The issue, I believe, with the concept of First World men looking to Southeast Asia in the hope of capitalising on its countless beautiful women is that, as many desirable women as there are in, for example, Vietnam, the likelihood is, nowadays they are being outnumbered by this plethora of Western suitors with the intention of taking them off the market.
Maybe going back thirty years, back to when there was something less commonplace about the notion of a White man taking an Asian bride, there may well have been more available Vietnamese women than there were Western men (I hesitate to use the term ‘single’ when referring to these Western men, as I was recently made aware of a number of Lin’s US suitors already having wives and who likely, were just looking to increase belt notches with a cute little Asian girl young enough to be their goddamned daughter) on the hunt for an Asian bride but nowadays, this is less likely to be the case.
The result of this, I believe – and probably much of the reason these women are so very unreliable in their ability to keep personal appointments – is that any one Vietnamese woman (as 90 percent of them seem to be let’s just say she’s slim, attractive, aged between 25 and 35) at any one time may, and indeed quite likely might, have (again, still only speculating based on what I experienced) any number of Western men on the go.
During my stay at the Pink Tulip, among the different people, among the various nationalities I encountered, there is one Dutch character in particular (no, not Annie but good guess) who stuck in my mind; ‘Oobit’ (I’m guessing the English pronunciation is ‘Hubert’) was a lanky, long-haired dude of around my own age, who dressed, spoke and acted as though there should have been a surfboard under his arm at all times with a tub of Sex Wax in his other hand. While his Netherlands accent was certainly pronounced, he did have a good grasp on both (schooled) English and (self-taught) Vietnamese; a few years back Oobit had fallen in love with and married a Vietnamese woman from Buon Me Thuot then, along with his wife’s seven-year-old son, they had built a house and settled into a nearby township in the Vietnamese countryside. Oobit was in HCMC District 1 (according to what he had told his wife) for a dentist appointment, (yet according to what Annie had told me, it was for something decidedly more recreational) and was returning to Buon Me Thuot in a few days’ time. He was an exuberant character, full of positivity and vigour, and even he – particularly he – could empathise with my situation; “My friend,” he said to me, sitting in the shade, outside on the Pink Tulip hotel porch, one morning over glasses of café sua da, “Vietnamese women,” holding up both hands to show his five fingers on each, “beautiful women, ten out of ten … Vietnamese women, good women,” with hands still held in front of his face he now folded nine of his digits, “one out of ten.”
I chuckled, nodding knowingly. “So, what, you found that one in ten?”
Oobit laughed, his thick accent discernible even through his laughter, “Oh, no, my friend, no, I would still be looking … No, my wife is from Buon Me Thuot … Vietnamese women different in the countryside.”
My eyes widened in recognition, “Oh, I know a woman from Buon Me Thuot – name’s Lin.”
It was Oobit’s turn now to give a knowing nod, “Ah, bet Lin speaks good English, too…?”
“I guess she does, yeah – why would you say that?”
“Further inland you go, the bigger focus on English … Girls from the farming districts, what are they going to do? They go find work in a city or they find a White husband to keep her.”
“Like Lin,” I murmured distastefully, I thought, inaudibly.
His smile grew wider, “She’s the one you want, my friend, hold onto her … Lin will do you well.”
While I appreciated Oobit’s sentiment, I understood he might have misconstrued my musings; for obvious reasons I had reservations about ‘holding onto’ Lin. “I dunno man,” I spoke thoughtfully, “I mean, there are complications, and sure, she’s from Buon Me Thuot, but for the past year she’s been living and working out of District Six.” (I recall as I spoke, casting a thumb leftward, in the general direction of where I suspected District 6 might have been located.)
“District Six,” Oobit muttered, his face becoming intense, “haven’t been there – what does she do?”
“Oh, she’s some kind of, ah, healthcare consultant, I believe.”
Oobit nodded; suddenly his expression lifted in realisation. “She’s not the eldest daughter, by any chance, is she?”
“I think she is, yeah … In fact, yes, she definitely is.”
His smile grew again. “Aha, and you know about eldest daughters in Vietnamese families, don’t you?”
I went cold; it felt as though Oobit was going to drop on me some massive ‘familial sexual abuse’ bombshell or something. “Go on…?” I said with trepidation…
Much of the reason I went back to Vietnam, and certainly the reason that this time I decided to embark on such a prolonged stay, was essentially for this; to meet/befriend locals/expats then to develop relationships of such familiarity and trust that these people felt able to talk to me about reality, without having to filter their speech. The thing I noticed last year, particularly in Hoi An, it was as though Vietnamese locals had a tongue they used when speaking to friends and other locals, and a tongue which they reserved for tourists; it was a happy tongue, a carefree, joyous, ebullient, a sycophantic tongue but ultimately, it was a fake tongue. Thus, I had come back this time with the intention of developing genuine relationships and engendering familiarity to the point where I was not just given that horribly obsequious ‘tourist tongue’. Oobit was one character with whom I managed to develop such a relationship, Annie was also one and, among others, once she realises that I am beyond the point of ‘just another tourist scam’, Mai will become another; the things I learned (will come to learn) from these kinds of people, who have been in Vietnam for long enough to see it go through a number of significant changes, was (and will be) more enriching than reading any recent history book, or listening to any tour guide’s rendition of ‘the facts as they want you to understand them’. These people will impart knowledge of reality, and of events as they happened or sometimes even, as they experienced them.
…“You know that most Vietnamese men don’t work, don’t you?”
“Huh, well, looking around, I was getting that idea, yes – how does that work though … I mean, how do they earn money – what do they do all day?”
“It’s the women, my friend, the wives work … The men drink coffee.”
“That doesn’t make sense … In New Zealand, for example, the man works and, if she chooses, sure, it’s the woman who is less likely to work.”
Oobit nodded with that big affable grin. “That’s normal, my friend, that’s life – in life women are the breeders, men are the workers – but in Ho Chi Minh City also, do you know, many women don’t want to work.”
“I thought Ho Chi Minh City was where women came to work…?”
This inquiry was met with uproarious laughter. “My friend, do you call, lying on your back, while a sweating, stinking White man stabs you with his giant pork sword, working?”
I smiled and stifled laughter at the image (I found myself very much taken with Oobit’s humour – his steady, calm and calculated speech, yet razor-sharp mind – the man was brilliant). “Honestly bud,” I spoke with a hint of irony, “I wouldn’t know, but they seem to think it is – they’re getting paid for it, anyway.”
“That’s it,” Oobit clapped his hands, “that’s all an eldest daughter wants, is to get paid … She doesn’t care what she does, she just wants to get paid … She will fuck for it, she will suck for it, she will scam, con, swindle and thieve for it … But work for it, not so much.”
“What do these ‘eldest daughters’ have against an honest day’s work?”
“Ah, you see, they want too much – much, much more than a normal job can pay them.”
“Like, how much?”
“These women, they’re greedy … See, a farming family would get by easy on five million a month, but these girls, they ask for more like twenty.”
“Yeah but, who pays that, I mean, who do they ask?”
“White suckers – you, me, any other tourist – we’re all rich to these women, and these women, they just want to get paid.”
I just sat there, thinking of every woman I had met so far in HCMC, inwardly choking.
Oobit concluded, “My friend, the eldest daughters you meet in Ho Chi Minh City, they have their family to look after – they don’t care what they do, they just want to get paid.” He paused to brush back his hair then dragged deeply on his Marlboro (along with other imported tobacco brands, these cost 30.0000VND – 2NZD, although the cheapest cigarettes are local – Thang Long ‘Thum Lohm’ – and cost only 10 dong – under $1). “Oh, and here’s a trick,” Oobit grinned deviously, “if you ever have to pay a Vietnamese, and if you say, ‘I can give you one million now, or five million in a week’s time’, they will always take the million now … It’s like they can’t see the future – they’re all about the now.”…
Vietnamese women tend to be very much responsive to tourist advances and in fact (unlike the majority of Kiwi women who will usually either ‘be busy’, ‘be not interested’, ‘have a partner’ or be just plain nasty about the whole thing), in Ho Chi Minh City at least, most women appear only too pleased to indulge a male’s request for company; most were willing to give out phone numbers or Instagram accounts (which, I feel if I’d had any way of making either of these forums work for me things might’ve been quite different) while many are even willing to take a few minutes out of their day, take a seat at a nearby coffee shop and enjoy a beverage (likely making them late for another appointment which merely corroborates my earlier point).
…“What did you mean though, ‘women here don’t want to work’ – I mean, far as I can see, Oobit, this city’s run by women.”
The lanky Dutchman smiled broadly, “It may look that way, yes, but actually Ho Chi Minh is run by families … The wife always is the boss, but the whole family is really the owner,” Oobit pointed over the road at various hotels in turn, indicating that they were owned by different families.
“What about this one,” I observed, “I mean, is Annie not the owner of the Pink Tulip?”
“He is part owner, and he manages it, but that’s all … Did you know, no foreigner can own any, ah, how is it, any, place – any premises, in Vietnam.”
“What about your house – or does that rule not apply in the countryside?”
Oobit chuckled. “My friend, the house where I live in Buon Me Thuot, my wife’s house, that took almost three years just to get the permits to build there.”
“Shit man,” I mumbled, “that’s worse bureaucracy than we have in New Zealand.”
“No bureaucracy my friend, it’s simple – they don’t want me to live there.”
“What, in Buon Me Thuot or, in Vietnam in general?”
“I’m a White,” Oobit stared into my eyes soberly, “Vietnamese Government, and probably most people in Vietnam, they don’t like us – they don’t want us here.”
I sat stunned, thinking of all the Viet people I had met and had, supposedly, befriended – I couldn’t accept what I was hearing – was it all a lie? “Are you serious?” I queried incredulously. “Are you meaning ‘European’ White though, ‘English speaking’ White, or just ‘White’ in general?”
“For Vietnamese Government, it’s general – English, Euro, Western, whatever you want to call us, we’re White, they don’t want us here … Remember the Vietnam War?”
“Technically,” I shot back with a grin, “while you’re here it’s the American War, but, yes, of course, I am familiar.”
“Mm, then you might have also heard about how Vietnamese, how Asian people, are very big on pride, and retribution.”
“Yes, that’s very interesting … I often wondered about the Vietnamese feeling toward US folk, you know, given their history – they appear to treat them well enough though.”
“Don’t believe everything you see in Vietnam, Tim,” Oobit lowered his tone, “it’s not always reality.”
I smiled at the notion. “Still, you seem to be doing alright.”
“They couldn’t stop my wife and me building a house in Buon Me Thuot, anyway.”
“Nice one,” I gave an affirming nod.
“Oh geez,” Oobit looked at his watch in sudden panic, “wow man, I gotta get to the dentist.” With that he stood up and pranced away, giving a wave over his shoulder as he went. “Talk soon, my friend,” he called from the seat of his motorbike (and ‘talk soon’ we would, further exploring this apparent Vietnamese distaste for Western society).
Regarding the earlier paragraph, once a ‘coffee-date’ is over (still I am unsure if this constitutes an actual ‘date’), if I was lucky, I was able to organise another, official, rendezvous (for which, if I was even luckier, she would turn up on time or even just at all); alternatively (and I’ll leave it up to you to decide if this is ‘lucky’ or a form of entrapment), on completion of our tryst she might place her hand over mine and seductively propose that I give her two million dong ($160), so we can go back to my hotel room for some ‘exciting fun’.
As I discovered, Vietnam very well might be renowned as one of the world’s cheapest tourist destinations but, one has first to get the hell out of Ho Chi Minh City.
The place is toxic.
Article by Tim Walker
Edited by Si Tin Fon
Photography by Etta Price