Shortly before that all-important ’24 Hours Missing’ stage, seemingly under his own volition, Stu had returned to us; still worrying me though was the genuine concern I’d seen in his eyes when he spoke of fearing for my safety.
“Dude,” ignoring his drunken ramblings I commenced my interrogation, “where have you been – where did you go?”
I watched Stu’s eyes widen in recollection, watched the big stupid smile grow bigger and stupider, before refocusing and looking at me, “When?” he asked with a puff of air, like I was playing some silly game with him.
“Last night man … We were ready to go, you ducked back inside to grab your fucking jandals, and that was it, you never came back out … So what happened – where’d ya go man?”
Again, Stu put on his thinking face. I awaited explanation. Stu stared at me as though waiting for me to speak. I nodded, prompting him. Stu snapped back to his thinking face.
“Stu,” after an enduring silence I decided this was going to take more than basic interrogation techniques; I needed to lead the witness. “Last night, Crazy Girls…”
Stu nodded, an even larger grin forming on his face, as recollection seemingly returned.
“…You remember, we were at Crazy Girls, yeah? But then we left…”
I watched Stu’s face, taken by stupor as, looking now to the sky with glazed eyes and a wide grin, he seemed to slowly mouth the words ‘crazy girls’.
“…Rather, I left, Stu, but you didn’t leave, you went back in for your fucking jandals, then you didn’t come back out – remember?”
Stu was nodding rhythmically; I was unsure if it was agreement or if there was a song in his head.
I glanced down at the pitcher of local beer clenched in his fist, from which he periodically swigged, and which was periodically sloshing onto his legs as he knelt at my side. “Have you been drinking since then – since last night?”
Stu smiled and slowly nodded.
“So where’d ya go, where’d ya sleep, man – have you slept at all?”
Again, Stu became vacant; I gradually came to realise that I was witnessing a veritable shell of a man who, across the last 24 hours, had not stopped imbibing alcohol, much less taken a few moments to lie down.
Suddenly I had a sickening thought. “Stu, check your wallet.”
Stu did as he was told, maintaining eye contact as he reached around to his back pocket. I heard the button ‘pop’ (a fastened back pocket is the only kind of back pocket that one should ever use to hold a wallet in Vietnam); I breathed relief as I sighted the palm-sized leather envelope. Still though I felt bile in my throat. “How much money’s left, bud?”
Stu very slowly, gingerly, as if he was snooping in his little sister’s diary, pawed through the various folds, the pouches of his wallet. I watched his eyes again widen then, with fingers of one hand splaying the divisions of inner material, above my table he speechlessly inverted and shook the wallet. Three crumpled tens and a twenty dong note fell out (they never bother with the small stuff).
I nodded knowingly, “How much should be there – how much did you have yesterday?”
Stu’s typically swarthy façade turned pale; he looked horrified as if just now realising what must have happened.
“It’s cool man, that kind of shit happens here – your cards are still there though, yeah?”
Once more, Stu checked; he came up nodding, yeah.
For the first time since Stu’s disappearance I felt light-hearted; thankfully, it seemed, Stu was not about to become another victim of the Curse of Vietnam. Mind you, I still had a lot more interrogation to do before I was letting the man away tonight. “So how much money were you carrying, bud – how much did they get?”
Just like that Stu was sober (more sober, anyway). “At the airport,” I couldn’t even tell what accent he was currently employing, such was the meek nature of his speech, “I converted ten thousand rand…”
I recall being shocked; in fact utterly aghast – 10,000? According to my hasty arithmetic, 10,000NZD would have been around 150.000.000VND; enough to buy a new car in Vietnam. I calmed myself though, knowing the rand was worth somewhat less than the dollar, and tried desperately to recall the NZD/South African Rand (yeah, I couldn’t even remember their damned currency code, and no, thank you, it is not ‘SAR’, in fact, as I recalled at the time, SAR was reserved for the Saudi Arabian Riyal) exchange rate; generally, similarly to international capital cities, international currency codes along with the approximate exchange rates they represent is something that I pride myself on knowing by heart (evidently, South Africa’s currency code is ZAR and it turns out there are currently, approximately 9.5ZAR in 1NZD). Alas in this case, at this time, consoling a dejected Stu, with that particular line of recollection not forthcoming, it was all I could do to downplay his obvious sense of violation…
Skip forward to the present. Having spent a great deal of time considering the aforementioned chain of events, I would like to offer my best theory on what happened that night. Here it is: Stu was spotted, by me, on multiple occasions throughout the night, in discussions with a rather large, somewhat ill-favoured, woman who, apparently, had some indirect affiliation with Crazy Girls bar; I believe she was an ‘errand lady’ or something. I never pushed Stu at the time regarding the content of these conversations, suffice to say the (clearly English speaking) woman in question appeared delighted to have such a charming gentleman taking the time to speak with her. Now, whether Stu did or whether Stu did not, at the height of his inebriation, deliberately organise an after-hours tryst with one or more disreputable ladies, is incidental. The reality, as I believe it to have happened, is that when Stu went back into that bar to ‘collect his jandals’, his mind had become distracted, his plans diverted by lingering female staff members then, suggestable as (anyone could appreciate) he already was, this level of intoxication was then likely heightened/prolonged through whatever toxin these crazy girls had at their disposal at the time – alcohol, cannabis, cocaine, crack cocaine, meth, or it might have been any number of colourful pills I would always see floating around on tabletops in that bar. They will then have done exactly what those crazy girls in Crazy Girls bar are paid to do – they will have entertained the hell out of our poor Stu. The thing though about entertainment, particularly entertainment in Vietnam, it seldom comes free; thus while he sat in an entertained stupor those licentious ladies will have been steadily depleting his wallet – not stealing strictly, simply charging a(n exorbitant) fee for services rendered – until his wallet was bare, of all but 50 dong. I didn’t ask at the time, but Stu would soon have discovered just how much the possible trips to ‘ATM!’ (positioned conveniently about 12 metres from the Crazy Girls doorway) cost him, because an empty wallet, to those girls, means nothing. When it comes to extortion of White men, Vietnamese woman are merciless.
…Depending on how much money he spent that night of his own freewill, given that 10,000ZAR is tantamount to somewhere in the vicinity of 16.000.000VND, fair to say Stu was taken for more than ten but less than fifteen million dong; to put this in perspective, the boots that I had made in Hoi An in 2017, my ‘Vietnam boots’, cost 1.400.000VND.
In other words, effectively, Stu lost ten pairs of exquisitely hand-crafted, Vietnamese leather boots that night; judging by his post-warzone appearance though, he had one hell of a time doing it so I guess, it could have been worse.
Fair to say most men have a blowout during their first week in Ho Chi Minh City.
Article by Tim Walker
Edited by Vienna Meece
Photography by Viola A Shurn