Tim Walker’s Vietnam XXXVII

I was battling. My head felt on the verge of combustion. Too much information coming in; so much unwelcome speculation going out.

That evening I sat, sipping one of Loan’s brilliant fruit concoctions – which I’d had her spike with a generous measure of bourbon whiskey (not real whisky but best she could do) – and tried to straighten out the recent influx of knowledge in my brain…

Lin Aug appears to have married a Yank by the name of Gary Cooper.

Gary Cooper appears to be some deranged middle-aged creeper.

Across Ho Chi Minh City, sex is money and money is love.

As established last year, ‘HCMC is the unequivocal arsehole of Vietnam’.

Most people here are not above lying and/or cheating to get what they want.

Men don’t typically work, and Ho Chi Minh City is ultimately run by women.

Bars in Southeast Asia use ‘bargirls’ to seduce men/promote the sale of liquor.

A family’s eldest daughter is beholden to provide for her parents in later life.

That being so, ‘Moneeey!’ is an eldest daughter’s number one priority.

Eldest daughters will say and/or do just about anything in the pursuit of money.

A bargirl will act/say however/whatever is required to push the sale of liquor.

Pleasant as they may appear, in Vietnam, no person is to be trusted.

Most Vietnamese women are not ‘prostitutes’, yet many accept money for sex.

Sex is money and money is love.

…I had reached the final week in my tour of duty; there was a chance I was going to make it after all. It was from this state of mind that I came upon perhaps the most enchanting character (and as it would turn out, perilously so) who I would meet while in Vietnam. I ran into this paragon of charisma, this personification of enigma, out front of the Yen Trang hotel on Bui Vien Street. Name was Stu, and Stu did what he could (I originally imagined unintentionally but now am not so sure) to ensure that in my final week, I would struggle to make it out alive…

Perusing Facebook profiles of the few Vietnamese ladies I had come to know well – then perusing further, more deeply into Facebook’s astonishing breadth of stunning Vietnamese women – I noticed there was a hallmark; a quirk or idiosyncrasy that many of these ladies tended to project in their photographs – just as one might witness a Japanese person displaying the ‘peace’ sign, in these Vietnamese women’s photographs the fingers of one hand were brought up into a light fist but with their thumb and forefingers held together, with these digits crossed at the first knuckle (also I imagine, in real time, gently oscillating), in the internationally recognised symbol of, there it is, moneeeeeeey!

…He wore a hat not unlike my own, dressed not unlike myself, displayed mannerisms not unlike my own, was a solo traveller not unlike myself; in fact the first time I saw Stu, seated as he was at Loan’s café, looking down as I was from the Yen Trang hotel lobby, such was the nature of his presence, indeed such was the present fug-state of my own brain, I actually thought, albeit briefly, that I may have been having an out-of-body experience and, in total seriousness, I actually thought, if just for a moment, that the gentleman I was viewing down below was me…

One afternoon, a few days before I was due to leave Vietnam for Singapore, Noobie came by the Yen Trang, because apparently, after all I had done, all I had given her, she believed she owed me one last visit (I would have liked to have learned the formula she used to equate those factors; over the past month I must have spent around twenty nights at her bar, with every pair of drinks I bought us earning her a commission, and at an average spend of five million dong per night, thus, 20 X 5,000,000 = 1…?

…When he was sober, he was clearly British; when intoxicated it could not be overlooked that Stu came from South Africa. I suspect this was a game he liked to play with people, although it did not take long to appreciate that this – evidently England born but South Africa grown – former advertising executive might just have been the most charismatic chap I’d met to date; certainly, Stu knew how to speak to people’s souls.

That night I showed Stu along Bui Vien; I wasn’t surprised to end up at Crazy Girls bar, nor was I surprised when, around eight hours later, the place began shutting up for the night. Stu had become exceedingly drunk in the meantime; that didn’t surprise me greatly either, the guy was a big drinker. He and I began making our way out and onto the street then unsurprisingly, Stu realised he’d forgotten his jandals.

He ducked back inside; I waited for over ten minutes, but he didn’t come back out.



Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Darce Ted Lee

Photography by Anne Ticks

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