To witness a hard-shelled creature of around 70 millimetres long by 15 wide scuttling rapidly across the floor, invariably tracking a linear path, possibly over your foot, maybe up your trousers and even onto your table, to Vietnamese folk, is an everyday sight.
Cockroaches plaguing a building does not mean those premises are unclean or (come on, we’re talking about Vietnam here…?) unhygienic, it simply means a structure is providing adequate shelter from direct sunlight or, particularly, rainfall. Vietnamese are not at all bothered by the sight of these ghastly creatures and in fact, seem to respect them as though they belong or, unbelievably, as though are entitled to occupy whatever habitat they choose to infest…
Final morning at the Pink Tulip hotel, having enjoyed my last complimentary breakfast followed by another revealing chat with Oobit and now running perilously close to my midday checkout time, I tentatively peered through the gap in my open hotel room door. My heart skipped; my breath caught in my throat.
…A few nights before in Crazy Girls, during another Ho Chi Minh deluge, as I had watched numerous roaches appear, darting over the floor in front of me like little armoured soldiers, I had treated the situation no differently to the way I would any other unwanted pest; when one of these unsightly vermin had made its way onto my table I had naturally brushed it off, watched it scamper away a half-metre then stepped forward with a dancing-soled Vietnam boot, relishing the feel, also the sound, of it crushing under my foot (in fact the first time a cockroach had made its ungainly way onto my table I had picked it up by a leg to further study the, reportedly, potentially nuclear-surviving critter, in the hope of seeing what made the species so damned remarkable; at this point Noobie had reached forward and slapped my hand, causing me to drop my subject, where it had hit the floor with a ‘crack’, bounced to its feet, then scuttled away, seemingly unperturbed with being dropped onto a marble floor from over 100 times its own height – nuclear-surviving indeed – because apparently the first thing a cockroach does after being touched by a human, is run away to clean itself)…
In my room a figure was huddled up on the bed, pushed right back to the head, swaddled head to toe in sheets. I made my approach, reaching out and touching the raggedly breathing cocoon. It jerked back in surprise. “Noobie,” I whispered, “what’s wrong – what happened?”
Slowly, from amid the bundled sheets a head emerged; two distraught black eyes stared at me, unblinking, for what felt like minutes, then, “You leave me alone … I scared,” she breathed.
As much from relief as from the nature of her response, I almost laughed. “What – why are you scared?” I asked, sitting on the bed and wrapping my arms around the diminutive bundle.
“I scared of dark,” she glanced down ashamedly, speaking quietly, “I scared of alone.”
“Oh, shit … I’m sorry about that,” I tightened my embrace. “You should have come downstairs and found me – I was just having breakfast.”
“Oh,” she looked up, those beautiful big eyes wet with tears, “I didn’t know … I thought you leave me.”
“Come on, I would never leave you, Noobie, never.”
“But you are.”
“Oh … Well, at least for as long as I am in Vietnam, I promise, Noobie, I will not leave you.”
“But you go home – when?”
“Yes,” I sighed, “in two weeks, I will go home, that is correct.”
“So, in two weeks, you leave me.”
“No,” I sighed again, “in two weeks, I will go home, but I don’t want to leave you – I want you to come with me, Noobie.”
“So you say.”
“My family in Vietnam.”
“I know that, and I’ve told you we could take care of them from New Zealand.”
“I stay Vietnam,” through the tears she flashed me one of her scintillating grins, “you go back New Zealand…” her smile beamed up at me as she ran her dextrous fingers over places that didn’t need reminding, I was in bed with an exquisite Vietnamese woman “…You take care me there?”
“What if I just take care of you now and we’ll work out the rest after?”
…Suddenly I was under attack from a barrage of death-stares from every crazy girl in Crazy Girls bar.
One such, Linh (Ling), started beating my chest in anger, staring up at me with a menacing (adorable) glare, “Why you do that – why you hurt creature?”
“It was a cockroach,” I said in disbelief, “cockroaches are filthy creatures.”
“You filthy creature!” she chirruped and with that, Linh turned and stormed away.
I peered sideways at Noobie; she too, looked as though she didn’t want to know me. I glanced downwards, to a dozen or-so of these scuttling critters on the smooth floor on which the pool table was situated, sharing the space with an additional dozen or-so pairs of feet walking drunkenly around that part of the bar floor.
I couldn’t imagine that all those filthy cockroaches would make it home tonight; nevertheless, in Vietnam, apparently, to kill one deliberately, is a cardinal sin.
Article by Tim Walker
Edited by Karla Durty
Photography by Caca Rosh