreed to buy each of the ladies a drink too – that’s five in total – and I had given one of them about 600 dong, so I was keen to see if she brought back any change…

It took until about my eighth visit to Crazy Girls for me to understand the insidious complexity of this butt-patting/nipple-pinching display; I was sitting with the future ‘woman of my dreams’ and watching as one of her colleagues exuded her powers of seduction over a decidedly intoxicated male patron. The woman of my dreams – who I had since come to know as ‘Noobie’ – and I were awaiting our next turn in a game of pool against an exceedingly drunk, extremely hard case, Australian husband and wife duo. The time was well past 3 a.m. and Noobie must have noticed my attention turning to the questionable antics of her butt patting, nipple pinching colleague, a few tables over. She tried to distract me, to pull my focus back to the game of pool but no, I was captivated with what I was seeing; the longer I watched the more I was learning.

…Drinks were on the way, even so I glanced again at the drinks menu; by Vietnam standards they were pricey, I could tell that much. Bia (Beer) wasn’t even advertised but I did happen to know that most places around HCMC charge 20 to 30 dong ($1.50 – $2.50) for local (Saigon Bia, 33 Bia) beer or Singapore (Tiger) beer while spirits (only rarely did I see local whisky being sold over the bar) were generally of the imported variety (Johnnie Walker Red/Black also Ballantine’s, Teacher’s, or Chivas Whisky) thus were comparatively expensive – 80 to 100 dong ($7.50 – $8.50) – yet for spirits here (which is oddly all that was advertised on the Crazy Girls drinks menu anyway) the place charged 110 dong (over $9.00)…

What had started with giggling and eyelid-batting had rapidly, perhaps inevitably, escalated into butt-patting and nipple-pinching. Another employee had since joined in the game – perhaps to ensure the drunken manatee didn’t lose his footing and flop onto his blubbery backside before they’d finished plundering him – and now, as I looked on with intrigue, as Noobie tried in vain to turn my attention back to her and our game, with one canoodler at the front pinching nipples and one canoodler at the back patting butt-cheeks I watched as, from practically the middle of the floor, the wallet was gently lifted from the manatee’s trousers and the wad of Viet currency whisked from within. I watched as butt-pincher, the one holding the wallet, glanced sideways at me – a lovely young woman of not more than 19 years named Trang (Chang) – winked and gave me a cheeky smile. I chuckled and shook my head in feigned distaste (because admittedly, I was a little impressed). Her captivatingly dextrous fingers then separated a few 500s before slipping the rest of the notes back into his wallet – ‘Take so little that the rich Westerners don’t even notice it’s gone’ (see last year’s Chronicles) – then with a grin she slid the wallet back inside the manatee’s pocket before giving that giant butt one last gigantic slap (which I actually heard all the way across the floor). Finally, as if thanking him for his contribution, Trang reached around to plant a big sloppy kiss on his big drunken face then returned to giggling and eyelash batting, a cool million dong better off for it.

…110.000VND is the price that a tourist might expect to pay for a good meal, yet in Vietnam, relativity is not a term that people seem to comprehend (think about the New Zealand equivalent, a good meal might cost you 30 or even 40NZD; there is no way you would consider paying even $30 for a single drink).

Vietnamese people do typically have very light fingers and indeed most would make proficient pickpockets, however the art of surreptitiously plundering someone’s personal belongings from their body while walking the street, sometimes right in front of their eyes – although it is a genuine fear of most Western tourists to Vietnam – I have neither experienced nor seen or even heard evidence of this practice; although while chatting with an Australian chap named Steve during my final week I did hear a couple of rollicking stories…

Pick-pocketing may have been an active pastime for Viet youths back in the day but with the rise in Vietnam tourism, governing bodies would be foolish for allowing this trend to continue (indeed, allowing it, because the fact is, if Government wishes to start, finish, prolong, curtail, commence or discontinue something, Government has the money, hence Government has the power thus Government may do whatever the hell they wish, and if you don’t believe that you’re naïve); pick-pocketing is very much an opportunist act perpetuated with little foresight and intended only to benefit one person, for only one time. Where the majority if the world is becoming a ‘cash-free- society, Vietnam is very much a cash-only society – tourists use ATMs to withdraw perhaps 5 million VND at a time, spend that lot then withdraw another 5 mil – take away a tourist’s wallet, you’ve effectively taken his ability to burn through money.

…Vietnamese are all about the tourism cash and it is my belief that they have learned to work as a team in order to acquire the aforementioned currency; while in my final week, staying at the Yen Trang hotel (highly recommended), I found myself in conversation with a very angry, insanely vengeful, but really very nice, Australian man. Aussie Steve was around middle-age and was telling the story of his previous night’s exploits; he had been innocently taking a stroll, somewhere around midnight, and happened to cut through a place known as Tranny Corner – an area one block over from Bui Vien that is considered a red-light district for transvestites – on his innocent way back from somewhere else that was no doubt entirely respectful. As Steve told it, he was approached and propositioned by a three ‘ladies’ – one taking the front with the other two circling around either side, as if admiring – who, as he tells it, he politely declined; it seems the situation became suddenly belligerent and Steve was apparently struck/grabbed in the groin. While doubled over, apparently, the remaining two ‘ladies’, the ones at either side, emptied his pockets, stripping him of his money (which he claims did not bother him greatly), his dignity (regarding the loss of which I did not linger), and his phone (which incensed Steve more than anything as his phone reportedly contained irreplaceable family photography). However, he went on, that isn’t the only time something like this has happened around Tranny Corner…

Any logically thinking Vietnamese citizen is going to try and avoid stripping a ‘rich Westerner’ of their wallet, preferring instead just to swindle and con the money out of them the old fashioned (Southeast Asian) way, then allowing them to go back to the ATM for a top-up, before potentially repeating the act. I spent more money on that first night in Crazy Girls than I care to recall, but justified it with the statement, ‘Oh, everyone has a blowout their first night in Vietnam’ – problem was I ended up spending almost the same amount that next night, too.

…As Aussie Steve told it there was a gentleman, a tourist in or in the vicinity of Ho Chi Minh City District 1’s Tranny Corner, one afternoon having just extracted his allowance from an ATM. Reportedly he was standing on or near the curb as he slotted the wad of notes into his wallet. At that moment a motorbike buzzed by, particularly close to the footpath, with the pillion reaching out and snatching the wallet straight from this tourist’s hands. (As Steve told the story both motorcycle occupants were ladyboys of the night, or in this case day, and apparently, according to Steve, there was a little more to the story that he didn’t know but wasn’t willing to speculate – perhaps regarding ‘a deliberate target’ as a result of ‘improper treatment/payment’ or something to this effect. No I don’t know either, I’m simply surmising based on the facts that I heard and this act sounded premeditated; additionally I am aware how passionately Asian folk feel about retribution – wrong one of these people or their family members on their home soil, cause the loss of face to most any Asian person and, gentle-natured, passive as they may appear, they will even the score, albeit eventually.) Anyway, as the man stood, bemused, unable to comprehend what has just happened to him, the two harlots and their scooter race around the block to a moment later reappear and speed right back past the bewildered gentleman, tossing him his wallet. The man scampers after it, retrieves it and checks inside; of course all of the notes are gone but his bank cards, valuable to no man except him, are of course still in place.

Now I certainly am not going to vouch for Steve’s credibility or indeed, the authenticity of the above yarn, but whatever truth that story may hold it outlines my point perfectly; I believe most Vietnamese have learned/are learning that pilfering a tourist’s wallet is not beneficial in the long-term, and have perhaps become less selfish/short-sighted in their quest for the acquisition of tourist cash. They appear to have learned/are learning that to simply pick the pocket of one man – thereby taking away his ability to procure more cash which would have afforded him the opportunity to become the victim of other Viet scams/cons – is a foolhardy game to play…

You see Vietnamese are not stupid people – they have never been stupid – which is how they have devised much more complex and elaborate means of extracting money from tourists; ideally, where the sucker is not even aware he/she (but usually ‘he’) is being played.

…Mind you, one does not need to be conned in order to burn through money in Vietnam; while I may have spent almost half my month’s budget in that first night at Crazy Girls, I experienced the kind of night that I will never forget, so maybe it was worth it…

The best thing though, the woman of my dreams ended up coming back with me that night.

…So yeah, maybe it was worth it after all.



Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Willie May-Kit

Photography by Vienna Meeze-Conn



Tim Walker’s Vietnam XVI

It was pandemonium. The noise, the lights, the people; this was utter insanity.

I remembered a year ago how Bui Vien had been considered the ‘party street’ of Ho Chi Minh City, but in my opinion it had always been pretty tame; so how could this pleasant little street from last year have since become the hub for all things mayhem – of anarchy? …

Around a year ago, it was a Saturday night; the time was roughly 5 a.m., I was outside the Aston Hotel Saigon with a few of the staff, sitting on kid’s plastic play-chairs and sipping Jimbean (see last year’s Chronicles). The night was winding down with only the occasional motorbike buzzing past, along with the odd drunkard having at some point throughout the evening lost his bearings. The following evening would involve nothing more than a few social drinks and only a small amount of idiocy, which would be largely wrapped up by 2 a.m.

…Bui Vien Street today is unequivocally a 24 hour, seven day a week operation…

This year, from what I perceived, most bars have a two to four hour window, ideally between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m., where the venues will shut down, thus briefly allowing ladies equipped with brushes and damp rags to flit through and again make the place presentable; sometimes though, if a group of particularly hardened (usually Aussie or Kiwi but occasionally Brit) drinkers come through and start buying liquor by the bottle rather than the glass (which I later discovered is recommended to noticeably drunken or egotistical patrons – trying to make a show of flexing their drinking muscles – by the establishment’s canoodling bargirls) then the bar manager can scarcely justify closing her premises, can she? (For the record, it is always a ‘she’; Bui Vien Street, indeed the whole of HCMC, is run by women – more on that later.)

…I recall taking a stroll one morning, deliberately early in the hope of catching a different perspective on this number 1 District of depravity and, indeed a different perspective I was shown; shortly before 8 a.m., the sun having been up for some time, down the bottom of Bui Vien, I stumbled upon a couple of bars, still cranking music, still flashing lights around, still going for it like it’s 3 a.m.

I had a chuckle at the few drunken revellers still inside one bar in particular, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the sun was now shining (well, as much as the sun ever shines in HCMC) also that the ambient temperature must have been already pushing 30 degrees, and meandered on across the city. Over an hour later, having crossed several Districts in the meantime, I wandered back to my hotel along that same route, strolling past that same bar; the music had been shut back to a paltry conversation level and the establishment was now – aside from a few ladies dashing about brandishing their brooms and damp rags, also the couple of middle-aged drunkards, the same two drunkards who had apparently been the driving force behind the lengthy evening (the same pair of drunkards who, incidentally, a few nights later I would end up befriending and, along with the woman of my dreams, beating in a game of pool) were now flopped forward on their tables, respective bottles of whiskey or tequila, or whatever the hell it was they were drinking that morning before they passed out, caps removed but bottles still almost full beside them – undergoing it’s hasty makeover before reopening in just a few hours.

This night though, Saturday night, it was still before 12 a.m. as I wrestled my way towards the visibly less-populated end of the street…

Interesting from a walker’s perspective; right up the top of Bui Vien Street, the end on which the Aston is located, things were relatively subdued, then the farther down the street one progresses, indeed the deeper one ventures into the bedlam of deafening audio and deranged revellers, the more one finds oneself struggling for forward momentum – struggling for room to breathe. Keep going, continue pushing through the boozy horde and one will emerge into an area not unlike the other end, again densely populated but again with room to move and breathe freely.

…I made it to the bottom of the street. I was going to keep going, just wanted to keep on walking, so desperately keen I was to explore these Southeast Asian badlands; I so badly wanted to do those things that I knew I shouldn’t do but wanted to do anyway just to see what happened – oh God I wanted to do that – but no. Early days yet, I decided; best to keep a measure on antics in the beginning then see how things panned out before doing anything blindly reckless or irresponsible…

Additionally interesting from a walker’s perspective; if one stands in the middle of the street and casts an eye around, one will notice how, between the hotels, restaurants, cafes, bars and other licensed premises – in fact usually directly above these establishments – are situated residential buildings – Bui Vien Street housing. The majority of these people breathe, work, play, and live practically their entire lives, in or around just this one street.

…I cast my eye around. Where the bars up the other end had looked modern, shiny, inviting hence popular, the bars down this end looked more unloved, derelict and ultimately seedy; this explained the bottlenecked variation that I encountered in reveller density along the street. Even so feeling like I was feeling, exuberant as I was at that very moment, I just didn’t know if heading back up the street for a further ear-bashing at the hands of an over-extended Vietnamese sound system was for me. On the other hand, I thought, perhaps it was – who was I to tell myself what was good for me, anyway? Then again, it was my first night in Vietnam (this year), so maybe I was obligated to let loose..? That was a good point; it was a very good point – how loose need I be letting though? So loose I end up losing all my money then waking up sweating and bloodied in a gutter somewhere..? Not that loose quite yet, no (give it a few more nights though)…

Prior to coming back to Vietnam I had set some rules that I very much expected myself to follow. Firstly, ‘You must not allow yourself to become so intoxicated (one will notice how I am using the term ‘intoxicated’ rather than ‘drunk’, this way the ruling stands for whatever variety of toxin I allow to enter my body) that you lose utter control of your capacities’.

…Last year, in Nha Trang, on my birthday night, hand in hand with my bottle of ‘Genuine Vietnamese Scotch Whisky’ (see last year’s Chronicles), while I seem to have maintained most of my recollection, to this day I have flashbacks of the horrors that I both endured and was forced to endure at some of the places that I entered that night; purely, I believe, (although you might say ‘obviously’) because I allowed myself to become intoxicated to a point where I had no control…

Yeah. That seems to be all the rule-making I did for this recent trip which, having now returned from Southeast Asia with no substantial gains or losses – other than a headful of lurid recollections also a diminished opinion of a Viet woman (or in fact any Viet person’s) ability to speak the truth – seems to have been a fairly liberal way to go.

…To hell with it; I turned to the seedy-looking premises on my left. The décor was almost entirely black which, aside from the intermittent flashing of lights, rendered the place a rather shady, yet oddly entrancing, atmosphere. I suspected this was their intention. I stepped closer and looked for a name but could see none. Sure, there was music, lights, people, clinking glass and the unmistakable audio of general drunkenness – people falsely empowered by alcohol, doing things they wouldn’t ordinarily do; empowered furthermore by the sense of being so far from home in this exotic land, taking chances they would not otherwise take – yet this enigmatic establishment seemed to have no indication that it was even trading as a business…

Among the archives now clogging my memory bank, the over four weeks’ worth of optical snapshots from my most recent solo voyage to Vietnam – of which, incidentally, a great many would be captured from among the shadows of this very bar – is one of me standing behind a heavily drunk, very sweaty and hoarse almost to the point of unintelligibility, middle-aged American man who, probably based on my oddly clean-cut and well-dressed appearance, also the way that every employee in the bar appeared to know my name along with my preferred drink and was so friendly towards me (the result of, at that point, seven consecutive nights not leaving the premises until closing time; in most cases 5:30 a.m.), had presumed that, as seems to be the case with many White folk, I was in fact the owner of the aforementioned establishment; given that we had only recently become acquainted I felt it would have been improper of me to correct this gentleman’s assertion. Somehow – might have had something to do with the WWE Smackdown that was usually showing on the bar television – we had started talking about MMA and more pointedly, the UFC; I admitted to not knowing a great deal about the current state of Ultimate Fighting and confessed that I wasn’t really into Mixed Martial Arts either, however, as I casually slipped into the conversation, I was in my fourth year of training in the art of jiu jitsu.

…I looked across the road; four gorgeous women patrolled the sidewalk each adorned in flowing red dresses and six inch stiletto heels, ostensibly soliciting business for a bar called – I thought initially it was ‘Bluesky’s’, based on the letters’ vertical configuration along with visual obstruction on the second and third to last letter, and wondered momentarily about the origins of such a surname, only to later discover it was – Blueskies (turns out not so much the bar owned by old Red Bluesky but the fusion of two inherently single words to fabricate a term which, regarding pronunciation anyway, is decidedly ambiguous), and wondered why I just didn’t go there instead…

This American man (we hadn’t wasted time on formal introductions but let’s just call him ‘Craig’) nodded knowingly and revealed that he also used to compete in MMA asking me, in raspy jest, “So how’s your rear-naked choke?”

I laughed lightly and told Craig, “Honestly bud, it could be better.”

“Go on then,” he wheezed and, still seated on his barstool as I stood beside him, turned his back to me.

“You serious?” I queried with a laugh, “You want me to put a choke on you?”

“Yeah go on,” he said with a dismissive wave of his hand, “show us what you jiu jitsu pansies can do..?”

At that point I knew I ought to have just walked away but of course more compelling was the desire to know what would happen if I didn’t, so I dutifully slid in behind the portly American. “You sure..?” I asked as I slid my left arm around his throat.

“Yeah,” he rasped, his hoarseness amplified by the force of my forearm dragging over his windpipe, “go on, see if you can choke me out.”

I hesitated in setting up the manoeuvre, the grin having suddenly vanished from my face. “Dude, I’m not choking you out,” I said firmly, “because you are going to tap before it gets too much, yeah?”

“Yeah whatever,” he wheezed, “don’t be a pussy – choke me out.”

I tightened the grip of my left forearm around Craig’s neck, bending my knees and pulling my chest in close to his back. I then linked up my left hand with the biceps of my right arm. I positioned my head beside his right ear and reiterated my intentions, “Just make sure you tap out as soon as you feel your head start to swell, alright” – anyone who has experienced a rear-naked knows the feeling – “because shit man, I don’t want to kill ya.”

“Nah, you won’t kill me,” he uttered in a strangled tone, curiously, already sounding halfway to death. “So go on then, ya fuckin’ pussy, show us you what you can do.”

…Saturday night, my first night on Bui Vien of 2018, I looked at the bar-with-no-name and the drunken revellers therein; there was something about its dark, seedy and all-around unappealing quality that I just found so damned inviting. To hell with it; I stepped onto the footpath and, with one last look at the glorious ladies in red over the road at Blueskies, entered the premises of – I glanced up to see a small neon sign obscured by a folded awning – Crazy Girls.



Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Junkin Yank

Photography by S Connor-Getter/Ria Naked