Think it was my eighth night in Vietnam, eighth night a Crazy Girls, I accidentally choked out that American dude, therefore it mustn’t have been until night nine, through my recently accessed Facebook page on the PC at the Pink Tulip, that I finally contacted Lin.
Infatuated as I was with Noobie, ‘woman of my dreams’ as she assuredly was (and if you find that hard to believe, hear this: after only three nights of her pleading with me to shave off over three years’ of prized chin-tickler growth – from bottom of lip to bottom of chin – I did it, for her), I had come to realise that she was only going to care about me as long as I continued to spend a lot of money on her, at her bar; a revelation which did not bode terribly well for a bright future together in the New Zealand countryside.
Realistically though the ‘Lin’ thing was no more promising; while we had been in contact for over twelve months, shortly before I made the journey to Vietnam in the hope of meeting, and hopefully being with her, she had made some admissions…
The incident with – as I recall we labelled the portly American – ‘Craig’, was so stupid it was comical; as documented in a previously instalment Craig had been seated outside watching, among other things, me play pool with a few of the Crazy Girls bargirls and, based on my dress also my ostensible connection with these Crazy Girls employees, he had assumed, naturally, that I was something more than just another patron. I had gone along with his perceived eminence and, without ever having to technically mislead him regarding his assumption, Craig and I had begun chatting; from there it had taken only a moment to realise that the American was, as we call it in New Zealand, a ‘blowhard’. He made certain that I was informed of just about his every accomplishment, achievement, or other embellishment to date then, with the WWE Smackdown playing on the bar television, it was not altogether shocking that we started discussing combative artforms; as a point of interest, after some time I slid into the yarn that I was an active member of a jiu-jitsu club in New Zealand, where of course Craig did his best to one-up me by revealing that he used to compete in MMA (I felt at that point it might have been too much of me to mention that I was a competitor in my sport also and, in fact at my last tournament, had managed to come away with bronze).
…Lin had been good enough to reveal, after over twelve months of communications, and after plans were almost underway for my second trip to Vietnam that, because at the time she ‘didn’t know if I was serious about her’ and she ‘wasn’t so sure about us anyway’, she had been holding communications with other, older (shit she was only 25 herself; where I felt our ten year gap was perhaps excessive, seemingly she didn’t think it was enough), American – not just man – men…
Being the tough guy that Craig seemed ever-hopeful of portraying himself as being – corpulent middle-aged drunkard that he outwardly was – he wanted me to demonstrate my rear-naked choke on him. This should have been fine, I do it most nights of the week, for God’s sake; it’s not a dangerous manoeuvre if you’re careful with it and you know what you’re doing. As previously documented (I believe, Vietnam XVI), stepping in behind Craig I had carefully set up the choke, for the dozenth time reminding him to ‘tap out’ when the pressure grew too much.
…Apparently things hadn’t gone so smoothly between Lin and her entourage of middle-aged US kiddie-fiddlers and, while I was still in New Zealand, she had begun lobbying for my sympathy vote, apologetically playing the role of the ‘confused little damsel with the world against her’; additionally though, not only had she been ‘conversing’ with these middle-aged American men over the past 12 months – during which time she and I were supposed to have been developing our own relationship – according to her admission she had been meeting, and even engaging in relations with, a number of these older men. (Cough.) That was fine, whatever, I could overlook, I could live with that; while my time had obviously meant little to her, I felt as though I had put in a great deal of effort to our, albeit online, relationship – it’s a typical gamblers mentality but ‘I had invested too much, there was no way I was just walking away now’…
My left elbow aligned with Craig’s chin, back of my right hand forcing forward his skull, using the pressure of the crook of my left arm I gradually closed off his carotid arteries at the base of his neck. Suddenly though things went awry. I felt Craig slipping off his stool and beginning to disappear under the table in front of him. The portly American’s otherwise floppy physique had gone totally limp. Immediately releasing the choke pressure and now using the crook of my left arm just to hold him atop his stool, I glanced leftwards and saw dead eyes. Exerting every muscle of my wiry frame I pushed, pulled and balanced Craig’s mighty deadweight until finally I felt strength returning to his limbs; “You alright, big guy?” I asked, relieved and annoyed at the same time.
Craig stared into space, disorientated; at that point I became intuitively aware of every person at Crazy Girls staring at us.
“You didn’t tap out, bud,” I chuckled, forcing good-humour, “I told you to tap out when it got too bad.”
“Wha you doo?!” One of the more authoritative bargirls, Lona, was angrily slapping my right shoulder, “You leh him go, I see, he do nothing to you … I see!”
“Hey, hey,” Craig’s raspy voice came to life, as he leaned to his right across the table. “This guy,” thrusting a thumb into my chest, “he’s my friend.”
Lona stepped back, looking confused.
“It’s alright,” Craig continued defusing the ordeal, addressing the concerned bargirl. “Thank you for your help, sweetheart, it’s fine … I’m fine, thank you.”
“You sure you’re good?” I asked, giving him a pat on the shoulder.
“Yeah, I’m good, thanks … Hey, it was a good choke.”
“I know it’s a good choke, that’s why you’re supposed to tap out before you go out,” I reminded him in scornful jest.
“Yeah, sorry about that, it came on so gentle, you know, then boom,” Craig slapped his hands for effect.
“That’s the idea,” I nodded, inclining right to put my arm around the recently arrived Noobie.
“It was a good choke, man,” Craig said again as he sipped his beer.
“Thanks bud,” I replied, relieved; appreciating that things might have turned out a lot worse.
“You craaazy,” Noobie looked up at me, grinning wildly.
“Wasn’t my fault,” I argued half-heartedly, “he didn’t tap out.”
“You craaazy boy.”
“Ah, you love my crazy.”
…I contacted Lin on Facebook from the Pink Tulip earlier that evening; while my facial swelling had all but gone down I was now harbouring, beneath the rims of my glasses, the residue of a black eye and as for the slit cheekbone – that gory, gaping fish mouth – it had miraculously pulled itself together (I attribute my good fortune in that regard to Nhan Tam’s unknown dentist with his mystery pot of brown salve) leaving behind barely a mark. I was now left to wonder though, admittedly with mild disappointment, if I would even be left with a ‘Vietnam keepsake’ (what good’s taking a beating if you come away with nothing to show for it?). Turns out, in fact, I appeared so ‘normal’ that during the taxi ride to my second dental appointment, the driver – the same driver who would later explain the prevalence of Vietnamese lower leg injury – a good looking Vietnamese man himself who, without prompting, in fact complimented me on my appearance – said that I was ‘dep chi’ (handsome); I told him, “That’s funny, Sir, I was just thinking how you were very much ‘dep chi’ yourself”, and just like that I felt as though I had made a friend for life – a happily married friend, thank you very much.
Although still technically a resident of the Bali B, as I was spending most of my time in and around the Pink Tulip it was from there that Lin and I began our first date. It was nice; we had a light meal at ‘the Oasis’, on Bui Vien, a strangely verdant family café/bar/restaurant with a swimming pool situated in the middle (patrons sat on a tier around the pool area, in an elevated position so they may view the water), where I drank scotch and she drank coconut water (yet still I swear, Lin was still the more intoxicated of the two of us) and despite the omnipresent background volume, we did our best to talk. Being from the inland region of Buon Me Thuot, as is often the way with residents from this largely farming community, Lin’s English was reasonably good although her Viet accent was very strongly pronounced; I took great pleasure from listening to her trying to wrap her delightful Vietnamese palate around sounds that simply didn’t exist in her language (for example, ‘shr’, ‘cl’, or ‘tr’)…
On that, when a Vietnamese person puts their finger to their lips in a request for silence, they make the most peculiar sound; rather than the ‘Sshhhhh’ that we assume is internationally familiar, in Vietnam it’s more like, ‘Tthhhhh’. The first time I heard it – Noobie was looking at me blankly, beseeching me to stop talking (‘I no unnerstaan!’) – I laughed out loud; I thought she was making a joke, or mocking, but no, naturally, a native Vietnamese mouth/tongue/palate is not equipped to make the ‘sh’ sound.
…Lin and I parted company then once again, I was left feeling somewhat dejected.
Now with Internet back on my side I was much less anxious about everything; my money woes were still bothering me although with online banking in my favour the issue was more easily managed. I had, perhaps foolishly, transferred some funds to bring my budget back on track the easy way and with that done, I decided to see about experiencing Vietnam, rather than focusing so much on trying to experience the women.
She was wonderful, and she was gorgeous, but Lin was clearly, unbelievably, inexplicably, infatuated with one of these ‘US father figures’ of hers; whatever the case, and although she had remarked that ‘I was more handsome in person than she had expected I would be’, she didn’t ever really ever seem ‘into’ our time together.
The next time I opened my Facebook account my memory was given a swift kick; Mai, the Viet woman I had met last time I was in HCMC – in fact it was my very first night in Vietnam, drinking ‘Jimbean’ on the street outside the Aston Hotel (last year’s Chronicles) – who had been nice enough but had essentially inspired my feeling of uncertainty towards Vietnamese women in general, what with the fluctuations in her ability to speak/comprehend English and (clarity to this coming sentence will presently be given) because Mai was not the eldest daughter among her siblings of course she had to the one with the ‘sick grandma’…
With no superannuation in Vietnam it is expected that the eldest daughter in a Vietnamese family (crap, have I already mentioned this? Ah well, it’s probably worth noting again, anyway) is the one to support the parents through their older years thus these are likely to be the ones working the higher paying and, arguably, more demanding jobs, such as prostitution (a Vietnamese prostitute can bring in, in one day, as much, if not more than a woman working a regular job, such as store clerk, will make in an entire month), or a masseuse (which often, but not always, is simply a front for that ‘other’ career choice, although even if it’s not, by Vietnamese standards, it likely pays better than most other, ‘regular’ jobs); then there are the bargirls (also a very high-paid position because as well as their employer paying them a standard wage – presumably much the same as any other basic salary around HCMC – as I understand it bargirls take a commission of every ‘sale’ they make, hence their constant badgering – ‘You wan buy ring?’ – two drinks – 220.000VND, also ‘Shishaaaaa!’ – 350.000VND, or ‘Balloooon!’ – at Crazy Girls, ‘NOS Balloons’ – large condom-like balloons containing Nitrous Oxide – essentially laughing gas which, is a simply marvellous form of intoxication yet, like all great drugs, is ultimately deadly – 120.000VND).
…From what I have learned, at the time and thereafter, these so-called eldest daughters are not the kind of women a foreigner on the hunt for a sweet little Asian bride wants to be pursuing; these ladies have genuine need to earn more income than their siblings and generally are willing to do anything to achieve that target. From experience, these women, these Vietnamese ‘eldest daughters’, are money-hungry, rapacious, devious, deceitful, dishonest (but so often the most exquisite specimens you’ve seen in your life), lying, cheating, swindling, thieving and ultimately unscrupulous people…
According to what they each told me Lin was eldest daughter in her family, Vy was the eldest daughter in her family, Noobie was the eldest daughter in her family and, as it would happen, I think just about every damned woman I met in HCMC claimed to be the eldest bloody daughter in their family. Unbelievable as I found it at the time, sometime later looking at this supposed pattern from an objective viewpoint, I realised it does actually make some sense – for example, if an eldest daughter is born to a farming family in Buon Me Thuot (Lin), Pleiku (Noobie), or some other rural area in Vietnam where living costs are low and wages are even lower, it makes sense that in order to later provide for their family, they would jump on Vietnam’s tourism bandwagon, head on down to Ho Chi Minh City and capitalise on that valuable Western dollar.
…Mind you that’s only what I saw of them, and that was only in Ho Chi Minh City, predominantly in District 1; I’m sure some eldest daughters are honest – probably those ones who have already snared themselves a wealthy American husband to keep them in a manner of which they had never dreamed yet, curiously, the manner which they desire.
Article by Tim Walker
Edited by El Dust Dotter
Photography by Mania Hing-Grey