Monthly Archives: November 2018

Tim Walker’s Vietnam XXIV

The following week was more of the same; the same oppressive heat, the same expensive bar, the same licentious women although there was a new, albeit it a very much homosexually orientated, hotel.

In the hope of getting around my communication troubles, during my last few days at the Bali B, I did attempt to enlist the services of this new-fangled Internet contraption, ideally via some sort of Personal Computer…

My time at the Pink Tulip hotel really was joyous; here I encountered and spoke to a multitude of travellers of various nationalities – also sexual orientation – and found increasingly that Vietnam is becoming a popular destination for retirees (example given: among others, Canadian Aiden from the Bui Vien coffee shop), or just people seeking a change in lifestyle (because Vietnam assuredly does offer that).

…Pleading with the Bali B receptionist – a slimy middle-aged man who only spoke English when it was convenient to him and whom, in fact, I swear just last year I had encountered working behind the bar of a cruise ship in Halong Bay (see last year’s Chronicles) – for use of a PC but seemingly, despite this wiry Viet’s ever-smiling face and stress-free voice indicative of ‘no worries’, I found myself continually running into a language impasse…

Unlike the Bali B, where I had stayed for around four days and never truly felt welcome, the Pink Tulip embraced my custom even from before my official date of residency; while still technically signed in at the Bali B where, incidentally, upon seeing their ‘We prefer cash payment’ sign I had naturally removed my wallet and paid them in cash – overlooking the fact that of course I had already given my debit card details when making the online reservation – the (only affable) receptionist had then instructed me, “No matter, you go online and cancel booking.”

…I found it perplexing that the Bali B claimed to not be able to assist with my computing requirements when, looking around the place, personal and laptop computers appeared to be everywhere; first there was the, sealed off and with frosted windows, greenhouse-looking but supposedly airconditioned, area towards the back of the lobby, composed of approximately twelve ‘business’ people and around twice that many PCs (yet who knows what kind of computing they did in there). There was also a table near the business greenhouse where staff often went to eat, and most of them brought out laptops when they sat; then there was the older and apparently disused computer and monitor resting on a sideboard also down that end of the lobby – I asked if they could fire up that one for me but no, again, they couldn’t help…

“Why not just cancel from your end?” I asked.

“Easier if you go online.”

“Yeah, problem with that, my phone” – taking out my Nokia Simplephone in demonstration – “doesn’t have Internet.”

“You, no have Smartphone?” asked the youthful receptionist.

“Correct, I no have Smartphone,” I again put forward my alternative.

Why, no have Smartphone?” his face was of disbelief.

“Oh sorry … I no have Smartphone because I don’t need Smartphone – I don’t want Smartphone, I don’t like Smartphone.”

The receptionist smiled as though I was making a joke that he didn’t quite get but was awaiting further explanation on the punchline.

“Also, I like buttons,” once more putting forward my Simplephone.

“No,” the receptionist’s smile becoming a chuckle as he spoke, “everybody has Smartphone – why you don’t have Smartphone?”

“Sure, in Vietnam, ‘everybody’ has Smartphone … In New Zealand, not everybody has Smartphone … Some people don’t like Smartphone, some people just want Simplephone, like this, like me.”

…Also, at the Bali B reception, behind the desk there were two computers; explicitly not for use by residents.

The confounded receptionist pointed behind him to somewhere over the road – over six lanes of constant traffic moving steadily beneath a palpable haze of unmoving pollution – to a location he seemingly thought I might encounter some technology; water bottle in hand I set off. Vietnam being what it is I was desperately fearful, having foolishly and unnecessarily paid my bill in cash rather than simply allowing the Bali B hotel to take the money directly from my account, that I would be double-charged and, given the progressively dire state of my bank account, I could scarcely afford for that eventuality…

I had reserved the first 14 days’ of HCMC accommodation online, before leaving New Zealand; the wonderful thing about booking accommodation in Vietnam (and perhaps other countries too, I wouldn’t know) online (using services such as etc) is that they assured me that (typical of most Internet sites) despite their requiring my card details (as they do), I would not be charged until I arrived at my hotel so, providing I didn’t do anything stupid like try to pay the bill in person upon arrival, it’s a very accommodating system.

…Given I had been allowed to pay for the same hotel booking through two separate platforms, then as much as I had tried to convince the receptionist to either return my cash payment – which he refused to do – or to put a stop on the electronic payment – which he didn’t seem all that willing to do either, I was more than a smidgen concerned; whatever was going to happen I needed to find of way of keeping a regular check on my bank balance for the next while lest those slimy buggers (by whom I refer only to that underhanded and inherently unscrupulous portion of Vietnam’s populous, not the honest ones) have their way with me, again. Eventually I managed to cross the road without too much trouble although I was noticing that, compared to last year at least, road etiquette was shifting; last year, invariably across Ho Chi Minh City, if a pedestrian stood on one side of the road and waited for a gap in traffic (a ‘gap’ being basically any space between two vehicles of more than three metres) then stepped out and walked directly to the other side, without deviation in their speed or direction, they would make it. I was genuinely impressed, this time and last, by the Vietnamese ability to competently operate a motor vehicle, although mainly motorcycles, through precarious situations – sometimes while pulling aside a facemask to smoke a cigarette, usually while operating a telephone, SMS or GPS, and typically while overloaded with people, luggage, and/or implements – all the while remaining fully aware of the road ahead of them and able to perceive/anticipate a potential obstacle’s movements; in Vietnam this kind of constant alertness, also their ability to ‘read’ a situation and calculate prospective outcomes then react accordingly, with extreme efficiency, is the norm yet I guarantee if a sleepy New Zealand motorist tried this same level of multitasking on a road with even half the activity, a collision would take place almost immediately. Last year, as a pedestrian, I embraced this ‘pedestrian has the right of way’ style and used it with abandon yet this year, perhaps I was less confident or maybe I was more courteous but, I didn’t feel that same level of security in crossing the road. As it happened, not ten minutes after making my way across the road, on the search for technology, I realised it was a pointless search anyway, and started to make plans to come back…

The next hotel at which I would stay, the Pink Tulip on Bui Vien, did have a computer for use by customers and, as I would later discover, in fact it is expected in Vietnam that Internet be provided/offered/made available to every person (next to Buddha, in Vietnam, I believe Internet is God).

…As I rapidly crossed the umpteen lanes of traffic I was made aware, in the short time I had been in Vietnam, just how congested my respiratory system had become; sure, probably it had to do a little with the various pollutants that I was wilfully filtering into my lungs, but certainly it had to do with the abysmal air quality across HCMC’s District 1. I recall on the way over, stopping in Singapore with its crisp, clear, very warm but beautifully pristine air, then the transition as our plane landed just a few hours’ away in Tan Son Nhat airport; on stepping outside, my first tentative inhale of Ho Chi Minh City’s warm, fetid, sickly air just about pinned closed my nostrils (because, let’s not forget this is my second time here, I sure as hell wasn’t breathing that putrid substance unfiltered through my mouth – ugh, who knew where it’d been before me? – I’d likely end up catching Herpes Simplex, or worse) then with each subsequent breath whatever was in that air started giving the impression that it was depositing on the surface of my lungs, nasal filtration system notwithstanding, little by little, breath by breath, layer upon layer of lacquer-like Ho Chi Minh residue which I would later be responsible for somehow removing…

Although still checked into the Bali B I thought it would be prudent to go and have a look at, also see about the relative proximity of, my next hotel, the Pink Tulip. I had briefly had a look for it on days past – in fact it was on Monday night, shortly before I’d gone to ‘Nguyen’s bar’, just before I was ambushed by the Viet Cong – up the top of Bui Vien, just a few days ago; to no avail. What I hadn’t taken into consideration was Bui Vien’s silly little perpendicular offshoot (or as it will turn out, offshoots), but once I was made aware of this, there it was. The Pink Tulip hotel appeared homely, it looked welcoming, it seemed unpretentious; it was grand.

…Indeed, at the halfway point, two weeks into my tour of duty, just one day after leaving the Pink Tulip hotel – the day after what was, unequivocally, the greatest night of my life – shortly after checking into the Yen Trang hotel (situated on yet another perpendicular offshoot of Bui Vien Street, only one block over, running parallel with the Pink Tulip one) I would be struck down with a life-halting illness. So utterly congested I had become that, while my breathing wasn’t strictly impaired, I was light-headed, had become listless, devoid of appetite, and just felt weak all over; suffice to say the next two days were largely spent convalescing in my Yen Trang hotel room bed.

The brilliant thing about Yen Trang hotel customer protocol, unlike the others – Aston, Bali B, but perhaps not Pink Tulip, don’t really recall – at the Yen Trang, unless you come down to the hotel lobby and give reception your key, verbally requesting that you would like your room cleaned, they won’t try to enter your room; at the Aston, on two occasions (shit I was only there two nights, too…?), having gone to bed at 6 a.m., I recall being woken around midday by ‘(knock-knock) Housekeeping…?’ which is utterly ridiculous, yet I encountered the very same issue at the Bali B hotel. To iterate, at Yen Trang hotel – unless you come down to the hotel lobby and give reception your key, verbally requesting that you would like your room cleaned, they won’t try to enter your room – they do it right; so why cannot more hotels around HCMC implement this policy?

With perhaps the only functional air-conditioner remote in Ho Chi Minh City, from bed I attempted to moderate the room temperature according to my current state; I was hot – I could appreciate my liver was working overtime to cleanse my system – yet I was cold – I could feel my organs purging themselves of so many toxins leaving my body enervated. Despite a cool room though and plentiful fresh water – having learned my lesson, several times, about drinking from hotel toilets (see last year’s Chronicles; although this hasn’t prevented me from, at around the two week point, having already succumbed to a water-borne bacterium or two on two separate occasions), I had taken to boiling a kettle-full of water then allowing to cool and keeping a water bottle full to always have by my bedside, because the complimentary water (ordinarily two daily 500ml bottles) never is enough – I was dehydrating terribly; despite low perspiration and a plentiful magnesium intake as a consequence I could feel I was running disastrously low on minerals – nagging headaches coupled with horrendous foot cramps added to my overall feeling of misery.

Because self-medicating is the best kind of medicating (additionally by this point in my journey I had heard such horror stories about the slackness and overall incompetency of the Vietnamese Medical System, even if I had been the kind of person who ever ‘goes to the doctor’ for health concerns, there would have been no way I was going to involve the aforementioned  medical enterprise in my current malady) I turned to my suitcase, unzipped my ‘supplement’ pouch and went to work – also unlike Medical drugs where overdose is a possibility and side-effects an inevitability natural health supplements, when used properly, are side-effect free, safe and effective.

It was evening, yet I had zero inclination to head out. I administered myself one Men’s Multi, mainly for B vitamins to give my liver a kick (can’t live without your liver) but also with vitamin C, iron and magnesium, along with a multitude of other good stuff; then another supplement with some more vitamin C, also zinc, garlic and olive leaf extract, to boost immunity and fight the infection that I could by now feel had established in my chest.

Checking the air-conditioning was holding 16 degrees I pulled up my sheet and closed my eyes. This is where the madness truly began. As with any virus sleep was elusive and that infuriating state of subconsciousness, where a brain is adamant it’s awake but in fact is very lightly asleep, lasted for what felt like weeks; then you startle awake and wonder why it’s only been thirteen minutes since you last checked the time.

Vietnam flashbacks while still in Vietnam…? Is that even a real thing?

It was too cold. My skin was chilled, but I was so far from home – my clothes, my blankets – what was I supposed to do about it? I had to put up with it, that’s all there was to it. Endure it because you put yourself in this situation.

Eventually overcoming the mental battle, I forcibly dragged myself from under a flimsy veil of sleep. I really was cold; my skin was icy. Reaching over to the bedside cabinet I grabbed the air-cond remote and, in the semi-darkness using my braille skills, repeatedly pressed the ‘Temp Up’ button until I’d heard it to beep ten times. The cold air stopped gushing out and I ducked back under my sheet, to again slide beneath a film of sleep little more robust than the covering lying over me.

I’m cold again. There’s nothing else I can do though; I’ve already turned up the air-conditioning. What then? I dunno, maybe it’ll warm up by itself.

I’m still cold. This is awful. Why do they only give you one sheet in a room that supposedly maintains sixteen degrees Celsius? What’s that sound? It’s banging. Sounds like it’s in the stairwell. Must be workers. Sounds as though they’re repairing the skirting on the stairs. I noticed that was lifting on the way up. Must be morning then. Cold morning for Vietnam. That’s because the air-cond’s right down. Why not just turn off the air-conditioning then? Then it’ll be too hot. That’s better than being too cold. No, it’s not, it’s thirty degrees out there. Reckon it’s about three in here though. Give it a few minutes without air-cond, it’ll be thirty degrees in here too. Do it anyway, it won’t be so cold. What’s happening? What are you doing? It’s still cold in here. Did you turn off the air-conditioning? Did I? Did you? I think I did, although that might have been a dream. No, that’s right, I decided not to. What now then? It’s still cold in here; turn off the air-cond. Alright, I’ll get up, I need to urinate anyway. What’s happening? What’s going on now? Did you do it? Did I? I dunno. Is it warmer in here, or is it just me? Do you still need to urinate? What’s that soggy patch? Oh shit, really? Dude, are you that confused? Did you seriously urinate in bed? No, I can’t have, I still need to urinate. It must be sweat then. You sure sweat a lot for someone claiming to be cold. It’s not urine though, that’s good. Where’s the toilet? Same place it always is, I guess. At home, it’s just across the hall. No, in Vietnam. What? Stop it. This is Vietnam, isn’t it? What? Stop it. I’m in a Vietnam hotel room, aren’t I? What? Stop doing that. Where am I now? Aha, nice one, dick. You’re not even in Vietnam anymore. You came home weeks’ ago, your brain’s just screwing with you. Wake up, man, you’re at home. Get up, take a leak in a real toilet…

That’s amazing, the games a mind can play with a person. This kind of shit happened last time, waking in my own bed then panicking about nothing, thinking I’m still in Vietnam; thinking I’m being robbed, again. Huh. Why the hell did I go back, anyway? Waste of fucking time that was. Money too; ‘Yeah, yeah, let’s go back to Vietnam so we can be cheated, lied to and ultimately fucked over by women’. Hah, I can do that in New Zealand.

…What a relief though, to know I’m back home. God, that feels good. What a relief. Bloody cold, but. I’m at home again, guess that explains the temperature. Always cold in the winter in good ol’ N-Z.



Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Med K Teng

Photography by Reeve Urse Fishback

Tim Walker’s Vietnam XXIII

Eternally untrusting now of Vietnamese taxi companies, I gratefully left it in the hands of the Bali B receptionist to organise my transportation across town; incidentally the receptionist who was on at that time of day was the only male staff member who didn’t make me feel uncomfortable.

Almost an hour’s travel, in this case, cost me under 140.000VND where, in the past, (see last year’s Chronicles) under half an hour’s travel cost me 700.000VND.

Before embarking on this recent Southeast Asian mission I had heard, and read, numerous negative reports about Vietnam’s dental clinics; word is they are unclean, unprofessional, and generally unsavoury, (as though those idiots had forgotten they’d travelled to a Third World nation to try and do their dental on the cheap) yet, I am very pleased to say, Nhan Tam Dental Clinic, and by implication every other dental practise across Ho Chi Minh City, is wonderful.

Sanitary, professional, efficient, courteous, competent; there was really nothing the good folk at Nhan Tam could have done to provide a better service…

I turned up, briefly explained my puffy-faced situation (which by then had gone down considerably anyway and to someone who didn’t know me – other than for the haphazardly affixed plaster beneath my right eye – I didn’t look a lot different; first thing in the morning seemed to be the worst time for puffiness anyway), they showed suitable shock and sympathy (which given they were two sycophantic women, this was not unexpected), I underwent a full-skull X-ray (which I felt would be beneficial also for showing anything untoward in or around my damaged cheekbone), where I was then taken to a consultation room to discuss my dentistry requirements. Seated across now from a large male dentist (legend had it this was Dr Nhan Tam himself) and his female assistant, on an amazing touchscreen ‘viewing desk’ (the entire desktop was a computer monitor reminiscent of the one on the wall in ‘Minority Report’ – or, I guess, the screen on a Smartphone, I wouldn’t know) they were able to see, mark, show, illustrate, move, zoom, highlight and even project, where and why my teeth needed attention. After over 20 years having not visited a dentist, I was shocked, only two cavities showed up; along with one tooth that required crowning due to structural erosion then there was the old favourite, a root canal (additionally, they would later conclude that as the second cavity was in a molar far at the back – a ‘wisdom tooth’ in fact – they’d be better off just extracting the sucker and be done with it; unlike New Zealand dentistry though where people sometimes elect for extraction over filling as the former is the cheaper option, in Vietnam, or at least, at Nhan Tam Dental Clinic, ‘Tooth Extraction’ costs 900.000VND – less than 100NZD – while a ‘Cavity’ costs only 400.000VND – under half the first, making ‘filling’ by far the cheaper option, still, I was keen as for my first ever tooth extraction). There is also a spot in my lower jaw where, some years ago, a tooth fell/rotted out; the dentist and his colleague took turns explaining to me how they intended to screw into the gap a ‘false root’ then fit that root with a single false tooth. However, as the procedure was to be time consuming and rather expensive and as the missing tooth isn’t something that ever even bothers me anyway, I instructed them to forego the tooth replacement and to just focus on bringing the existing teeth up to an adequate standard.

…To Nhan Tam’s massive credit they are extremely busy fixing the teeth of both locals and  foreigners thus, with so many people rushing around a heavily staffed reception, some administration/clerical shortcomings are to be expected; this might go some way to explaining how the pickup that had been organised for my second scheduled appointment (unbelievably Nhan Tam organised and covered the cost of all dentist-related travel involved), exactly one week after the first (the root canal required three separate sessions, each time with me occupying the dentist’s chair for approximately two hours – a total of six hours – and the whole thing still only cost around 130NZD), those travel plans went a smidgen awry. I had made the three minute walk back to the prior week’s pickup point at the Bali B (in fact I had since shifted to the Pink Tulip but with no easy way to inform the Nhan Tam staff of my movement this seemed the most straightforward option), had informed Bali B staff of my arrangement, was invited to sit in the Bali B lobby while I waited, yet over half an hour past my scheduled pickup time (thus under half an hour remaining until my appointment time), nobody had come for me. Frustrated, bordering on agitated, I asked Bali B reception to call the Nhan Tam hotline to inquire into this transport lapse. Well, it turned out that because they had been unable to contact me on my given number Nhan Tam Dental Clinic had gone ahead and simply cancelled my booking (despite my distinct recollection of explanation to a reception member during my last appointment of my phone’s inability to receive calls therefore how Nhan Tam reception shouldn’t bother trying to contact me to confirm the appointment but to just send the taxi regardless because I would definitely be there; seemingly though this message had been lost in translation)…

The first session was great; I had a gorgeous, English speaking, female dentist with an equally gorgeous, but not so much English, assistant and, although My Hanh’s (Me Hunn’s) drilling over the next two hours was constantly being impeded by my falling asleep in her chair and unwittingly relaxing my mouth, we connected wonderfully.

…That first day when I had strolled into Nhan Tam Dental Clinic, looking like a very low-impact car-crash victim, after briefly explaining my appearance then later, after I had sorted with reception the next appointment I had gone on to explain how they wouldn’t be able to contact me as my phone was acting retarded – in that its ability to make and receive calls had been somewhat retarded – where the staff member had responded with a solicitous face, “Oh, no, you must wan call home…?”

“I really should call home, yes but, I don’t know, guess I might have to buy a Vietnamese phone.”

“Oh no, you have number? You may call here.”

“Really? You’d let me make an international call with your company phone?”

“Phone here, yes.” She scurried away and returned a moment later with a cordless landline handset. From my (otherwise useless but for telling the time) phone, which I for some reason insisted on taking with me everywhere, I recited my sister’s number, where the highly efficient Vietnamese woman added the international digits then handed me the phone. I couldn’t believe it, it was ringing; this place was brilliant – they were taking care of my every need…

Taking care of me also was a dentist of around my own age who, on that first day, with a few Nhan Tam staff away to the side chattering amongst themselves – no doubt about the idiot Englishman who had fallen afoul of a gang of whacked-out Vietnamese street-kids – had approached the chair where I was lying somnolently; without so much as an introduction (and as this man will turn out to be unrelated to my case in any way – other than to say, this man’s actions may just be the reason I managed to avoid life-threatening infection as well as any significant facial scarring – this is sadly the last you will hear of his character), carefully removed my plaster, momentarily assessed the wound, muttered what sounded like a few (Vietnamese) words of disbelief (or possibly expletives), applied some thick brown salve to my cheekbone, affixed a nice new plaster and left.

…It occurred to me later that, of course, dentists are doctors too.



Article by Tim Walker

Edited by A Voit-Taxi

Photography Den Tuss/Doc Thar

Tim Walker’s Vietnam XXII

Flipping on my hat and slipping on my frames I turned, and I walked.

Despite the street having become packed with revellers, not one person stood in my way. Bloodied and empowered to them I was a madman; to me I was simply a man with a mission. Realistically I had only one thing on my mind – I wanted to see Noobie.

I made it to Crazy Girls and still without speaking to anyone, took a seat under the night sky. A very short and rather chubby but impossibly cute bargirl, My (Me), sidled up on my left. Holding up the drinks menu, little chipmunk-face with large eyes screwed into her typically surprised/shocked semblance, with a finger under ‘Johnnie Walker Black Label’ – which I noted, despite being aged for several more years thus being of a higher quality, was the very same price as ‘Johnnie Walker Red Label’ (potentially the same bottle too) – “You wan riiing?” My inquired, while performing the international blowjob gesture.

“Sure,” I gave a brief nod.

“Tiiiiiiiiiiim!” Above the ambient bedlam I heard Noobie clip-clopping her way across the bar floor to my right; suddenly the footsteps fell silent.

I raised my head and turned. Noobie was standing around five metres back from where I sat, partially obscured by darkness, staring at me with a horrified expression.

She tentatively made her approach, coming to a halt a half metre from my side. Mouth agape she slowly raised a hand to the slit in my cheekbone; I instinctively drew back. “I wan help,” she said quietly.

I gazed into Noobie’s eyes and saw genuine concern. “It’s fine,” I said flippantly.

“It not fine,” she made another attempt at touching the wound; this time I allowed it.

“Hurt?” she asked tenderly.

“Yes,” I answered honestly.

“I wan help … Let me clean.”

“It’s fine,” I said with a dismissive wave, “sit with me, have a drink.”

For the record, that was the first time I had offered to buy Noobie a drink – it was the first time I’d had to – yet for once the prospect of ‘moneeeey’ didn’t seem to lift her spirits. She appeared sad, or guilty, as though she felt somehow responsible for what had happened to me…

It wasn’t a concept that I had even bothered to entertain but of course, she was a young woman and the Viet Cong had been young men; the likelihood is she knew every one of the delinquents involved (as I thought later, the outrageously good-looking ‘petty-thief’ might have even been her brother) which gave clarity to the fact that the prominent emotion I saw in Noobie’s despondent gaze, was in fact one of guilt.

…I noticed, as I sat describing to whomever was listening the sensational turn of events that had just befallen me (in my currently amped state I recall uttering such regrettable phrases  as, ‘This is Vietnam baby, it’s a fucking warzone out there’, and suchlike), Noobie quietly went to work refitting my salvaged lenses into their frames. I had to admire her concentration and perseverance with the finicky task; like most Viet people she was very skilful with her hands and it was only about ten minutes later that she held the repaired glasses up for me. “This enough?” she asked in a complaisant manner.

I was impressed; it almost felt as though she was trying to make up for something.

“Thank you,” I responded, turning to look deeply into her eyes.

“I think I broke…” she was apologetic as she pulled back the glasses and showed me, on the top left corner of the right lens a small sliver of glass had been chipped.

“No,” I smiled as much as I could without evoking searing pain, “Noobie it’s fine, that happened at the glasses shop, in New Zealand, before I even received them … Thank you, you’re wonderful.”

Noobie grinned and bounced on her stool then became abruptly serious as she leaned into me, “Let me clean,” she said again, gently touching my face.

Conceding finally that I wasn’t above letting a gorgeous woman wipe gore from my skin, I stood and followed the woman of my dreams to the Crazy Girls restroom…

The Crazy Girls restroom/bathroom/toilet/WC (see last year’s Chronicles) has a saloon-style, chest-high, swinging door (which swings awkwardly on one hinge), where a male patron can walk in, try in vain to lock the wonky door, soon give up on that, then turn abruptly left to use the urinal; a female patron can enter via the same door, sometimes noticing that a male has entered before her but failed to securely lock the door yet can push past this urinating male to the cubicle at the end, where she is able to then relieve herself in peace. There is a hand basin below a mirror situated between the two stations, with no way to dry hands but, for use by both males and females.

…Cautiously, tenderly – lowering my stance so she could reach my face – Noobie spent some time moistening then blotting the sticky blood from my face and neck. I turned, for the first time seeing my wound in the mirror, and at that moment felt greater respect for her than I ever had. The stomach Noobie had shown to not only remove the clotted blood from one side of my face, to carefully dab in and around an open wound which, now I looked at it, although only about 20 millimetres in length, running horizontally, the skin on either side of the cut gaped open giving the vulgar impression of a toothless fish’s mouth and regarding depth, well, it appeared to go all the way through. Upon seeing the gash close-up, I wasn’t terribly surprised it had bled the way it had (as I surveyed the damage, I watched a thin line of weeping blood – plasma – trickle over my cheek), and wondered to myself, albeit briefly, what severity of facial wound would in fact constitute medical stitches…

Incidentally the Vietnamese Medical industry, around the world but particularly in Vietnam, conversely to their Dental industry, does not enjoy such a scintillating reputation. This probably relates to the fact that, while Vietnam is theoretically, technically, currently under socialist governance (much like NZ), which typically provides for its citizens free healthcare, free education and cost-free other basic human requirements, Ho Chi Minh City and indeed the whole of Vietnam, has adopted very much a (as previously noted) ‘cash only’ society thus the process of taxation can be easily overlooked; cash money comes over the counter, cash money is distributed to employees, cash money is then used to buy in more stock, cash money is used to pay business expenses, then seemingly cash money leftover is pocketed.

…I turned back to Noobie to see her holding out an unwrapped sticking plaster, ready to cover up any signs of damage. “I stick?” she asked in her most adorable of voices…

Without taxes there is no way a Government can provide substantial healthcare for its citizens and while I can almost understand the fact that the likes of street vendors don’t pay tax (also presumably their superiors; because apparently they do all work for someone), even in big business, for example, the Bali B hotel, there is a sign on the front desk ‘We prefer payments in cash’, which I have to assume is an effort to conduct operations (at least largely) free from the ‘oppression’ of Government taxes. More shockingly still, at the Nhan Tam Dental Clinic (and although I have yet to visit this place so far in my journey I assume this is a policy maintained by all dental clinics across HCMC, not just Nhan Tam) they actually offer a discounted rate to cash-paying customers; a fact that I only learned after I had already attended, and paid for, multiple visits – given I made no secret that I was only ever going to pay cash this ‘incentive’ needed never be spoken or, in all likelihood, even deducted from my fee – and even then this ‘tax avoidance’ theory of mine was not constructed until much later.

…Ah, what the hell, I thought, bending at the knees again.

It was after watching a female receptionist carefully fashioning a roll of – not unlike the massive roll of receipt paper one might see at an old school supermarket till – 500 dong notes, rubber banding it then neatly slipping the roll into a drawer, that I suspected something at this fully operational, highly technical, totally professional therefore of course utterly law-abiding, dentistry business might have been amiss. At the time, before I had been made aware that they ‘preferred’ cash payment, I had naturally assumed this ‘cash-rolling’ was simply the clinic’s way of dealing with the residue of its cash-paying clients; upon realising, however, this was their ideal method of dealing with finances I soon guessed why it was their ‘ideal’ method thus began to ask the question, ‘So who the hell under Vietnam’s Socialist Government rule does pay taxes?’ …

On my final night in Vietnam I spoke with a couple of Indian travellers – Adam and Juniper – both were highly educated young men, both came from wealthy families, and both had riotous Indian accents (just as I’m certain, in their perception, I had a similarly uproarious Kiwi accent). We introduced ourselves and chatted briefly about our respective reasons for being in Vietnam, where I touched briefly on my passion for political analysis and, a little more pointedly, my perception of the Vietnamese Government; Juniper was the more talkative of the duo and was vociferous in his opinions about his own country’s governance. “Oh my God,” he leaned back as though in disbelief, speaking as if constantly about to succumb to hilarity, “you write about politics…? Oh my God, Sir, you should write about Government in India … Indian Government is so shithouse! Nobody pay taxes in India so Indian Government doesn’t do anything …  No sorry, sorry, only about top six earning families in India pay tax, right…”

At this point Juniper glanced leftward to check he had the support of his friend; “More like top ten,” mumbled Adam facetiously.

“Alright, top ten earning families pay tax to the Government, because Government in India is so shithouse, right … Oh my God, Sir, it’s like this, right, you have like – how many people in India now? It’s like, what, one-point-three billion?” Another glance toward his learned colleague.

“More like one point five billion.”

“Alright, oh my God, Sir, one point five billion people in India, right, and Government only look out for top ten families because they are the only ones fucking stupid enough to pay the Government taxes! That’s like what, one point four nine, nine, nine, nine, nine, nine, nine, nine … I dunno, but it’s a whole fucking shitload of people just doing their own thing, working their own jobs, living their own lives, and doing it on their own, because Government in India, man, it’s so shithouse man!”

“It is pretty bad, man,” Adam offered his first unsolicited remark.

“So,” I was intrigued and keen to hear more Indian intelligence, “I would assume then, that what, your families are part of this top ten, tax paying category…?”

“Oh no, shit, no, not even close, brother,” Juniper fell back onto his stool with a grin. “Nah man, I mean our families are wealthy, but we’re not that wealthy … Nah Government doesn’t give a shit about the likes of us, man, shit, we’re not rich enough, right … Yeah, we’re small change, we don’t pay enough taxes – Government in India soooo fucking shithouse, man.”

“Surely though,” I was thriving and compelled to learn more, “I mean I thought India was a democracy … Therefore, if the majority don’t like the way their country is being run, surely it is they who have the power to change that government – do the people of India not vote into power their government?”

It was Adam who took the reins on this one. “Yes, the people of India vote, sure, but it doesn’t mean anything – if the guys currently in Government want to maintain control, they maintain control, simple as that, and we gotta live with whatever they want to do, because our families aren’t giving the Government enough money…”

“Oh yeah man,” Juniper was back on the wagon, “Indian Government, corrupt as fuck, man, and there’s not a fucking thing any of us can do about it…”

“You gotta have the money, man,” Adam came back into focus, “it’s as simple as that, or you have no say what happens.”

“Oh my God, right,” Juniper filled in the blanks, “it’s so fucking corrupt – it’s so shithouse in India, man!”

Alright, now, I’m not willing to make any speculative leaps here, but maybe Vietnam’s Government suffers from a plight felt similarly across many parts of Asia, not just the southeast.

…With the dentistry and hotel industries – also presumably the remainder of the hospitality industry – in likelihood the highest-earning industries in Vietnam not paying their share of tax, it’s little surprise the Vietnamese Government cannot manage to provide adequate healthcare for its people; I lost count of the number of lower leg/ankle injuries I saw on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, and was starting to wonder if there was perhaps a congenital defect of the lower legs of Vietnamese people – as is my style though I did inquire I into this oddly recurring sight, during the taxi ride to my second dental appointment in fact, and was given an entirely satisfactory explanation.


The next morning I woke feeling better than bad but still more poorly than good; mind you I realised I might just have found a way of resurrecting my budget – early to bed, early to rise.

I had an appointment that morning with a dentist in District 10, at 8:15, and had been advised I should allow anywhere up to an hour’s travel, mainly for traffic congestion. The appointment was all booked, all I had to do was get myself there. Checking my useless (but for telling the time) phone I was glad to see it was still before 6; I was glad furthermore that I had shaved the day before meaning that I wouldn’t have to undergo the discomfort of drawing a razor over my freshly pummelled and tenderised face…

I didn’t know it lying in bed, but I was an unsightly, puffy mess. Upon waking, while my face wasn’t causing me outward discomfort it most certainly was touch sensitive; my first look in the hotel bathroom mirror following Monday night’s fracas genuinely shocked me – reminding me of the episode of the Simpsons where Ken Griffey Jr contracted gigantism – such was the lumpy, moonlike appearance looking back at me, I scarcely recognised my own face.

…I sat up in bed and was aghast at the mess I had made of my pillow; Vietnamese plaster notwithstanding it seemed I had continued to bleed throughout much of the night (which, rather than being concerned, I told myself was a good thing, as it will have been removing any foreign particles and/or potential infection from the wound).

I had a shower and lightly washed my face, before removing the dressing and gingerly immersing the wound under Vietnam’s widely dis-reputed water; a little later while patting dry my swollen face before the mirror I noticed that horrid fish-mouth was still gaping open at me which admittedly, did leave me a little concerned. I laboriously peeled back the spare plaster Noobie had given me, slapped it on, brushed my teeth and headed down to get some breakfast.

“Buhng mee, op la!”

“Aha, café sua dah…?”

“Kahm urn,” I nodded, smiled, then in my grandest Viet accent, “Café sua dah!” (If one wishes to be heard in Vietnam, it is best to speak loudly.)

55 dong later I’m wandering back towards the Bali B feeling as though I’m managing to pull things back on track.

In fairness there is no way, at this early stage, that I should be feeling any semblance of calm, nor should I be at all pleased with my efforts. Now, here, amid the relative safety and comparative sobriety of New Zealand, I can appreciate how close I came the night before to utter devastation; shit man, if three-stripe had used that blade to slit a carotid artery rather than my cheekbone, simply, you would be reading a posthumous post.

Also, in Vietnam, I have now spent over half my budget and I’ve not yet been away from home for a week; ‘Managing to pull things back on track’…? Pull your head in, buddy, long way to go yet.



Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Fish E Faze

Photography by Buck N Track

Tim Walker’s Vietnam XXI

The first youth, the one who had taken my money, glared at me with erratic eyes.

It was an odd look, a look of confusion maybe, of uncertainty or, perhaps even of fear; I decided in those first moments it was not a look of aggression anyway…

Behind him, having just emerged from a concealed doorway three or four metres back, now stood three other wiry Vietnamese youths; while all were initially taken aback by the sight of an ‘Englishman’ confronting one of their buddies it took only an instant for surprised expressions to become looks of anger.

…The tallest of the three recent arrivals, a young man with a head of thick brown curly hair and wearing a green Adidas three-stripe jacket, appeared the most enraged…

Upon witnessing the formation of the Viet Cong then sensing the pugnacity emanating from within, I knew I ought to have just left the money – which my oversized paws and their questionable dexterity are still struggling to extract from the left-front pocket of a pair of well-fitted jeans – I knew I should have just shown my palms in a display of ‘no attack’ and backed the hell out of that situation.

…His eyes at that moment made me think of the 8-ball in a game of pool; big, shiny and black as they were. I knew I ought to have just left it, ought to have just walked away, no harm done; I could still have turned up to Crazy Girls just with one less drink in my budget…

I was never going to do that though, was I? I didn’t give a toss about the money, about the irreverence or the shameless audacity shown by this Viet delinquent; I don’t think at that point I was even considering my own pride – no I’m pretty sure I just wanted to see what would happen if I didn’t walk away.

…Even as I saw three-stripe burst into action; even as he began sprinting towards me winding up for a classic (genuine Vietnamese) Mid Canterbury haymaker, I knew I had time…

With one almighty tug I withdrew my right hand from the petty thief’s left pocket. I saw the unwieldy haymaker in plenty of time; just like the drunken teenaged boys out fighting on Christchurch streets of years gone by, the punch was slow and it looked weak. With my left foot I took a measured step backward. I expected that once three-stripe had launched his attack the other guy, petty-thief, would be galvanised into action and was likely to have a go too, thus was preparing for this eventuality. I was an equal distance from petty-thief and three-stripe when three-stripe brought forward his ugly swing.

…Huh, I remember thinking, how about that, he’s left-handed; I’m not. As the puny fist came for the right side of my face I reflexively swung down and to my left. I knew I had positioned myself out of range if petty-thief came in with a kick but kept my eyes on his feet anyway, as I swung my torso through a 180 Degree sweep…

I felt as though I had judged the distance and timing well so was surprised to feel glancing contact against my right cheekbone.

…Legs bent at the knees, torso bent forward and to the left, I now positioned my hands in front of my face at chin-height and prepared to swing back.

Straightening posture, like a slingshot I whipped back around to the right; I then watched, as if seen in delayed coverage, as a pirouette of blood spatter performed a slow-motion arc before my eyes. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing; had the little prick seriously knifed me? I glanced downwards and to my right; a trickle of blood appeared to be dribbling down my face, dripping from my right jawbone and making a terrible mess down one side of my beautiful blue three-stripe T-shirt.

Gosh, I thought, that was unexpected.

Deciding then that I’d done enough ‘seeing what would happen’, I was just about to raise my hands in capitulation and back calmly out of the alleyway; the Vietnamese youths though, they had different plans.

Upon seeing blood, the delinquent Viet Cong became feverish; before I even had time to refocus, my head and face was struck by a barrage of furious fists. I pulled back and freed myself from the onslaught. Thrusting a forefinger menacingly in their direction, in a guttural voice I demanded, “Back the fuck up, just back off!”

To this day I do not understand the logic behind what happened next but, standing at the alley’s entrance – blood dripping, adrenalin pumping, voice reverberating, finger thrusting – a middle-aged Vietnamese man rushed up behind me and grabbed me by the arms, yelling, “Halm down man, halm down!” The sight of their target momentarily restrained seemingly rekindled the Viet Cong’s bloodlust; while this misinformed elder pinned my arms to my side all four young men now threw themselves upon me.

Without too much trouble I broke free from my rear grips, lowered my head and raised my arms in defence; the past few seconds had been quite long enough to form the decision that, against four young-adult assailants, puny or otherwise (also apparently one harbouring a shank), no good could come from trying to fight back. The best thing I could do was defend myself and hope to emerge with as few battle scars as possible.

The punches and kicks were coming from all sides; instinctively I held up my forearms to cover my face. I saw my hat go flying; that was followed by my glasses. Until that moment I had been reasonably calm but that, having my hat and glasses knocked from my face, that pissed me off. To my right I saw my banh mi vendor and realised that I had been pushed back out onto the street. I saw my hat a few metres away, on the pavement to my left; taking a couple of quick paces I crouched, leaned forward and reached out to grab it. A firm kick to the stomach ensued. Hat in hand I now straightened and, oblivious to punches and kicks, scanned the road for my glasses. Blurred vision notwithstanding I saw them, having fallen on the road another few metres from the hat. A few more steps and I bent down to retrieve them as well; I tensed my core as I predicted another foot coming at my midriff.

What I didn’t predict was the powerful kick administered to my right hamstring; rendered momentarily powerless that leg collapsed, sending me toppling over backwards.

Instinctively I went down on my right side (jiu-jitsu), stripped of my base but still able to protect anything important. I felt a pummelling of jandal-feet kicking my back, which didn’t bother me particularly, I was just focusing on keeping my skull out of harm’s way. I then saw one of the delinquents – possibly petty-thief – skirting around above me and winding up for a face-kick. From upper peripherals I saw the blue jandal and black stonewash jean-leg making their rapid way towards my face. Elevating my chest, I turned my head slightly to the left then still with my eye on the foot to my right, with my right arm (jiu-jitsu) I scooped the incoming ankle. Rolling fully now onto my back, with the kicker’s foot trapped in my right armpit, I swung his forward momentum to my left. As he toppled to his right I used that inertia (jiu-jitsu) to pull me back to my feet.

Again I was caught in an onslaught of weak punches; hat still in my left hand my only focus now was my glasses. I scanned the ground; there they were. I felt immense relief; they didn’t look broken. Brushing off a few insipid fists I reached down and grabbed the thick-rimmed glasses; my fingers went right through the frames…

Across the next few instants I envisaged the next 20-plus days in HCMC then trying to make it home again, without the aid of my prescription lenses; my world came crashing down. I felt ill.

…I was suddenly furious. I stood at my full 6 Feet. “FUCK OFF!” I yelled, “just FUCK OFF!”…

My assailants fell back and stood looking at me. I inhaled deeply and bit down hard on nothing. Driven by fury I stabbed a finger out of my clenched fist then moving only my lips, mouthed some threatening words at them. Clutching a black felt Trilby in one hand and a set of lens-less glasses in the other; with the temperature nearing 28 and my heart pulling at least 160, unsurprisingly I was still leaking blood profusely. (Additionally, and one of the most horrific sights I’ve witnessed to date, with eyes looking directly ahead, I was clearly able to see the tops of both my cheeks.) Occurring to me also, I was trembling violently. The Viet Cong shrank back into the shadows and I immediately went on the hunt for my lenses. My heart leapt as I saw the first, a mere outline on the road. I pocketed it then went back to where I had originally picked up the glasses and scanned the road again. People milled around staring, laughing, pointing, leering; ignorant. (I hadn’t realised but from the time I had purchased my banh mi – which I had not eaten and in fact, I thought bitterly, had probably been stolen by now anyway – until now, the street had become packed with revellers.) Avoiding looking directly at any Smartphone cameras, chuckling wryly; I might be a You Tube sensation – #whitemanbeatenbyvietcong – I walked in what I thought was a five metre radius of the glasses’ fallen location and found nothing. I was anxious, I was despairing; I was angry – at Vietnam but mainly at myself.

…Oh, I’d found out ‘what would happen’ alright; resigned to three weeks’ not being able to see straight, yeah, nice one…

Unlike the rest of Ho Chi Minh City, District 1 street vendors operate 24 hours a day; anyone can be a Vietnamese street vendor, young or old. The oldest I have seen, according to sources, was over 100 and she was utterly repulsive; the youngest was a boy of about 3 years old, (reportedly an orphan) who didn’t speak a word, but just wandered the HCMC streets with his swag of produce, making beseeching sounds and looking for sales. Where many tourists disregarded, mocked or were rude to this little guy, I always made a point of buying something from him, even if it was just a back-scratcher or a pack of playing cards; suffice to say I returned home with a lot of crap that I really didn’t want (but at least my back’s not itchy as I play another round of solitaire).

…Out of the surrounding horde appeared my favourite little juvenile street vendor; he was peering up at me earnestly, holding something in his extended hand. My heart jumped again, and I reached down to claim my second lens. I grasped it thankfully then dropped to my left knee, crouching in front of the lad. Sliding the lens into the same pocket as the first I pulled from my other pocket the money I had reclaimed from petty-thief and three-stripe. I pushed the 120 dong into the boy’s hand, looked directly into his bright eyes, that beaming little Vietnamese face, and said simply, “Thank you … Thank you.”



Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Grey Shous

Photography by Trevor Lah