Tim Walker’s Vietnam XXIX

Following another massive night at Crazy Girls (yeah, I’m not a quick learner), at the two week point of my journey, I checked out of the Pink Tulip and into the Yen Trang hotel, again, on Bui Vien Street.

According to what I was told before I left the New Zealand winter, I would be arriving at the start of Vietnam’s ‘wet season’; yet the first week I saw no rain at all then the second week it was just the odd day with sporadic rainfall. During the last two weeks of my stay, however, I found it difficult just to stay dry.

I would have been happy to prolong my stay at the Pink Tulip and in fact had tried to do just this, alas a flamboyant influx of custom meant that their every opening was now tightly packed.

That night, at Crazy Girls bar and the morning thereafter, as documented in a previous instalment, was the kind of night that I could only – sorry, no, I could not even have dreamed of experiencing…

Lugging my haphazardly packed suitcase over one block (from Bui Vien around to Bui Vien but without ever stepping onto the main Bui Vien) and checking into the Yen Trang hotel around 1 p.m., I was disappointed that Noobie had refused to come see my newest residence; electing instead to leave me standing at the Pink Tulip threshold wistfully viewing her graceful departure, skipping around puddles and potholes in the road as she went, balanced – surprisingly sure-footedly – upon a glorious pair of 6 Inch Gucci heels, one of the two in fact that I had just bought for her.

…The previous night at Crazy Girls, rather than playing the same twelve or so dated tracks on repeat for the entire night, they had appeared to have been running with an entirely different playlist; I only heard Linkin Park’s ‘Numb’ play once – as opposed to three or four times – and for the first time since I’d been going there I heard George Thoroughlygood’s ‘Bad To The Bone’ in all its guttural wonder – it was amazing, it was brilliant, and then when they mixed in some South American/Latin/Salsa music, oh my, it only got better…

The day before that ‘previous night’, at her behest, Noobie and I had gone ‘thopping’ which, given the, supposedly, meagre price of Vietnamese clothing I hadn’t expected would be terribly damaging to my, recently resurrected, budget (at this point one is asked to kindly cast an eye back to the top of the page and to please read through the bracketed segment in the first line. Best do it twice too; no, shit, do it three times, just to really hit it home).

…For once I was unfamiliar with the song but the one thing I did know, it immediately took me back to my Salsa dance class of days gone by; at the time I was playing a game of pool with Noobie – as partners this time, not challengers – and, dressed rather formally as I was in a ‘midnight’ purple shirt, black dress pants and my Vietnam boots (need I say it? Last year’s Chronicles), I just couldn’t help myself…

We hailed a taxi and, amid a stream of barely moving traffic, drove across town for what felt like hours. Rain fell in sporadic downpours as I, typically in the backseat of a Vietnamese taxi, slumped well down in the seat to avoid my head rubbing on the roof’s hood lining. Noobie sat excitedly beside me as I ruefully watched the meter climb; by the time we came to a stop it appeared to read 380. As I climbed out of the Hyundai (South Korean car brands being prominent in Vietnam), I sighed and handed Noobie a 500 then climbed out and stood by the car, mumbling words of exasperation, “We’re cutting into our thopping budget, Noobie.”

Noobie jumped out a moment later clasping several 100s and some smaller notes; “I keep…?” She beamed up at me.

…On the table it was my shot but to hell with pool for now; resting the cue I grabbed Noobie and started dancing – the steps, drummed into me years ago but which I had barely practised since, came flooding back. As I directed her quickly around in the limited floor space beside the pool table Noobie looked initially stunned, then became abruptly disgruntled. “No!” she demanded, pulling back her arms and spinning away. “Don’t like dance,” she said, turning and sulking off to the side. It didn’t matter though; didn’t matter one bit…

Suddenly it made sense; another Vietnamese scam, but not really. It is accepted in Vietnam there are ‘scam taxis’, taxis that will force a client into paying up to a hundred times the recommended fare, yet this was, technically, not one of those ones. This was just a regular taxi, charging a regular ‘Vietnamese fare’ and a regular ‘Western fare’; for example, when a meter reads ’380’, the driver will naturally quote the price (to White folk) as ‘three hundred eighty’ (around $30) – a price I was quite accustomed to hearing and indeed, very much used to paying for a ride in a taxi – while quoting a price of only ‘thirty-eight’ (just over $3) to those customers distinguishable as locals.

…I danced like a Latino maniac; as this unfamiliar song played, arms held in front, maintaining Salsa grips as if supporting a partner, on the polished marble floor I brought out all my moves, finishing, as I sensed the tune coming to an end, with a half-spin leading into a deep-dip. I held my imaginary partner there for a five-count then stood, turned, and looked out over the road, catching my breath and feeling the perspiration running under the heat of the lights; every person crammed into the Crazy Girls outdoor area, the space between the official start of the footpath and the half-metre rise to the edge of the illuminated bar-floor, mainly Westerners, was now staring at me…

Having been in Vietnam a while now thus having become fluent in dong/dollar conversion I felt $30 was a reasonable fare for an hour’s driving across town, it had just annoyed me as I was obviously still mindful of overspending; I looked at Noobie, big red lips pulled into an adorable wide smile. My heart melted; I nodded, “You keep,” I said.

“Need lipstick,” she said as we turned away from the road and immediately entered, what I imagined was, a Vietnamese department store.

…. All at once those outdoor seats seemed to erupt into raucous applause. I couldn’t believe it. Bewildered, dazed as I was; intoxicated on a classic Vietnamese blend of heat and who knew what other kind of euphoric toxins, I took a gracious bow. There was a woman (some spectacular blend of Polynesian/Asian/Indian) sitting right beside the edge of the bar-floor, technically in the outdoor area, within touching distance of my boots. I had noticed her seated there primarily because she was stunning, and I guess secondarily because the man sitting over from her looked like such a douche; given the level of confusion/frustration/resentment this type of couple-anomaly tends to arouse within me, I have an awful habit of picking up on these kinds of ‘mismatched’ couples…

Noobie walked straight to the ‘cosmetics’ section and started looking at the different lipsticks; of course I expected (first paragraph, first line), of all things Vietnamese beauty products would definitely be cheap – potentially local, used nationwide, I guessed up to 100 dong – but no. I glanced at the side of the tube Noobie wanted me to buy for her – Russian Red – 650.000VND; I had hoped I could get away with only spending, at most, a few million dong today. After I had paid for the lipstick we jumped into another taxi; I was sure to give Noobie just a 20 dong note to pay for this one. The rain had stopped as we walked into a shoe shop; staff were frantically returning outdoor displays to their positions. I stood at Noobie’s side, watching as she delighted over hundreds of pairs of very glamorous, highly impractical but, admittedly, utterly exquisite, shoes.

…I was aware of Noobie standing by the wall to my left, waiting for me to finish my Salsa demonstration; I was aware furthermore of the stunning brunette with the douchebag partner gazing up at me in subdued admiration. Staring calmly out onto the bright lights of Bui Vien and the bars beyond (particularly Blueskies, with the glorious ladies in red wearing the 6 Inch stiletto heels) I was conscious of keeping my breathing steady, inhaling slowly, exhaling deeply, calmly, though my nose; I glanced down and briefly caught the eyes of my admirer before flicking my eyes back up and to the left with a grin. Noobie stood with arms folded, head down, looking very much like the sulking child she had become. I turned back to the Polynesian/Asian/Indian goddess, gave her a wink then spun right around and went back to sit at my table alone. It occurred to me that, before my outburst, I had been playing a game of pool but, looking at the table, the black was down, and the cue had been laid longways on the table indicating capitulation. “I sink black,” Noobie was suddenly at my side, apologetic.

“That’s fine, I was done anyway.”

“I sorry,” from my right side she tried to wrap her tiny arms around my chest and shoulders.

“It’s fine,” I awkwardly brought up a hand to her face and kissed the top of her head.

She pulled back and looked up at me with a cheesy grin, “You buy ring now?” …

Inside the shoe shop, with rain again pelting, Noobie was holding up two pairs of heels for me to, I thought, decide which one to buy. Both were Gucci brand; the first were a pair of strappy 6 Inch heels coloured gold (which I liked very much) and second were a pair of strappy 6 Inch heels coloured silver (which I liked best but to be fair, other than for the colour, they were two identical sets of shoes). Clearly showing my preference for the silver pair I then watched as Noobie placed both pairs on the counter. I looked at her with confusion, “Why you buy both pair?” I asked in the kind of partial broken English that, over past weeks, seemed to have become my default vernacular.

“Need both,” she blurted as though it was obvious.

“What, why – are you buying more feet, too?”

She laughed, pinched my nipples and smacked my butt, then turned and became suddenly entranced by a pair of Gucci slip-ons. Forgetting for the moment about her heels she found her slip-on size and, with the help of a very encouraging assistant only too happy to ‘assist’ the pretty young Viet woman who had found herself a ‘wealthy’ English friend, started trying on these slip-ons.

…The douche, the boyfriend of the goddess, had been making ugly eyes at me for some time when Noobie returned with our drinks; I had since shifted my admiration anyway to the way Noobie looked in those gold coloured, 6 Inch Gucci heels…

She once more indicated that I should pay for the shoes, which I did then we left. We stopped on the way for a ‘lunch’ of Noobie’s favourite food – pizza (am I alone in finding it odd for a Vietnamese woman, who will have grown up on a diet of exotic fruits, desiccated meat, fish oil and rice, to have such a quintessentially Western preference?) – then, carrying four new pairs of Gucci shoes – two heels and two slip-on – we walked the rest of the way home. It had just passed 4 p.m. as we approached Crazy Girls; Noobie kissed me on the cheek, thanked me, turned then said, “I go sleep now … See tonight.”

…While she looked spectacular, for just the second time since I had been frequenting Crazy Girls, Noobie was becoming noticeably drunk; my drinks too, mind you, were coming to me with more potency than I could recall. The time was nearing 3 a.m. and, as I had come to learn, on Wednesday’s (which apparently today was), Noobie finished at 3…

The bargirls at Crazy Girls work seven nights a week and, as far as I could tell, other than perhaps one night a week, they work until closing – no earlier than 5:30 a.m.

…I was becoming considerably drunk – far too drunk to be alone in Vietnam – and was about ready to go home myself; then as fortune would have it Noobie seductively drew herself into me and whispered in my ear, “You go home now … I come by hotel later.”

I looked into her big, gorgeous, shiny black eyes and saw the adoration I remembered so fondly from almost two weeks ago. “You remember what room?” I asked

She stared up at me vacantly, “No,” she blurted after a pause.

I pulled out my keyring and showed it to her.

“OK … See soon,” she said, and trotted off.

I departed and opted to take the back way – the safer way – home.

I recall rounding the corner and coming upon a small group of middle-aged men and women. “Sin chow!” I called merrily.

“Sin chow…?” one called back, with what sounded like uncertainty.

Coming to a halt, “Ban ko quear khom?” I called.

“Doy quear,” the man replied with a chuckle, now sounding more relaxed. “You know,” he went on a moment later, in what might have been an ominous tone, “you shouldn’t be out so late by yourself … Bad things might happen.”

“They might,” I shot back, momentarily finding clarity amid my drunkenness, “and if history’s any indication, they likely will.” I turned to face my English-speaking addresser, leaning back and locking eyes with the wizened little Vietnamese character, “Mind you Sir, this is Vietnam, and from what I’ve seen, in Vietnam, bad things here, they don’t seem to give a shit what time it is … They just happen as they please.”



Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Manny Shue

Photography by Fort U Feet

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