Monthly Archives: March 2019

Tim Walker’s Vietnam XXXIII

As well as everyday Vietnamese dishes of pork/beef/unidentified meat with vegetation/spices/indescribable heat and rice/noodle, at Loan’s Café Loan specialised in classic Western dishes – hamburgers/fries, steak/sausages, bacon/eggs, etc.

Arriving at the Yen Trang I had noticed, over the other side of the road, as many hotels do in Vietnam, along with basic accommodation a number of these premises were advertising a ‘spa service’ (which I believe is supposed to be more of a makeover/massage service than it is actually immersing oneself in a bubbling bath devoid of bubble-bath, or soap), with many flaunting large headshot posters of a chiselled young man and his svelte ‘60s-style hairdo, advertising, ‘Haircut – $5’…

Although Loan’s Café was only in the early stages of its trading life it was already a hit with many, particularly the kind of arrogant middle-aged Westerner who, although it mightn’t have been above them to travel to a Third World nation, while they were there, they were not going to make any attempt to assimilate the culture, to speak any of the native tongue, to mix with the locals in any way, and they were certainly not be cajoled into eating any of the local food.

…As mentioned, most everything in Vietnam is related to US culture – if you’re White locals seem to assume you’re American and when converting currencies, invariably the translation is to USD (which I then double to reach the approximate NZD value) – meaning that when a poster/billboard reads ‘Haircut – $5’, chances are, it’s somewhere close to 120.000VND, which is actually more like 10NZD, which is still a cheap haircut,  if it’s a good haircut…

As I recall, when I emerged from my room, seedy wreck that I was, in preparation for my fourth (or perhaps fifth) dentist appointment, I had legitimately not eaten for days – this, for someone who typically struggles to go three hours without a sustenance top-up – I therefore wasted no time in heading down the stairs and locking in my order with Loan for the priciest thing on her menu, a ‘Big Breakfast’. This gargantuan meal of sausages, hash browns, eggs, toast, tomatoes, (Vietnamese) mushrooms (which may look peculiar but in fact taste no different to Kiwi mushrooms), came complemented with my very own condiment basket – spices, herbs, and four sauces including tomato – and took me the best part of an hour to eat after which, I had to conclude, it was worth each of the 120 (thousand) dong I had paid for it.

…One morning, freshly showered and shaved (also almost passed out in front of the bathroom mirror, indicating my health still could have used some improvement), I headed over the road to take advantage of one of these ‘$5 Haircuts’. Stepping into the building’s lobby, four women, some seated, some supine, but nobody appearing particularly fussed, eventually acknowledged my entry; the place was dark and, other than for these ladies, the place was deserted. Nonetheless I asked for a haircut. I was shown to a chair. A tall, well-dressed woman with marvellous hair, the woman I expected would be cutting my hair, stood behind me, making a task of covering me with a sheet. “What hair cut you want?” she asked brusquely.

“Two around the sides and back,” I indicated as I spoke, as always, maintaining eye contact in the wall mirror, “cut up quite high at the sides, blended into a short trim on top … Oh and, do the sideburns,” again indicting, “number one, thank you.”

“OK,” the woman looked bemused, as though she had no idea what I’d just said which, honestly, was a little worrying. Another woman, in a shady corner of the room, was fossicking through a well-used cardboard box I’d watched her pull from some cupboards along the wall. I stared through the shadows; it appeared to be a box of hair-clipper attachments. This lady stood and laboriously walked towards the tall woman and me, chirruping something to the woman at my rear. The other two women could be seen mooching about the premises, sometimes sitting, often chatting, usually watching, but never really doing much else. Suddenly the lady behind me was speaking loudly in what sounded like admonishment. The one carrying the haircutting equipment stopped, turned, dropped to her knees and started rummaging on the floor, through a pile of what appeared to be hair-clippers. Selecting one set from the tangled mass she resumed her steady approach, while the lady at my back breathed menacingly down my neck. The two exchanged more words then the taller woman moved aside. I looked in the mirror at the laboriously-walking newcomer; I didn’t want her cutting my hair. As she raised her eyes to meet my gaze I admit, I struggled to hold eye contact; I genuinely wasn’t sure which of her two differently-angled eyes my eyes ought to be contacting. Lazy eyes (or some other issue, I didn’t inquire) notwithstanding I didn’t want this woman cutting my hair. I heard the clippers start. They sounded awful; underpowered, undermaintained, underperforming. Right now, I didn’t want anyone cutting my hair.

Too late. She’d slipped on a comb and had already hacked into the hair at the back. This was horrible; the blades – moving sluggishly as the were – were clearly blunt. Where a good Kiwi hairdresser can have the back and sides down to a number two in a few minutes, this woman took a few minutes just to perform one stroke/swathe/blow. The tall lady was positioned to the side, overseeing the job and suddenly stepped forward to halt the lazy-eyed woman. I heard stifled snickering behind me and felt my neck again become hot with exasperation/infuriation. The lady performing the cut leaned around beside me and showed me the clippers. She took off the comb, held it up, as if for clarification, and asked, “This?”

I looked down; without my glasses and in he murk of this room I couldn’t see a lot anyway. I studied the comb; I thought I understood. “Yes,” I said, nodding, “this is number one … This do sideburns.” I drew the comb quickly over my sideburns in demonstration, then handed it back to her. She clipped the comb on the clippers and attempted to run them up the side of my face. They gripped, they bumped; she drew them back and tried again. She held the clippers more forcefully; this time, fighting to keep my head upright, the clippers gripped and crinkled the skin of my face, but still the comb refused to slide. “It’s because I’ve just shaved,” I pointed out, “the skin is moist, smoother, you have to lift the comb more onto the points.” (For the record, I always shave before haircuts in NZ and they never seem to have too much trouble; I just know what it’s like from my own sideburn-trimming experience.) Unsure if the woman had interpreted what I had just said – far be it for me to be offering hair-cutting advice to a ‘hairdresser’ anyway – I sat and tensely awaited this hairdresser’s next movement. She clearly had no idea what she was doing; looking, tentatively cutting, assessing, unsteadily trimming, reassessing – regarding hairstyling this woman appeared clueless. The tall lady returned holding a picture of a classically handsome man wearing a clean-cut, classically handsome hairstyle, not unlike the one that I usually wear. She showed it to me; I smiled, nodded and gave affirmation. She then showed it to my lazy-eyed hairdresser who also nodded and went back to work.

Alas with each stroke/swathe/blow taking around ten minutes the haircut was a time-consuming procedure; with each pointless, time-wasting action I saw occur before my eyes in the mirror, and the delayed, time-wasting reaction I saw follow it, I felt myself becoming increasingly agitated. At one point, such was my disbelief at my hairdresser’s incompetency, I recall turning to the taller woman – who was always looking on – and demanding, “This is ridiculous, has this woman even cut hair before?!”

To which another of the four women replied, “Yes, she has cut, four hairs.”

“Four hairs,” I muttered to myself, “fucking wonderful.”

About an hour after the nightmare had begun, after I had instructed the incompetent hairdresser precisely what she needed to do before she could consider the haircut complete, I stood and walked to the front to pay (I’d had a lot of time to consider and had decided that I must suppress the compulsion to just walk out). From what I could tell the job was as much done as it was ever going to be therefore, much as I didn’t believe the situation warranted it, I was obligated to pay. I removed a 100 and a 20 dong note, handed them to the tall lady at the desk then in a calm voice said, simply, “That was awful … If you are going to advertise five dollar haircuts, you at least need someone who knows how to cut hair and, for God’s sake, get some decent bloody equipment.”

The lady smiled and took my money although, as I walked toward the exit, I swear I heard them snickering at me.

I walked back past Loan’s Café and warmly acknowledged Loan, sitting out front with her husband, not a customer to be seen. “You buy something now?” Loan jokingly inquired as I passed.

“Ga kohm tien (Have no money),” I jested in response.

“You can’t use that on me,” she laughed, “I taught you that!”

“Doi kohm hew (I don’t understand),” I fired back, as I climbed the stairs.

Walking past the main desk I smiled at the receptionist, Thao (remember, ‘Towel’; Thao worked mornings while Lieu came on after 3 p.m.), then took the stairs to my room. I collapsed onto my bed, closed my eyes then ran my hands over and around the back of my head; my hair was a mess, I didn’t need to see it to know that.

Given the current state of my health, given all that had taken place that morning, I was questioning why I hadn’t just stayed in bed.



Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Bosch D Hare-Cot

Photography by Celia Woman

Tim Walker’s Religion III

Just days on from Christchurch’s most recent ‘darkest day’, amid a nation forced to accept that New Zealand’s hate issues are no different to those of any other country and that things need to change, what has changed?

In the opinion of some, religion ought to be outlawed. It seems to do nothing but pervade prejudice and incite hatred across the world; yet in the opinion of others, religion builds the foundation, it provides the structure and gives the strength to work through these dark times, it brings people together by promoting harmony and inspiring love…

Friday 15 March 2019. Two Christchurch mosques, one Australian gunman; the lives of 50 innocent people are ended.

…Every one of the world’s great wars have been ultimately inspired by religion, and there is nothing harmonious or loving about pain and suffering; in fact, realistically, across the last hundred years, if not for religious disharmony the world would have been just about devoid of conflict. Still though, ‘religion’ is maintained as projecting the ‘values of good’, the ‘essence of peace’…

The March 15 massacre was a hate crime, that much is clear. While Brenton Tarrant isn’t affiliated with Al Qaeda or other known terrorist groups, he is a White-supremacist and he is an extremist.

…In these modern times where the facts of the world are beyond dispute, how is it still acceptable that there are large portions of this world who are permitted to not only partake in, who are encouraged to worship, the belief of an intangible entity who is purported to have committed deeds of a miraculous nature, deeds in fact akin to magic, and whose presence is, overall, very much akin to make-believe? …

Tarrant’s movements were calculated, and they were deliberate. This Australian national targeted Christchurch’s mosques seemingly because he believed that Muslim worship was damaging to New Zealand’s identity.

…The Greeks, the Romans, long ago accepted that their array of gods were merely mythical and, as is currently taught in New Zealand school’s curriculum, were essentially developed by a primitive populous hoping to provide understanding for all that happened in the world beyond their comprehension…

Breton Tarrant, this Australian-born 28-year-old who has resided in Dunedin for some time, was known around town and by all accounts appeared ‘normal’.

…Religion is one hundred percent a belief system. There is no, nor has there ever been, physical evidence to support religion which is how, even in this modern era with all our supposed knowledge, zealots are able to develop new religions, new belief systems, new logic, then brainwash, exploit, abuse and, as is becoming the fashion among religious sects around the world, sexually assault, its followers…

Tarrant acquired a firearms licence in 2017; five different weapons were then used across two locations to carry out the massacre.

…The embracing of religion, 2000 years ago, was understandable; these people had nothing, they knew nothing. Religion gave them something to believe, gave them some reason to hope, and moreover it gave them some semblance of control

Tarrant had reportedly spent some considerable time at a shooting range, presumably in preparation for Friday 15’s act of inhumanity.

…Control though, undoubtedly religion has always been about control; convince a generation of supple-minded youth that if they don’t behave, they will incite the wrath of a vengeful god, resulting in a generation of well-behaved – God-fearing – youth.

Of all the liberties that world Governments have ever outlawed because they were too damaging, too costly, or not socially acceptable, religion has not once come into focus; yet the truth, the irony is that religion is in fact the most damaging – in that it has ruined innumerable lives worldwide – the most costly – in that it cheats money out of the trusting and the impoverished – and the most socially unacceptable because, simply, society refuses to accept the sequence of events that took place in Christchurch that day.

It is my belief that, in the 21st century, we no longer have any need for the crutch of religion; we know enough about the planet and its creation to dispel these insidious myths of creationism, allowing us to live in a world of genuine harmony.



Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Weka Upp

Photography by Meke B Leif


Tim Walker’s Familiar

What is it in human nature that causes us to show the least regard to those we consider familiar?

Familiar – Familial – Family.

Most of us would never dare treat a person we just met with the disrespect many of us show towards family members; they’re just family though, it’s easy to say – it’s not that important to maintain relationships with family members because they’re always going to be there, always going to be your family…

Until they’re gone and all you have left is regret. They’re gone and all you can do is wish you didn’t take them for granted while they were here. They’re gone and you wonder why you didn’t show them a little more respect while you could; why you never told them how much you cared or how much they meant to you while they were still here with you, beside you, every day.

…Invariably we put on our best presentation to meet someone new, with the intention of laying down that scintillating first impression; then once that first impression has been delivered – however disingenuously – once our impression has been accepted and initial opinions have been formed, we seem to feel we no longer have need to impress thus we revert to our former, sometimes abrasive, often boorish, painfully apathetic, selves…

Appreciation is a tremendously basic, but in this modern world a very much overlooked or often a forgotten, emotion. Complacency is what takes over when appreciation is forgotten; once appreciation has been forgotten and a person’s lifestyle has fallen complacent, they will only ever become less able to appreciate hence be more likely to take for granted the lives, or particularly, the goodwill, of their familiars.

…Familiarity is a killer. It’s a destroyer of relationships and it’s an annihilator of the gentle spirits among us. Abuse – sometimes physical but mainly mental – is a common result of familiarity between loved ones; a spouse becomes overly familiar thus bored with their significant other and over time uses a dominating demeanour to assert their authority over the other, something they would never consider doing with a mere acquaintance or work colleague…

Even familiars have their limits though; no matter how close or strong a relationship, there is always a breaking point. Here’s another notable aspect of human nature: push someone hard enough, push them away enough times and quite simply, they won’t come back. The love that you might once have considered unconditional may just have revealed its conditions.

…The dominating counterpart will use manipulation and affront to keep the other beaten down, unable to generate the self-confidence to ever stand up for themselves or to fight back. That weaker of the two will lose self-worth to the point they can no longer see they are deserving of anything or, least of all, anyone, better.

It’s dangerous, it’s detrimental, it’s destructive, it’s downright devastating; it’s the effect of familiarity and if you allow it into your familial life, it will likely consume you too.



Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Tiki Foregrounded

Photography by Sal F Reece-Pact


Tim Walker’s Vietnam XXXII

The evening of arrival at my newest hotel, the Yen Trang, I could feel my body beginning to succumb to the illness that would have me in bed for the best part of three days.

Every pollutant that I had inhaled over the past few weeks, coupled with much too much booze and far too little sleep, had rendered my chest congestion much too severe to ignore so, after an early evening meal of ‘bung me op lah’, I ducked up to my room to sleep/rest/sweat out what was effectively a two week hangover (the horrors of this ordeal are documented in previous instalment, Vietnam XXIV).

Those few days’ downtime in fact came as welcome relief as even my resurrected budget was now at risk of being blown; while I had been sure to pay my total accommodation bill up-front affording me a feeling of security in that respect, with my remaining few dentist appointments still to come I needed to be continually mindful of overspending…

The issue I had encountered, and indeed the reason I was having such difficulty maintaining my everyday sense of frugality, albeit while overstaying in the ‘world’s cheapest tourist destination’, could be summarised in just one word – starts with a capital ‘N’ and rhymes with doobie – Noobie.

…Feeling faint and still very much ill, after around 72 hours of terribly broken sleep I hauled myself out of bed (to this day I have no idea how I kept such an accurate account of time/days, but I didn’t miss/wasn’t late for any scheduled appointment), plodded downstairs and had the Yen Trang reception organise my transportation back to District 10, for my fourth (or perhaps fifth) appointment at Nhan Tam dental clinic. I then recall arriving at the premises and being promptly taken through to the dentist’s chair. I recall sitting in that chair for another few hours as the attractive female dentist drilled away at the last of my decayed root; I recall My Hanh’s irritation as, for the umpteenth time, I somnolently allowed my mouth to fall closed…

The woman of my dreams had rendered me utterly smitten and with that came the compulsion to give, and to do, for her, everything that her adorable little heart desired (then later, when I read ‘the book’, there are no words that will describe how stupid I feel).

…By the time the taxi dropped me back at the end of the third Bui Vien – following completion of a root canal, the filling of cavities, as well as the extraction of my first wisdom tooth, it was evening and darkness was beginning to fall…

Having a wisdom tooth removed was one of my trip’s major highlights; I am unsure if the technique used at Ho Chi Minh City’s Nham Tam Dental Clinic is the same strategy employed by other dental clinics around the world, but this was awesome. The lovely My Hanh had just finished drilling and filling a cavity; she rose to her feet and said simply, “Now we do wisdom tooth extraction, OK?”

“Sure,” I replied excitedly (having never had a wisdom tooth pulled I was very keen to see what it entailed and, in fairness, to this point I had suffered none of that fabled ‘dentist pain’ which seems to prevent so many grown adults from ever going to the dentist, and I think I was feeling a little excluded).

With that, to my disappointment My Hanh turned and left the room, to be replaced by another, somewhat less attractive, male dentist. He sat in the dentist’s chair and started rummaging through his tray of heavy metallic ‘instruments’ (dude, just say it, they’re tools). The dentist then selected one of these instruments and indicated that I should assume the ‘open-mouthed upward-staring’ position. My Hanh’s cute little assistant went about applying local anaesthetic to the targeted area of my gums, in the process numbing out half my left cheek. Mouth agape from the corner of my eye I gazed upon the dentist brandishing his shiny metal ‘dental tongs’ (which I had already decided would have looked more in place at a Classic Kiwi barbecue, turning snags, shifting onions, or the like).

Suddenly he was in. No messing about, he just went for it; twisting and pulling, twisting and pulling. At first I felt nothing; in my ears there was just the distant sound of splintering, like a foot stepping into a shallow iced puddle. It was only when I felt my head starting to move from side to side that I realised how much force this Vietnamese dentist must have been exuding on the task at hand. I focused on the man, gripping now with two hands his pair of barbecue tongs, twisting and pulling, twisting and pulling; dead set wrenching on this sage old tooth. The splintering audio became louder, like dry twigs now being snapped inside my eardrums, as the dentist continued working the tooth out of the jaw. Twisting and pulling, twisting and pulling (I could feel the climax nearing and at this point, I won’t lie, I was getting pretty excited); I glimpsed the dentist’s strained face and saw sweat beading on his brow. Twisting and pulling, twisting and pulling – then all at once the dentist’s weight fell back.

Still with mouth agape, still staring at the ceiling, my tongue, which I had been prudently holding well clear of the worksite, instinctively darted back, feeling for the hole. Oh wow, there it was. Oh wow, it was so deep – my tongue went right inside it. Oh wow, it was like there was no bottom to it at all; the hole was just so deep. I looked wide-eyed at the dentist as he, triumphantly it seemed, clasped in the end of his dental tongs my very first extracted wisdom tooth. I unthinkingly sat up in the chair and started applauding; I didn’t even really understand why I was clapping, it just seemed so, I don’t know, deserved.

…I went straight up to my room (curiously, despite my enduring illness, still I insisted on taking the stairs two at a time to the fourth level), showered for only the second time that day – the norm is at least three – shaved and, with only the one appointment remaining thus having now paid the dentist bill in full, headed down the street, to again become the wilful victim of extortion, exorbitantness, exhibition and entrapment, but moreover, obviously, to see the woman of my dreams…

That initial endearment of ‘Woman of My Dreams’ – despite knowledge that any long-standing pursuit of the goddess Noobie would be futile, despite my better judgement, despite what I knew was great folly in logic, despite my most basic mental attachment to common sense, despite everything – was being quickly replaced by ‘Love of my Life’.

…That night, as I once more handed over 500 after 500, it seemed, just for the opportunity to see Noobie’s delighted face, between pool shots I sat and, for probably the fourth time in two weeks, I re-evaluated: I had come to Vietnam with the intention of meeting, falling in love with, and hopefully marrying a Vietnamese woman named Lin (bold plan, I know, but I don’t do shit half-arsed). That plan had disintegrated before it had begun and while I had also hoped to reunite with Mai – which I had since done – I didn’t hold out much hope of dredging out a future there, either. Additionally, I recalled, I had more recently had email contact with the woman named Vy and, while I had initially considered it underhanded to be effectively playing one against the other, as I knew it, the Vy thing had gone nowhere also. Joke was on me then, in that regard; once feeling so clever with all my wonderful ‘contacts’, now feeling a touch stupid as those contacts had presently turned into ‘no contact at all’…

Early-evening, as I had done most days since arriving in Vietnam, I sat outside at whatever hotel I was currently a resident and calmly, sedately, repetitively, went over everything I had done, everything that had taken place that day – recounting in my head every conversation I’d had while similarly burning into my brain the names of the people I had encountered – as well as skimming over notable details of past events, to ensure nothing was forgotten when it came time to document this year’s Chronicles.

…Then there was Noobie – woman of my dreams, bargirl, extremely high maintenance, beyond belief exquisite, ability to effortlessly engender the feeling that I was the only man on Earth (and like I said, ‘no words to describe how stupid I would feel’) – of whom I had had no knowledge before entering Vietnam, but for whom I had developed the strongest of emotions while in Vietnam. Logic told me to leave it; compulsion drove me to push on.

By day I was feeling raked out, hollow, eviscerated; by night, unfulfilled. It might have been the lingering effects of my illness, or perhaps it was a side-effect of the antibiotics they’d prescribed to ensure the bottomless pit at the back of my gums didn’t become infected but I felt empty, as though I’d failed in my quest to conquer Vietnam and by implication, I think, I was struggling with the feeling that I was failing life in general. I couldn’t shake the sensation and, after binning my remaining week’s supply of prescription meds, forced myself to reassess, refocus and lastly, importantly, to redirect.

As with many Vietnamese hotels, the Yen Trang started on the first floor, rather than the ground level. On the ground level, tucked inconspicuously under the Yen Trang reception and situated a few metres back from the road – yet in front of the hotel living quarters and the family who lived there – was the most delightful eatery I had encountered while in Vietnam, Loan’s Café.

The owner (whose husband, rather than sitting outside the premises maintaining ‘security’, did in fact help with the waiting duties), and head chef of Loan’s Cafe, Loan (Luhn), was a wonderful woman who, coupled with Yen Trang receptionist, Lieu (Layho), were more than willing to assist with my self-imposed search for redirection; together these two fine women aided in my freshly revised quest, my ongoing endeavour to glean as much knowledge about the ways of the ‘real’ Vietnam as was possible and ultimately, made my final days in Vietnam tolerable.

It was from here, Loan’s Café at the base of the Yen Trang hotel on Bui Vien, that every Vietnamese woman with whom I had been close – Mai, Noobie, Vy, also indirectly, Lin – would, in a bizarre and confusing turn, over the next few weeks, again present themselves to me as if in one final attempt to mess with my brain.



Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Dee N Lieu

Photography by Yeo I Wish