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Tim Walker’s Vietnam XXVI

The value system of most Southeast Asian women can be summarised in this simple formula: Sex is Money and Money is Love.

Before anyone judges just think; realistically this philosophy is no different to what we advocate in the Western world – much as I suspect most of us would never admit to such a thing – it’s just a simplified version.

On the other hand, in my quest to experience Vietnam I walked longer and farther than I ever had done, usually returning as a sweaty, exhausted, shell of my earlier self; I wanted to see more of Ho Chi Minh City and while I was aware there were probably less strenuous ways of getting around, walking afforded me the ability to see, smell, meet, and sample the ways of these exotic southern Vietnamese streets.

In New Zealand – also I’m sure around much of the developed world – we see ‘Love’ as support, care, protection, and nurture; all these wonderful constituents of Love though, in the long term, they all require Money, and of course the more money one has, the more able one is to administer these ‘constituents of Love’, thus Money is essentially Love. Furthermore, realistically, most Western men, at least initially, would not stay with a woman and agree to provide for her all these glorious constituents of Love – which we recently established is tantamount to Money – without the assurance of Sex; thus, by implication, Sex is Money too. (To look at it another way: for as long as men have been hopelessly controlled by their lust for a beautiful woman, there have always been women prepared to exploit this desire in return for money therefore again, Sex is tantamount to Money.)

In District 10, the locale of Nhan Tam Dental Clinic, the atmosphere is vastly different to District 1. The primary disparity is the physical atmosphere; District 10 HCMC is significantly less polluted than District 1. Secondarily is the overall feel of the place; less pressure, less urgency, less hostility, less tooting – fewer vehicles, fewer people and less commotion in general. There were still banh mi vendors (blessedly) on the side of the road and most of them (extra blessedly) sold café sua da, but the best thing (even more extra blessedly), during my time in District 10 nobody tried to sell me anything; simply, I approached them voluntarily, they accepted my custom graciously, and I left happily.

Outside the overwhelming Vietnamese penchant for procreation, sex, generally, chiefly, is not an act undertaken for the purpose of enjoyment; it’s something that, predominantly, is used, by women, as a tool, simply, to make Money. Sex to a Viet woman is not particularly sacred or taboo, it does not have to be special or involve a great deal of emotion, nor does it need to be monumental or in fact even the least bit meaningful; it’s just a damned good way for that woman to make money. A Vietnamese prostitute (who, incidentally, may have begun her career as a teenager after, potentially, becoming the victim of sexual assault, perhaps, at the hands of her own family member/s and/or, possibly, their friend/s), for example, will return home with the Money she has been paid in exchange for Sex then show Love to her significant other, by sharing with him that Money. Men in Vietnam, as previously explained, typically, don’t work but instead have a woman who Loves and (for some reason) worships them enough to buy them the things they need and basically, provide them with enough of this Money to propagate an existence.

While many women do work legitimate jobs (prostitution in Vietnam being, technically, illegal), as already mentioned, in Ho Chi Minh City District 1, for the right price, most Vietnamese women will become anything the man with the money wants them to be.

In my quest to meet a nice Vietnamese woman – feeling as though I’d already met my share of skulduggerous ones hence my decision that locating women on the bar scene was not for me – I was not above approaching and, implementing my decidedly basic Viet tongue (which ironically, despite its simplicity, these Viet women seemed to find rather endearing), attempting to strike up a (decidedly basic) conversation. Much of the time though, after politely waiting for me to finish crudely mincing their language’s words, with a grin the Viet woman might interject; for example – “Ah, I have, ah … Some, Engleesh…?” – and in wonderfully broken English we might converse.

The problem I encountered though, was that so often, upon meeting this ‘nice’ woman then perhaps inviting her to join me for coffee it was then her who, perceiving dollar signs all over the youthful White male sitting across from her, would in fact attempt to turn the conversation salacious in the hope of initiating a carnal expedition; of course I was aware, by this stage, of the ‘wholesome Buddhist, four date philosophy’ thus found it perplexing to be invited back to my hotel room for ‘exciting fun’ (or if she was particularly forward, ‘boom-boom’), after only one coffee date. This game that pretty Viet women seemed to enjoy playing with White folk was moreover frustrating when I knew that my intentions (at this point anyway) were good, yet it was she who was trying to bring our budding relationship into premature disrepute.

Mai though, Mai admitted to not being an ‘eldest daughter’ therefore really had no need to be money-hungry; as is the Vietnamese (or perhaps Southeast Asian) way though, acquiring money through unscrupulous channels seems to be in their blood.

When I met her (last year’s Chronicles), evidently, Mai had casual work at a glorious District 6 café as well as, apparently, some other ‘health and beauty’ work; as I understood it, she was a wholesome Buddhist woman driven by love for her family, but not an eldest daughter. I recall last year, sitting in the dingy little café/bar situated under the Aston, being served by hotel porter Fine, slurping through a straw a glass of Jimbean as I made my farewells to Mai – shortly before our tour group were scheduled to head up country where we, a little under three weeks later, planned to fly out of Hanoi – she appeared to become suddenly anxious, as if realising that her plans (perhaps to screw me out of money) hadn’t been executed, or that she hadn’t had enough of an influence on me to ensure that I remained in contact with her (to perhaps try to later screw me out of money). Whatever the reason, on that occasion, she suddenly rushed away to the female WC, to reappear just minutes later having showered and undergone a complete change of ensemble; she had gone from donning her wonderfully elegant traditional Viet garb (last year’s Chronicles) – which I admittedly had found quite arousing – to wearing a sleek black and tastefully but wonderfully short dress along with a pair of stunning 4 Inch heels – which I definitely had found quite arousing. We sat closely for a short while and talked about nothing substantial before Mai blurted (with her limited grasp on English and strong Viet accent), “Need money … My grandma sick.”

I didn’t know what to think; I almost laughed. “Are you serious?” I was in disbelief, “You’re hitting me with the ‘sick grandma’ line…?!”

Looking at me now with a face of (manifestly disingenuous) despondence, nodding, she added, “She very sick.”

“Well shit Mai,” I spoke with levity, “my grandma’s sick too, matter of fact she’s been sick for over a year.”

“Oh,” Mai lowered her head, perhaps realising that the time to swindle me out of my dollars had passed.

Thinking of it, I’m just recalling, at that time, last year, downstairs in the Aston bar, before she had mentioned her grandmother but after she had transformed herself into the sleek goddess in black, I was becoming frustrated, exasperated with her; she appeared to want something but wouldn’t, or couldn’t, tell me what it was. This of course was not aided by her very basic English skills but I recall, at one point, she seemed unwilling to let me depart; she had just changed her attire and I had had the sudden thought, ‘Oh wow, she’s actually trying to impress me, she must really want something’, yet despite best efforts, I could not work out what it was that she wanted from me. All she was doing was sitting closely to me, hugging into me as though I was her saviour and making a concerted effort to look sad, all the while dressed like a classy Asian prostitute.

What was I to do? In my frustration at not being able to understand what she wanted from me, why she wouldn’t let me leave, I took the initiative…

It ought to be noted, for those of you thinking, ‘Go on, dick, she wants you to be a man, she wants you to make a move on her’, I can assure you, this is not what she wanted.

…I grabbed her by the butt, pulled her in and tried to kiss her; she writhed in my grasp and pushed herself back with the words, “No … Not want.”

This left me confused and more frustrated; I was about to just stand and leave but had one last thought. I removed my wallet, took out a 500 dong note and said, “What, you want this?”

I recall she had just looked at me with pining eyes.

It ought to be noted though, I didn’t feel at all sorry for her; she was annoying me to the point of insanity. An observer might have concluded as much but there was no way she had developed genuine feelings for me either; we had only met a few days earlier. I withdrew another 500. “What, you want more?”

Still, she had just looked at me.

As I recall I had become extremely agitated; she appeared to have suddenly relinquished any ability to reciprocate verbal communication and it was making me mad with frustration.

Mai refused to take my money yet had still appeared to want something from me; twelve months ago, I didn’t ever find out what she wanted although twelve months on, I now had the opportunity to meet her again and see where things went.

 

 

Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Sax Money

Photography by Minnie Love

Tim Walker’s Vietnam XXV

Think it was my eighth night in Vietnam, eighth night a Crazy Girls, I accidentally choked out that American dude, therefore it mustn’t have been until night nine, through my recently accessed Facebook page on the PC at the Pink Tulip, that I finally contacted Lin.

Infatuated as I was with Noobie, ‘woman of my dreams’ as she assuredly was (and if you find that hard to believe, hear this: after only three nights of her pleading with me to shave off over three years’ of prized chin-tickler growth – from bottom of lip to bottom of chin – I did it, for her), I had come to realise that she was only going to care about me as long as I continued to spend a lot of money on her, at her bar; a revelation which did not bode terribly well for a bright future together in the New Zealand countryside.

Realistically though the ‘Lin’ thing was no more promising; while we had been in contact for over twelve months, shortly before I made the journey to Vietnam in the hope of meeting, and hopefully being with her, she had made some admissions…

The incident with – as I recall we labelled the portly American – ‘Craig’, was so stupid it was comical; as documented in a previously instalment Craig had been seated outside watching, among other things, me play pool with a few of the Crazy Girls bargirls and, based on my dress also my ostensible connection with these Crazy Girls employees, he had assumed, naturally, that I was something more than just another patron. I had gone along with his perceived eminence and, without ever having to technically mislead him regarding his assumption, Craig and I had begun chatting; from there it had taken only a moment to realise that the American was, as we call it in New Zealand, a ‘blowhard’. He made certain that I was informed of just about his every accomplishment, achievement, or other embellishment to date then, with the WWE Smackdown playing on the bar television, it was not altogether shocking that we started discussing combative artforms; as a point of interest, after some time I slid into the yarn that I was an active member of a jiu-jitsu club in New Zealand, where of course Craig did his best to one-up me by revealing that he used to compete in MMA (I felt at that point it might have been too much of me to mention that I was a competitor in my sport also and, in fact at my last tournament, had managed to come away with bronze).

…Lin had been good enough to reveal, after over twelve months of communications, and after plans were almost underway for my second trip to Vietnam that, because at the time she ‘didn’t know if I was serious about her’ and she ‘wasn’t so sure about us anyway’, she had been holding communications with other, older (shit she was only 25 herself; where I felt our ten year gap was perhaps excessive, seemingly she didn’t think it was enough), American – not just man – me­n

Being the tough guy that Craig seemed ever-hopeful of portraying himself as being – corpulent middle-aged drunkard that he outwardly was – he wanted me to demonstrate my rear-naked choke on him. This should have been fine, I do it most nights of the week, for God’s sake; it’s not a dangerous manoeuvre if you’re careful with it and you know what you’re doing. As previously documented (I believe, Vietnam XVI), stepping in behind Craig I had carefully set up the choke, for the dozenth time reminding him to ‘tap out’ when the pressure grew too much.

…Apparently things hadn’t gone so smoothly between Lin and her entourage of middle-aged US kiddie-fiddlers and, while I was still in New Zealand, she had begun lobbying for my sympathy vote, apologetically playing the role of the ‘confused little damsel with the world against her’; additionally though, not only had she been ‘conversing’ with these middle-aged American men over the past 12 months – during which time she and I were supposed to have been developing our own relationship – according to her admission she had been meeting, and even engaging in relations with, a number of these older men. (Cough.) That was fine, whatever, I could overlook, I could live with that; while my time had obviously meant little to her, I felt as though I had put in a great deal of effort to our, albeit online, relationship – it’s a typical gamblers mentality but ‘I had invested too much, there was no way I was just walking away now’…

My left elbow aligned with Craig’s chin, back of my right hand forcing forward his skull, using the pressure of the crook of my left arm I gradually closed off his carotid arteries at the base of his neck. Suddenly though things went awry. I felt Craig slipping off his stool and beginning to disappear under the table in front of him. The portly American’s otherwise floppy physique had gone totally limp. Immediately releasing the choke pressure and now using the crook of my left arm just to hold him atop his stool, I glanced leftwards and saw dead eyes. Exerting every muscle of my wiry frame I pushed, pulled and balanced Craig’s mighty deadweight until finally I felt strength returning to his limbs; “You alright, big guy?” I asked, relieved and annoyed at the same time.

Craig stared into space, disorientated; at that point I became intuitively aware of every person at Crazy Girls staring at us.

“You didn’t tap out, bud,” I chuckled, forcing good-humour, “I told you to tap out when it got too bad.”

“Wha you doo?!” One of the more authoritative bargirls, Lona, was angrily slapping my right shoulder, “You leh him go, I see, he do nothing to you … I see!”

“Hey, hey,” Craig’s raspy voice came to life, as he leaned to his right across the table. “This guy,” thrusting a thumb into my chest, “he’s my friend.”

Lona stepped back, looking confused.

“It’s alright,” Craig continued defusing the ordeal, addressing the concerned bargirl. “Thank you for your help, sweetheart, it’s fine … I’m fine, thank you.”

“You sure you’re good?” I asked, giving him a pat on the shoulder.

“Yeah, I’m good, thanks … Hey, it was a good choke.”

“I know it’s a good choke, that’s why you’re supposed to tap out before you go out,” I reminded him in scornful jest.

“Yeah, sorry about that, it came on so gentle, you know, then boom,” Craig slapped his hands for effect.

“That’s the idea,” I nodded, inclining right to put my arm around the recently arrived Noobie.

“It was a good choke, man,” Craig said again as he sipped his beer.

“Thanks bud,” I replied, relieved; appreciating that things might have turned out a lot worse.

“You craaazy,” Noobie looked up at me, grinning wildly.

“Wasn’t my fault,” I argued half-heartedly, “he didn’t tap out.”

“You craaazy boy.”

“Ah, you love my crazy.”

…I contacted Lin on Facebook from the Pink Tulip earlier that evening; while my facial swelling had all but gone down I was now harbouring, beneath the rims of my glasses, the residue of a black eye and as for the slit cheekbone – that gory, gaping fish mouth – it had miraculously pulled itself together (I attribute my good fortune in that regard to Nhan Tam’s unknown dentist with his mystery pot of brown salve) leaving behind barely a mark. I was now left to wonder though, admittedly with mild disappointment, if I would even be left with a ‘Vietnam keepsake’ (what good’s taking a beating if you come away with nothing to show for it?). Turns out, in fact, I appeared so ‘normal’ that during the taxi ride to my second dental appointment, the driver – the same driver who would later explain the prevalence of Vietnamese lower leg injury – a good looking Vietnamese man himself who, without prompting, in fact complimented me on my appearance – said that I was ‘dep chi’ (handsome); I told him, “That’s funny, Sir, I was just thinking how you were very much ‘dep chi’ yourself”, and just like that I felt as though I had made a friend for life – a happily married friend, thank you very much.

Although still technically a resident of the Bali B, as I was spending most of my time in and around the Pink Tulip it was from there that Lin and I began our first date. It was nice; we had a light meal at ‘the Oasis’, on Bui Vien, a strangely verdant family café/bar/restaurant with a swimming pool situated in the middle (patrons sat on a tier around the pool area, in an elevated position so they may view the water), where I drank scotch and she drank coconut water (yet still I swear, Lin was still the more intoxicated of the two of us) and despite the omnipresent background volume, we did our best to talk. Being from the inland region of Buon Me Thuot, as is often the way with residents from this largely farming community, Lin’s English was reasonably good  although her Viet accent was very strongly pronounced; I took great pleasure from listening to her trying to wrap her delightful Vietnamese palate around sounds that simply didn’t exist in her language (for example, ‘shr’, ‘cl’, or ‘tr’)…

On that, when a Vietnamese person puts their finger to their lips in a request for silence, they make the most peculiar sound; rather than the ‘Sshhhhh’ that we assume is internationally familiar, in Vietnam it’s more like, ‘Tthhhhh’. The first time I heard it – Noobie was looking at me blankly, beseeching me to stop talking (‘I no unnerstaan!’) – I laughed out loud; I thought she was making a joke, or mocking, but no, naturally, a native Vietnamese mouth/tongue/palate is not equipped to make the ‘sh’ sound.

…Lin and I parted company then once again, I was left feeling somewhat dejected.

Now with Internet back on my side I was much less anxious about everything; my money woes were still bothering me although with online banking in my favour the issue was more easily managed. I had, perhaps foolishly, transferred some funds to bring my budget back on track the easy way and with that done, I decided to see about experiencing Vietnam, rather than focusing so much on trying to experience the women.

She was wonderful, and she was gorgeous, but Lin was clearly, unbelievably, inexplicably, infatuated with one of these ‘US father figures’ of hers; whatever the case, and although she had remarked that ‘I was more handsome in person than she had expected I would be’, she didn’t ever really ever seem ‘into’ our time together.

The next time I opened my Facebook account my memory was given a swift kick; Mai, the Viet woman I had met  last time I was in HCMC – in fact it was my very first night in Vietnam, drinking ‘Jimbean’ on the street outside the Aston Hotel (last year’s Chronicles) – who had been nice enough but had essentially inspired my feeling of uncertainty towards Vietnamese women in general, what with the fluctuations in her ability to speak/comprehend English and (clarity to this coming sentence will presently be given) because Mai was not the eldest daughter among her siblings of course she had to the one with the ‘sick grandma’…

With no superannuation in Vietnam it is expected that the eldest daughter in a Vietnamese family (crap, have I already mentioned this? Ah well, it’s probably worth noting again, anyway) is the one to support the parents through their older years thus these are likely to be the ones working the higher paying and, arguably, more demanding jobs, such as prostitution (a Vietnamese prostitute can bring in, in one day, as much, if not more than a woman working a regular job, such as store clerk, will make in an entire month), or a masseuse (which often, but not always, is simply a front for that ‘other’ career choice, although even if it’s not, by Vietnamese standards, it likely pays better than most other, ‘regular’ jobs); then there are the bargirls (also a very high-paid position because as well as their employer paying them a standard wage – presumably much the same as any other basic salary around HCMC – as I understand it bargirls take a commission of every ‘sale’ they make, hence their constant badgering – ‘You wan buy ring?’ – two drinks – 220.000VND, also ‘Shishaaaaa!’ – 350.000VND, or ‘Balloooon!’ – at Crazy Girls, ‘NOS Balloons’ – large condom-like balloons containing Nitrous Oxide – essentially laughing gas which, is a simply marvellous form of intoxication yet, like all great drugs, is ultimately deadly – 120.000VND).

…From what I have learned, at the time and thereafter, these so-called eldest daughters are not the kind of women a foreigner on the hunt for a sweet little Asian bride wants to be pursuing; these ladies have genuine need to earn more income than their siblings and generally are willing to do anything to achieve that target. From experience, these women, these Vietnamese ‘eldest daughters’, are money-hungry, rapacious, devious, deceitful, dishonest (but so often the most exquisite specimens you’ve seen in your life), lying, cheating, swindling, thieving and ultimately unscrupulous people…

According to what they each told me Lin was eldest daughter in her family, Vy was the eldest daughter in her family, Noobie was the eldest daughter in her family and, as it would happen, I think just about every damned woman I met in HCMC claimed to be the eldest bloody daughter in their family. Unbelievable as I found it at the time, sometime later looking at this supposed pattern from an objective viewpoint, I realised it does actually make some sense – for example, if an eldest daughter is born to a farming family in Buon Me Thuot (Lin), Pleiku (Noobie), or some other rural area in Vietnam where living costs are low and wages are even lower, it makes sense that in order to later provide for their family, they would jump on Vietnam’s tourism bandwagon, head on down to Ho Chi Minh City and capitalise on that valuable Western dollar.

…Mind you that’s only what I saw of them, and that was only in Ho Chi Minh City, predominantly in District 1; I’m sure some eldest daughters are honest – probably those ones who have already snared themselves a wealthy American husband to keep them in a manner of which they had never dreamed yet, curiously, the manner which they desire.

 

 

Article by Tim Walker

Edited by El Dust Dotter

Photography by Mania Hing-Grey

Tim Walker’s Vietnam XXIV

The following week was more of the same; the same oppressive heat, the same expensive bar, the same licentious women although there was a new, albeit it a very much homosexually orientated, hotel.

In the hope of getting around my communication troubles, during my last few days at the Bali B, I did attempt to enlist the services of this new-fangled Internet contraption, ideally via some sort of Personal Computer…

My time at the Pink Tulip hotel really was joyous; here I encountered and spoke to a multitude of travellers of various nationalities – also sexual orientation – and found increasingly that Vietnam is becoming a popular destination for retirees (example given: among others, Canadian Aiden from the Bui Vien coffee shop), or just people seeking a change in lifestyle (because Vietnam assuredly does offer that).

…Pleading with the Bali B receptionist – a slimy middle-aged man who only spoke English when it was convenient to him and whom, in fact, I swear just last year I had encountered working behind the bar of a cruise ship in Halong Bay (see last year’s Chronicles) – for use of a PC but seemingly, despite this wiry Viet’s ever-smiling face and stress-free voice indicative of ‘no worries’, I found myself continually running into a language impasse…

Unlike the Bali B, where I had stayed for around four days and never truly felt welcome, the Pink Tulip embraced my custom even from before my official date of residency; while still technically signed in at the Bali B where, incidentally, upon seeing their ‘We prefer cash payment’ sign I had naturally removed my wallet and paid them in cash – overlooking the fact that of course I had already given my debit card details when making the online reservation – the (only affable) receptionist had then instructed me, “No matter, you go online and cancel booking.”

…I found it perplexing that the Bali B claimed to not be able to assist with my computing requirements when, looking around the place, personal and laptop computers appeared to be everywhere; first there was the, sealed off and with frosted windows, greenhouse-looking but supposedly airconditioned, area towards the back of the lobby, composed of approximately twelve ‘business’ people and around twice that many PCs (yet who knows what kind of computing they did in there). There was also a table near the business greenhouse where staff often went to eat, and most of them brought out laptops when they sat; then there was the older and apparently disused computer and monitor resting on a sideboard also down that end of the lobby – I asked if they could fire up that one for me but no, again, they couldn’t help…

“Why not just cancel from your end?” I asked.

“Easier if you go online.”

“Yeah, problem with that, my phone” – taking out my Nokia Simplephone in demonstration – “doesn’t have Internet.”

“You, no have Smartphone?” asked the youthful receptionist.

“Correct, I no have Smartphone,” I again put forward my alternative.

Why, no have Smartphone?” his face was of disbelief.

“Oh sorry … I no have Smartphone because I don’t need Smartphone – I don’t want Smartphone, I don’t like Smartphone.”

The receptionist smiled as though I was making a joke that he didn’t quite get but was awaiting further explanation on the punchline.

“Also, I like buttons,” once more putting forward my Simplephone.

“No,” the receptionist’s smile becoming a chuckle as he spoke, “everybody has Smartphone – why you don’t have Smartphone?”

“Sure, in Vietnam, ‘everybody’ has Smartphone … In New Zealand, not everybody has Smartphone … Some people don’t like Smartphone, some people just want Simplephone, like this, like me.”

…Also, at the Bali B reception, behind the desk there were two computers; explicitly not for use by residents.

The confounded receptionist pointed behind him to somewhere over the road – over six lanes of constant traffic moving steadily beneath a palpable haze of unmoving pollution – to a location he seemingly thought I might encounter some technology; water bottle in hand I set off. Vietnam being what it is I was desperately fearful, having foolishly and unnecessarily paid my bill in cash rather than simply allowing the Bali B hotel to take the money directly from my account, that I would be double-charged and, given the progressively dire state of my bank account, I could scarcely afford for that eventuality…

I had reserved the first 14 days’ of HCMC accommodation online, before leaving New Zealand; the wonderful thing about booking accommodation in Vietnam (and perhaps other countries too, I wouldn’t know) online (using services such as Booking.com etc) is that they assured me that (typical of most Internet sites) despite their requiring my card details (as they do), I would not be charged until I arrived at my hotel so, providing I didn’t do anything stupid like try to pay the bill in person upon arrival, it’s a very accommodating system.

…Given I had been allowed to pay for the same hotel booking through two separate platforms, then as much as I had tried to convince the receptionist to either return my cash payment – which he refused to do – or to put a stop on the electronic payment – which he didn’t seem all that willing to do either, I was more than a smidgen concerned; whatever was going to happen I needed to find of way of keeping a regular check on my bank balance for the next while lest those slimy buggers (by whom I refer only to that underhanded and inherently unscrupulous portion of Vietnam’s populous, not the honest ones) have their way with me, again. Eventually I managed to cross the road without too much trouble although I was noticing that, compared to last year at least, road etiquette was shifting; last year, invariably across Ho Chi Minh City, if a pedestrian stood on one side of the road and waited for a gap in traffic (a ‘gap’ being basically any space between two vehicles of more than three metres) then stepped out and walked directly to the other side, without deviation in their speed or direction, they would make it. I was genuinely impressed, this time and last, by the Vietnamese ability to competently operate a motor vehicle, although mainly motorcycles, through precarious situations – sometimes while pulling aside a facemask to smoke a cigarette, usually while operating a telephone, SMS or GPS, and typically while overloaded with people, luggage, and/or implements – all the while remaining fully aware of the road ahead of them and able to perceive/anticipate a potential obstacle’s movements; in Vietnam this kind of constant alertness, also their ability to ‘read’ a situation and calculate prospective outcomes then react accordingly, with extreme efficiency, is the norm yet I guarantee if a sleepy New Zealand motorist tried this same level of multitasking on a road with even half the activity, a collision would take place almost immediately. Last year, as a pedestrian, I embraced this ‘pedestrian has the right of way’ style and used it with abandon yet this year, perhaps I was less confident or maybe I was more courteous but, I didn’t feel that same level of security in crossing the road. As it happened, not ten minutes after making my way across the road, on the search for technology, I realised it was a pointless search anyway, and started to make plans to come back…

The next hotel at which I would stay, the Pink Tulip on Bui Vien, did have a computer for use by customers and, as I would later discover, in fact it is expected in Vietnam that Internet be provided/offered/made available to every person (next to Buddha, in Vietnam, I believe Internet is God).

…As I rapidly crossed the umpteen lanes of traffic I was made aware, in the short time I had been in Vietnam, just how congested my respiratory system had become; sure, probably it had to do a little with the various pollutants that I was wilfully filtering into my lungs, but certainly it had to do with the abysmal air quality across HCMC’s District 1. I recall on the way over, stopping in Singapore with its crisp, clear, very warm but beautifully pristine air, then the transition as our plane landed just a few hours’ away in Tan Son Nhat airport; on stepping outside, my first tentative inhale of Ho Chi Minh City’s warm, fetid, sickly air just about pinned closed my nostrils (because, let’s not forget this is my second time here, I sure as hell wasn’t breathing that putrid substance unfiltered through my mouth – ugh, who knew where it’d been before me? – I’d likely end up catching Herpes Simplex, or worse) then with each subsequent breath whatever was in that air started giving the impression that it was depositing on the surface of my lungs, nasal filtration system notwithstanding, little by little, breath by breath, layer upon layer of lacquer-like Ho Chi Minh residue which I would later be responsible for somehow removing…

Although still checked into the Bali B I thought it would be prudent to go and have a look at, also see about the relative proximity of, my next hotel, the Pink Tulip. I had briefly had a look for it on days past – in fact it was on Monday night, shortly before I’d gone to ‘Nguyen’s bar’, just before I was ambushed by the Viet Cong – up the top of Bui Vien, just a few days ago; to no avail. What I hadn’t taken into consideration was Bui Vien’s silly little perpendicular offshoot (or as it will turn out, offshoots), but once I was made aware of this, there it was. The Pink Tulip hotel appeared homely, it looked welcoming, it seemed unpretentious; it was grand.

…Indeed, at the halfway point, two weeks into my tour of duty, just one day after leaving the Pink Tulip hotel – the day after what was, unequivocally, the greatest night of my life – shortly after checking into the Yen Trang hotel (situated on yet another perpendicular offshoot of Bui Vien Street, only one block over, running parallel with the Pink Tulip one) I would be struck down with a life-halting illness. So utterly congested I had become that, while my breathing wasn’t strictly impaired, I was light-headed, had become listless, devoid of appetite, and just felt weak all over; suffice to say the next two days were largely spent convalescing in my Yen Trang hotel room bed.

The brilliant thing about Yen Trang hotel customer protocol, unlike the others – Aston, Bali B, but perhaps not Pink Tulip, don’t really recall – at the Yen Trang, unless you come down to the hotel lobby and give reception your key, verbally requesting that you would like your room cleaned, they won’t try to enter your room; at the Aston, on two occasions (shit I was only there two nights, too…?), having gone to bed at 6 a.m., I recall being woken around midday by ‘(knock-knock) Housekeeping…?’ which is utterly ridiculous, yet I encountered the very same issue at the Bali B hotel. To iterate, at Yen Trang hotel – unless you come down to the hotel lobby and give reception your key, verbally requesting that you would like your room cleaned, they won’t try to enter your room – they do it right; so why cannot more hotels around HCMC implement this policy?

With perhaps the only functional air-conditioner remote in Ho Chi Minh City, from bed I attempted to moderate the room temperature according to my current state; I was hot – I could appreciate my liver was working overtime to cleanse my system – yet I was cold – I could feel my organs purging themselves of so many toxins leaving my body enervated. Despite a cool room though and plentiful fresh water – having learned my lesson, several times, about drinking from hotel toilets (see last year’s Chronicles; although this hasn’t prevented me from, at around the two week point, having already succumbed to a water-borne bacterium or two on two separate occasions), I had taken to boiling a kettle-full of water then allowing to cool and keeping a water bottle full to always have by my bedside, because the complimentary water (ordinarily two daily 500ml bottles) never is enough – I was dehydrating terribly; despite low perspiration and a plentiful magnesium intake as a consequence I could feel I was running disastrously low on minerals – nagging headaches coupled with horrendous foot cramps added to my overall feeling of misery.

Because self-medicating is the best kind of medicating (additionally by this point in my journey I had heard such horror stories about the slackness and overall incompetency of the Vietnamese Medical System, even if I had been the kind of person who ever ‘goes to the doctor’ for health concerns, there would have been no way I was going to involve the aforementioned  medical enterprise in my current malady) I turned to my suitcase, unzipped my ‘supplement’ pouch and went to work – also unlike Medical drugs where overdose is a possibility and side-effects an inevitability natural health supplements, when used properly, are side-effect free, safe and effective.

It was evening, yet I had zero inclination to head out. I administered myself one Men’s Multi, mainly for B vitamins to give my liver a kick (can’t live without your liver) but also with vitamin C, iron and magnesium, along with a multitude of other good stuff; then another supplement with some more vitamin C, also zinc, garlic and olive leaf extract, to boost immunity and fight the infection that I could by now feel had established in my chest.

Checking the air-conditioning was holding 16 degrees I pulled up my sheet and closed my eyes. This is where the madness truly began. As with any virus sleep was elusive and that infuriating state of subconsciousness, where a brain is adamant it’s awake but in fact is very lightly asleep, lasted for what felt like weeks; then you startle awake and wonder why it’s only been thirteen minutes since you last checked the time.

Vietnam flashbacks while still in Vietnam…? Is that even a real thing?

It was too cold. My skin was chilled, but I was so far from home – my clothes, my blankets – what was I supposed to do about it? I had to put up with it, that’s all there was to it. Endure it because you put yourself in this situation.

Eventually overcoming the mental battle, I forcibly dragged myself from under a flimsy veil of sleep. I really was cold; my skin was icy. Reaching over to the bedside cabinet I grabbed the air-cond remote and, in the semi-darkness using my braille skills, repeatedly pressed the ‘Temp Up’ button until I’d heard it to beep ten times. The cold air stopped gushing out and I ducked back under my sheet, to again slide beneath a film of sleep little more robust than the covering lying over me.

I’m cold again. There’s nothing else I can do though; I’ve already turned up the air-conditioning. What then? I dunno, maybe it’ll warm up by itself.

I’m still cold. This is awful. Why do they only give you one sheet in a room that supposedly maintains sixteen degrees Celsius? What’s that sound? It’s banging. Sounds like it’s in the stairwell. Must be workers. Sounds as though they’re repairing the skirting on the stairs. I noticed that was lifting on the way up. Must be morning then. Cold morning for Vietnam. That’s because the air-cond’s right down. Why not just turn off the air-conditioning then? Then it’ll be too hot. That’s better than being too cold. No, it’s not, it’s thirty degrees out there. Reckon it’s about three in here though. Give it a few minutes without air-cond, it’ll be thirty degrees in here too. Do it anyway, it won’t be so cold. What’s happening? What are you doing? It’s still cold in here. Did you turn off the air-conditioning? Did I? Did you? I think I did, although that might have been a dream. No, that’s right, I decided not to. What now then? It’s still cold in here; turn off the air-cond. Alright, I’ll get up, I need to urinate anyway. What’s happening? What’s going on now? Did you do it? Did I? I dunno. Is it warmer in here, or is it just me? Do you still need to urinate? What’s that soggy patch? Oh shit, really? Dude, are you that confused? Did you seriously urinate in bed? No, I can’t have, I still need to urinate. It must be sweat then. You sure sweat a lot for someone claiming to be cold. It’s not urine though, that’s good. Where’s the toilet? Same place it always is, I guess. At home, it’s just across the hall. No, in Vietnam. What? Stop it. This is Vietnam, isn’t it? What? Stop it. I’m in a Vietnam hotel room, aren’t I? What? Stop doing that. Where am I now? Aha, nice one, dick. You’re not even in Vietnam anymore. You came home weeks’ ago, your brain’s just screwing with you. Wake up, man, you’re at home. Get up, take a leak in a real toilet…

That’s amazing, the games a mind can play with a person. This kind of shit happened last time, waking in my own bed then panicking about nothing, thinking I’m still in Vietnam; thinking I’m being robbed, again. Huh. Why the hell did I go back, anyway? Waste of fucking time that was. Money too; ‘Yeah, yeah, let’s go back to Vietnam so we can be cheated, lied to and ultimately fucked over by women’. Hah, I can do that in New Zealand.

…What a relief though, to know I’m back home. God, that feels good. What a relief. Bloody cold, but. I’m at home again, guess that explains the temperature. Always cold in the winter in good ol’ N-Z.

 

 

Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Med K Teng

Photography by Reeve Urse Fishback

Tim Walker’s Vietnam XXIII

Eternally untrusting now of Vietnamese taxi companies, I gratefully left it in the hands of the Bali B receptionist to organise my transportation across town; incidentally the receptionist who was on at that time of day was the only male staff member who didn’t make me feel uncomfortable.

Almost an hour’s travel, in this case, cost me under 140.000VND where, in the past, (see last year’s Chronicles) under half an hour’s travel cost me 700.000VND.

Before embarking on this recent Southeast Asian mission I had heard, and read, numerous negative reports about Vietnam’s dental clinics; word is they are unclean, unprofessional, and generally unsavoury, (as though those idiots had forgotten they’d travelled to a Third World nation to try and do their dental on the cheap) yet, I am very pleased to say, Nhan Tam Dental Clinic, and by implication every other dental practise across Ho Chi Minh City, is wonderful.

Sanitary, professional, efficient, courteous, competent; there was really nothing the good folk at Nhan Tam could have done to provide a better service…

I turned up, briefly explained my puffy-faced situation (which by then had gone down considerably anyway and to someone who didn’t know me – other than for the haphazardly affixed plaster beneath my right eye – I didn’t look a lot different; first thing in the morning seemed to be the worst time for puffiness anyway), they showed suitable shock and sympathy (which given they were two sycophantic women, this was not unexpected), I underwent a full-skull X-ray (which I felt would be beneficial also for showing anything untoward in or around my damaged cheekbone), where I was then taken to a consultation room to discuss my dentistry requirements. Seated across now from a large male dentist (legend had it this was Dr Nhan Tam himself) and his female assistant, on an amazing touchscreen ‘viewing desk’ (the entire desktop was a computer monitor reminiscent of the one on the wall in ‘Minority Report’ – or, I guess, the screen on a Smartphone, I wouldn’t know) they were able to see, mark, show, illustrate, move, zoom, highlight and even project, where and why my teeth needed attention. After over 20 years having not visited a dentist, I was shocked, only two cavities showed up; along with one tooth that required crowning due to structural erosion then there was the old favourite, a root canal (additionally, they would later conclude that as the second cavity was in a molar far at the back – a ‘wisdom tooth’ in fact – they’d be better off just extracting the sucker and be done with it; unlike New Zealand dentistry though where people sometimes elect for extraction over filling as the former is the cheaper option, in Vietnam, or at least, at Nhan Tam Dental Clinic, ‘Tooth Extraction’ costs 900.000VND – less than 100NZD – while a ‘Cavity’ costs only 400.000VND – under half the first, making ‘filling’ by far the cheaper option, still, I was keen as for my first ever tooth extraction). There is also a spot in my lower jaw where, some years ago, a tooth fell/rotted out; the dentist and his colleague took turns explaining to me how they intended to screw into the gap a ‘false root’ then fit that root with a single false tooth. However, as the procedure was to be time consuming and rather expensive and as the missing tooth isn’t something that ever even bothers me anyway, I instructed them to forego the tooth replacement and to just focus on bringing the existing teeth up to an adequate standard.

…To Nhan Tam’s massive credit they are extremely busy fixing the teeth of both locals and  foreigners thus, with so many people rushing around a heavily staffed reception, some administration/clerical shortcomings are to be expected; this might go some way to explaining how the pickup that had been organised for my second scheduled appointment (unbelievably Nhan Tam organised and covered the cost of all dentist-related travel involved), exactly one week after the first (the root canal required three separate sessions, each time with me occupying the dentist’s chair for approximately two hours – a total of six hours – and the whole thing still only cost around 130NZD), those travel plans went a smidgen awry. I had made the three minute walk back to the prior week’s pickup point at the Bali B (in fact I had since shifted to the Pink Tulip but with no easy way to inform the Nhan Tam staff of my movement this seemed the most straightforward option), had informed Bali B staff of my arrangement, was invited to sit in the Bali B lobby while I waited, yet over half an hour past my scheduled pickup time (thus under half an hour remaining until my appointment time), nobody had come for me. Frustrated, bordering on agitated, I asked Bali B reception to call the Nhan Tam hotline to inquire into this transport lapse. Well, it turned out that because they had been unable to contact me on my given number Nhan Tam Dental Clinic had gone ahead and simply cancelled my booking (despite my distinct recollection of explanation to a reception member during my last appointment of my phone’s inability to receive calls therefore how Nhan Tam reception shouldn’t bother trying to contact me to confirm the appointment but to just send the taxi regardless because I would definitely be there; seemingly though this message had been lost in translation)…

The first session was great; I had a gorgeous, English speaking, female dentist with an equally gorgeous, but not so much English, assistant and, although My Hanh’s (Me Hunn’s) drilling over the next two hours was constantly being impeded by my falling asleep in her chair and unwittingly relaxing my mouth, we connected wonderfully.

…That first day when I had strolled into Nhan Tam Dental Clinic, looking like a very low-impact car-crash victim, after briefly explaining my appearance then later, after I had sorted with reception the next appointment I had gone on to explain how they wouldn’t be able to contact me as my phone was acting retarded – in that its ability to make and receive calls had been somewhat retarded – where the staff member had responded with a solicitous face, “Oh, no, you must wan call home…?”

“I really should call home, yes but, I don’t know, guess I might have to buy a Vietnamese phone.”

“Oh no, you have number? You may call here.”

“Really? You’d let me make an international call with your company phone?”

“Phone here, yes.” She scurried away and returned a moment later with a cordless landline handset. From my (otherwise useless but for telling the time) phone, which I for some reason insisted on taking with me everywhere, I recited my sister’s number, where the highly efficient Vietnamese woman added the international digits then handed me the phone. I couldn’t believe it, it was ringing; this place was brilliant – they were taking care of my every need…

Taking care of me also was a dentist of around my own age who, on that first day, with a few Nhan Tam staff away to the side chattering amongst themselves – no doubt about the idiot Englishman who had fallen afoul of a gang of whacked-out Vietnamese street-kids – had approached the chair where I was lying somnolently; without so much as an introduction (and as this man will turn out to be unrelated to my case in any way – other than to say, this man’s actions may just be the reason I managed to avoid life-threatening infection as well as any significant facial scarring – this is sadly the last you will hear of his character), carefully removed my plaster, momentarily assessed the wound, muttered what sounded like a few (Vietnamese) words of disbelief (or possibly expletives), applied some thick brown salve to my cheekbone, affixed a nice new plaster and left.

…It occurred to me later that, of course, dentists are doctors too.

 

 

Article by Tim Walker

Edited by A Voit-Taxi

Photography Den Tuss/Doc Thar

Tim Walker’s Vietnam XXII

Flipping on my hat and slipping on my frames I turned, and I walked.

Despite the street having become packed with revellers, not one person stood in my way. Bloodied and empowered to them I was a madman; to me I was simply a man with a mission. Realistically I had only one thing on my mind – I wanted to see Noobie.

I made it to Crazy Girls and still without speaking to anyone, took a seat under the night sky. A very short and rather chubby but impossibly cute bargirl, My (Me), sidled up on my left. Holding up the drinks menu, little chipmunk-face with large eyes screwed into her typically surprised/shocked semblance, with a finger under ‘Johnnie Walker Black Label’ – which I noted, despite being aged for several more years thus being of a higher quality, was the very same price as ‘Johnnie Walker Red Label’ (potentially the same bottle too) – “You wan riiing?” My inquired, while performing the international blowjob gesture.

“Sure,” I gave a brief nod.

“Tiiiiiiiiiiim!” Above the ambient bedlam I heard Noobie clip-clopping her way across the bar floor to my right; suddenly the footsteps fell silent.

I raised my head and turned. Noobie was standing around five metres back from where I sat, partially obscured by darkness, staring at me with a horrified expression.

She tentatively made her approach, coming to a halt a half metre from my side. Mouth agape she slowly raised a hand to the slit in my cheekbone; I instinctively drew back. “I wan help,” she said quietly.

I gazed into Noobie’s eyes and saw genuine concern. “It’s fine,” I said flippantly.

“It not fine,” she made another attempt at touching the wound; this time I allowed it.

“Hurt?” she asked tenderly.

“Yes,” I answered honestly.

“I wan help … Let me clean.”

“It’s fine,” I said with a dismissive wave, “sit with me, have a drink.”

For the record, that was the first time I had offered to buy Noobie a drink – it was the first time I’d had to – yet for once the prospect of ‘moneeeey’ didn’t seem to lift her spirits. She appeared sad, or guilty, as though she felt somehow responsible for what had happened to me…

It wasn’t a concept that I had even bothered to entertain but of course, she was a young woman and the Viet Cong had been young men; the likelihood is she knew every one of the delinquents involved (as I thought later, the outrageously good-looking ‘petty-thief’ might have even been her brother) which gave clarity to the fact that the prominent emotion I saw in Noobie’s despondent gaze, was in fact one of guilt.

…I noticed, as I sat describing to whomever was listening the sensational turn of events that had just befallen me (in my currently amped state I recall uttering such regrettable phrases  as, ‘This is Vietnam baby, it’s a fucking warzone out there’, and suchlike), Noobie quietly went to work refitting my salvaged lenses into their frames. I had to admire her concentration and perseverance with the finicky task; like most Viet people she was very skilful with her hands and it was only about ten minutes later that she held the repaired glasses up for me. “This enough?” she asked in a complaisant manner.

I was impressed; it almost felt as though she was trying to make up for something.

“Thank you,” I responded, turning to look deeply into her eyes.

“I think I broke…” she was apologetic as she pulled back the glasses and showed me, on the top left corner of the right lens a small sliver of glass had been chipped.

“No,” I smiled as much as I could without evoking searing pain, “Noobie it’s fine, that happened at the glasses shop, in New Zealand, before I even received them … Thank you, you’re wonderful.”

Noobie grinned and bounced on her stool then became abruptly serious as she leaned into me, “Let me clean,” she said again, gently touching my face.

Conceding finally that I wasn’t above letting a gorgeous woman wipe gore from my skin, I stood and followed the woman of my dreams to the Crazy Girls restroom…

The Crazy Girls restroom/bathroom/toilet/WC (see last year’s Chronicles) has a saloon-style, chest-high, swinging door (which swings awkwardly on one hinge), where a male patron can walk in, try in vain to lock the wonky door, soon give up on that, then turn abruptly left to use the urinal; a female patron can enter via the same door, sometimes noticing that a male has entered before her but failed to securely lock the door yet can push past this urinating male to the cubicle at the end, where she is able to then relieve herself in peace. There is a hand basin below a mirror situated between the two stations, with no way to dry hands but, for use by both males and females.

…Cautiously, tenderly – lowering my stance so she could reach my face – Noobie spent some time moistening then blotting the sticky blood from my face and neck. I turned, for the first time seeing my wound in the mirror, and at that moment felt greater respect for her than I ever had. The stomach Noobie had shown to not only remove the clotted blood from one side of my face, to carefully dab in and around an open wound which, now I looked at it, although only about 20 millimetres in length, running horizontally, the skin on either side of the cut gaped open giving the vulgar impression of a toothless fish’s mouth and regarding depth, well, it appeared to go all the way through. Upon seeing the gash close-up, I wasn’t terribly surprised it had bled the way it had (as I surveyed the damage, I watched a thin line of weeping blood – plasma – trickle over my cheek), and wondered to myself, albeit briefly, what severity of facial wound would in fact constitute medical stitches…

Incidentally the Vietnamese Medical industry, around the world but particularly in Vietnam, conversely to their Dental industry, does not enjoy such a scintillating reputation. This probably relates to the fact that, while Vietnam is theoretically, technically, currently under socialist governance (much like NZ), which typically provides for its citizens free healthcare, free education and cost-free other basic human requirements, Ho Chi Minh City and indeed the whole of Vietnam, has adopted very much a (as previously noted) ‘cash only’ society thus the process of taxation can be easily overlooked; cash money comes over the counter, cash money is distributed to employees, cash money is then used to buy in more stock, cash money is used to pay business expenses, then seemingly cash money leftover is pocketed.

…I turned back to Noobie to see her holding out an unwrapped sticking plaster, ready to cover up any signs of damage. “I stick?” she asked in her most adorable of voices…

Without taxes there is no way a Government can provide substantial healthcare for its citizens and while I can almost understand the fact that the likes of street vendors don’t pay tax (also presumably their superiors; because apparently they do all work for someone), even in big business, for example, the Bali B hotel, there is a sign on the front desk ‘We prefer payments in cash’, which I have to assume is an effort to conduct operations (at least largely) free from the ‘oppression’ of Government taxes. More shockingly still, at the Nhan Tam Dental Clinic (and although I have yet to visit this place so far in my journey I assume this is a policy maintained by all dental clinics across HCMC, not just Nhan Tam) they actually offer a discounted rate to cash-paying customers; a fact that I only learned after I had already attended, and paid for, multiple visits – given I made no secret that I was only ever going to pay cash this ‘incentive’ needed never be spoken or, in all likelihood, even deducted from my fee – and even then this ‘tax avoidance’ theory of mine was not constructed until much later.

…Ah, what the hell, I thought, bending at the knees again.

It was after watching a female receptionist carefully fashioning a roll of – not unlike the massive roll of receipt paper one might see at an old school supermarket till – 500 dong notes, rubber banding it then neatly slipping the roll into a drawer, that I suspected something at this fully operational, highly technical, totally professional therefore of course utterly law-abiding, dentistry business might have been amiss. At the time, before I had been made aware that they ‘preferred’ cash payment, I had naturally assumed this ‘cash-rolling’ was simply the clinic’s way of dealing with the residue of its cash-paying clients; upon realising, however, this was their ideal method of dealing with finances I soon guessed why it was their ‘ideal’ method thus began to ask the question, ‘So who the hell under Vietnam’s Socialist Government rule does pay taxes?’ …

On my final night in Vietnam I spoke with a couple of Indian travellers – Adam and Juniper – both were highly educated young men, both came from wealthy families, and both had riotous Indian accents (just as I’m certain, in their perception, I had a similarly uproarious Kiwi accent). We introduced ourselves and chatted briefly about our respective reasons for being in Vietnam, where I touched briefly on my passion for political analysis and, a little more pointedly, my perception of the Vietnamese Government; Juniper was the more talkative of the duo and was vociferous in his opinions about his own country’s governance. “Oh my God,” he leaned back as though in disbelief, speaking as if constantly about to succumb to hilarity, “you write about politics…? Oh my God, Sir, you should write about Government in India … Indian Government is so shithouse! Nobody pay taxes in India so Indian Government doesn’t do anything …  No sorry, sorry, only about top six earning families in India pay tax, right…”

At this point Juniper glanced leftward to check he had the support of his friend; “More like top ten,” mumbled Adam facetiously.

“Alright, top ten earning families pay tax to the Government, because Government in India is so shithouse, right … Oh my God, Sir, it’s like this, right, you have like – how many people in India now? It’s like, what, one-point-three billion?” Another glance toward his learned colleague.

“More like one point five billion.”

“Alright, oh my God, Sir, one point five billion people in India, right, and Government only look out for top ten families because they are the only ones fucking stupid enough to pay the Government taxes! That’s like what, one point four nine, nine, nine, nine, nine, nine, nine, nine … I dunno, but it’s a whole fucking shitload of people just doing their own thing, working their own jobs, living their own lives, and doing it on their own, because Government in India, man, it’s so shithouse man!”

“It is pretty bad, man,” Adam offered his first unsolicited remark.

“So,” I was intrigued and keen to hear more Indian intelligence, “I would assume then, that what, your families are part of this top ten, tax paying category…?”

“Oh no, shit, no, not even close, brother,” Juniper fell back onto his stool with a grin. “Nah man, I mean our families are wealthy, but we’re not that wealthy … Nah Government doesn’t give a shit about the likes of us, man, shit, we’re not rich enough, right … Yeah, we’re small change, we don’t pay enough taxes – Government in India soooo fucking shithouse, man.”

“Surely though,” I was thriving and compelled to learn more, “I mean I thought India was a democracy … Therefore, if the majority don’t like the way their country is being run, surely it is they who have the power to change that government – do the people of India not vote into power their government?”

It was Adam who took the reins on this one. “Yes, the people of India vote, sure, but it doesn’t mean anything – if the guys currently in Government want to maintain control, they maintain control, simple as that, and we gotta live with whatever they want to do, because our families aren’t giving the Government enough money…”

“Oh yeah man,” Juniper was back on the wagon, “Indian Government, corrupt as fuck, man, and there’s not a fucking thing any of us can do about it…”

“You gotta have the money, man,” Adam came back into focus, “it’s as simple as that, or you have no say what happens.”

“Oh my God, right,” Juniper filled in the blanks, “it’s so fucking corrupt – it’s so shithouse in India, man!”

Alright, now, I’m not willing to make any speculative leaps here, but maybe Vietnam’s Government suffers from a plight felt similarly across many parts of Asia, not just the southeast.

…With the dentistry and hotel industries – also presumably the remainder of the hospitality industry – in likelihood the highest-earning industries in Vietnam not paying their share of tax, it’s little surprise the Vietnamese Government cannot manage to provide adequate healthcare for its people; I lost count of the number of lower leg/ankle injuries I saw on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, and was starting to wonder if there was perhaps a congenital defect of the lower legs of Vietnamese people – as is my style though I did inquire I into this oddly recurring sight, during the taxi ride to my second dental appointment in fact, and was given an entirely satisfactory explanation.

 

The next morning I woke feeling better than bad but still more poorly than good; mind you I realised I might just have found a way of resurrecting my budget – early to bed, early to rise.

I had an appointment that morning with a dentist in District 10, at 8:15, and had been advised I should allow anywhere up to an hour’s travel, mainly for traffic congestion. The appointment was all booked, all I had to do was get myself there. Checking my useless (but for telling the time) phone I was glad to see it was still before 6; I was glad furthermore that I had shaved the day before meaning that I wouldn’t have to undergo the discomfort of drawing a razor over my freshly pummelled and tenderised face…

I didn’t know it lying in bed, but I was an unsightly, puffy mess. Upon waking, while my face wasn’t causing me outward discomfort it most certainly was touch sensitive; my first look in the hotel bathroom mirror following Monday night’s fracas genuinely shocked me – reminding me of the episode of the Simpsons where Ken Griffey Jr contracted gigantism – such was the lumpy, moonlike appearance looking back at me, I scarcely recognised my own face.

…I sat up in bed and was aghast at the mess I had made of my pillow; Vietnamese plaster notwithstanding it seemed I had continued to bleed throughout much of the night (which, rather than being concerned, I told myself was a good thing, as it will have been removing any foreign particles and/or potential infection from the wound).

I had a shower and lightly washed my face, before removing the dressing and gingerly immersing the wound under Vietnam’s widely dis-reputed water; a little later while patting dry my swollen face before the mirror I noticed that horrid fish-mouth was still gaping open at me which admittedly, did leave me a little concerned. I laboriously peeled back the spare plaster Noobie had given me, slapped it on, brushed my teeth and headed down to get some breakfast.

“Buhng mee, op la!”

“Aha, café sua dah…?”

“Kahm urn,” I nodded, smiled, then in my grandest Viet accent, “Café sua dah!” (If one wishes to be heard in Vietnam, it is best to speak loudly.)

55 dong later I’m wandering back towards the Bali B feeling as though I’m managing to pull things back on track.

In fairness there is no way, at this early stage, that I should be feeling any semblance of calm, nor should I be at all pleased with my efforts. Now, here, amid the relative safety and comparative sobriety of New Zealand, I can appreciate how close I came the night before to utter devastation; shit man, if three-stripe had used that blade to slit a carotid artery rather than my cheekbone, simply, you would be reading a posthumous post.

Also, in Vietnam, I have now spent over half my budget and I’ve not yet been away from home for a week; ‘Managing to pull things back on track’…? Pull your head in, buddy, long way to go yet.

 

 

Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Fish E Faze

Photography by Buck N Track

Tim Walker’s Vietnam XXI

The first youth, the one who had taken my money, glared at me with erratic eyes.

It was an odd look, a look of confusion maybe, of uncertainty or, perhaps even of fear; I decided in those first moments it was not a look of aggression anyway…

Behind him, having just emerged from a concealed doorway three or four metres back, now stood three other wiry Vietnamese youths; while all were initially taken aback by the sight of an ‘Englishman’ confronting one of their buddies it took only an instant for surprised expressions to become looks of anger.

…The tallest of the three recent arrivals, a young man with a head of thick brown curly hair and wearing a green Adidas three-stripe jacket, appeared the most enraged…

Upon witnessing the formation of the Viet Cong then sensing the pugnacity emanating from within, I knew I ought to have just left the money – which my oversized paws and their questionable dexterity are still struggling to extract from the left-front pocket of a pair of well-fitted jeans – I knew I should have just shown my palms in a display of ‘no attack’ and backed the hell out of that situation.

…His eyes at that moment made me think of the 8-ball in a game of pool; big, shiny and black as they were. I knew I ought to have just left it, ought to have just walked away, no harm done; I could still have turned up to Crazy Girls just with one less drink in my budget…

I was never going to do that though, was I? I didn’t give a toss about the money, about the irreverence or the shameless audacity shown by this Viet delinquent; I don’t think at that point I was even considering my own pride – no I’m pretty sure I just wanted to see what would happen if I didn’t walk away.

…Even as I saw three-stripe burst into action; even as he began sprinting towards me winding up for a classic (genuine Vietnamese) Mid Canterbury haymaker, I knew I had time…

With one almighty tug I withdrew my right hand from the petty thief’s left pocket. I saw the unwieldy haymaker in plenty of time; just like the drunken teenaged boys out fighting on Christchurch streets of years gone by, the punch was slow and it looked weak. With my left foot I took a measured step backward. I expected that once three-stripe had launched his attack the other guy, petty-thief, would be galvanised into action and was likely to have a go too, thus was preparing for this eventuality. I was an equal distance from petty-thief and three-stripe when three-stripe brought forward his ugly swing.

…Huh, I remember thinking, how about that, he’s left-handed; I’m not. As the puny fist came for the right side of my face I reflexively swung down and to my left. I knew I had positioned myself out of range if petty-thief came in with a kick but kept my eyes on his feet anyway, as I swung my torso through a 180 Degree sweep…

I felt as though I had judged the distance and timing well so was surprised to feel glancing contact against my right cheekbone.

…Legs bent at the knees, torso bent forward and to the left, I now positioned my hands in front of my face at chin-height and prepared to swing back.

Straightening posture, like a slingshot I whipped back around to the right; I then watched, as if seen in delayed coverage, as a pirouette of blood spatter performed a slow-motion arc before my eyes. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing; had the little prick seriously knifed me? I glanced downwards and to my right; a trickle of blood appeared to be dribbling down my face, dripping from my right jawbone and making a terrible mess down one side of my beautiful blue three-stripe T-shirt.

Gosh, I thought, that was unexpected.

Deciding then that I’d done enough ‘seeing what would happen’, I was just about to raise my hands in capitulation and back calmly out of the alleyway; the Vietnamese youths though, they had different plans.

Upon seeing blood, the delinquent Viet Cong became feverish; before I even had time to refocus, my head and face was struck by a barrage of furious fists. I pulled back and freed myself from the onslaught. Thrusting a forefinger menacingly in their direction, in a guttural voice I demanded, “Back the fuck up, just back off!”

To this day I do not understand the logic behind what happened next but, standing at the alley’s entrance – blood dripping, adrenalin pumping, voice reverberating, finger thrusting – a middle-aged Vietnamese man rushed up behind me and grabbed me by the arms, yelling, “Halm down man, halm down!” The sight of their target momentarily restrained seemingly rekindled the Viet Cong’s bloodlust; while this misinformed elder pinned my arms to my side all four young men now threw themselves upon me.

Without too much trouble I broke free from my rear grips, lowered my head and raised my arms in defence; the past few seconds had been quite long enough to form the decision that, against four young-adult assailants, puny or otherwise (also apparently one harbouring a shank), no good could come from trying to fight back. The best thing I could do was defend myself and hope to emerge with as few battle scars as possible.

The punches and kicks were coming from all sides; instinctively I held up my forearms to cover my face. I saw my hat go flying; that was followed by my glasses. Until that moment I had been reasonably calm but that, having my hat and glasses knocked from my face, that pissed me off. To my right I saw my banh mi vendor and realised that I had been pushed back out onto the street. I saw my hat a few metres away, on the pavement to my left; taking a couple of quick paces I crouched, leaned forward and reached out to grab it. A firm kick to the stomach ensued. Hat in hand I now straightened and, oblivious to punches and kicks, scanned the road for my glasses. Blurred vision notwithstanding I saw them, having fallen on the road another few metres from the hat. A few more steps and I bent down to retrieve them as well; I tensed my core as I predicted another foot coming at my midriff.

What I didn’t predict was the powerful kick administered to my right hamstring; rendered momentarily powerless that leg collapsed, sending me toppling over backwards.

Instinctively I went down on my right side (jiu-jitsu), stripped of my base but still able to protect anything important. I felt a pummelling of jandal-feet kicking my back, which didn’t bother me particularly, I was just focusing on keeping my skull out of harm’s way. I then saw one of the delinquents – possibly petty-thief – skirting around above me and winding up for a face-kick. From upper peripherals I saw the blue jandal and black stonewash jean-leg making their rapid way towards my face. Elevating my chest, I turned my head slightly to the left then still with my eye on the foot to my right, with my right arm (jiu-jitsu) I scooped the incoming ankle. Rolling fully now onto my back, with the kicker’s foot trapped in my right armpit, I swung his forward momentum to my left. As he toppled to his right I used that inertia (jiu-jitsu) to pull me back to my feet.

Again I was caught in an onslaught of weak punches; hat still in my left hand my only focus now was my glasses. I scanned the ground; there they were. I felt immense relief; they didn’t look broken. Brushing off a few insipid fists I reached down and grabbed the thick-rimmed glasses; my fingers went right through the frames…

Across the next few instants I envisaged the next 20-plus days in HCMC then trying to make it home again, without the aid of my prescription lenses; my world came crashing down. I felt ill.

…I was suddenly furious. I stood at my full 6 Feet. “FUCK OFF!” I yelled, “just FUCK OFF!”…

My assailants fell back and stood looking at me. I inhaled deeply and bit down hard on nothing. Driven by fury I stabbed a finger out of my clenched fist then moving only my lips, mouthed some threatening words at them. Clutching a black felt Trilby in one hand and a set of lens-less glasses in the other; with the temperature nearing 28 and my heart pulling at least 160, unsurprisingly I was still leaking blood profusely. (Additionally, and one of the most horrific sights I’ve witnessed to date, with eyes looking directly ahead, I was clearly able to see the tops of both my cheeks.) Occurring to me also, I was trembling violently. The Viet Cong shrank back into the shadows and I immediately went on the hunt for my lenses. My heart leapt as I saw the first, a mere outline on the road. I pocketed it then went back to where I had originally picked up the glasses and scanned the road again. People milled around staring, laughing, pointing, leering; ignorant. (I hadn’t realised but from the time I had purchased my banh mi – which I had not eaten and in fact, I thought bitterly, had probably been stolen by now anyway – until now, the street had become packed with revellers.) Avoiding looking directly at any Smartphone cameras, chuckling wryly; I might be a You Tube sensation – #whitemanbeatenbyvietcong – I walked in what I thought was a five metre radius of the glasses’ fallen location and found nothing. I was anxious, I was despairing; I was angry – at Vietnam but mainly at myself.

…Oh, I’d found out ‘what would happen’ alright; resigned to three weeks’ not being able to see straight, yeah, nice one…

Unlike the rest of Ho Chi Minh City, District 1 street vendors operate 24 hours a day; anyone can be a Vietnamese street vendor, young or old. The oldest I have seen, according to sources, was over 100 and she was utterly repulsive; the youngest was a boy of about 3 years old, (reportedly an orphan) who didn’t speak a word, but just wandered the HCMC streets with his swag of produce, making beseeching sounds and looking for sales. Where many tourists disregarded, mocked or were rude to this little guy, I always made a point of buying something from him, even if it was just a back-scratcher or a pack of playing cards; suffice to say I returned home with a lot of crap that I really didn’t want (but at least my back’s not itchy as I play another round of solitaire).

…Out of the surrounding horde appeared my favourite little juvenile street vendor; he was peering up at me earnestly, holding something in his extended hand. My heart jumped again, and I reached down to claim my second lens. I grasped it thankfully then dropped to my left knee, crouching in front of the lad. Sliding the lens into the same pocket as the first I pulled from my other pocket the money I had reclaimed from petty-thief and three-stripe. I pushed the 120 dong into the boy’s hand, looked directly into his bright eyes, that beaming little Vietnamese face, and said simply, “Thank you … Thank you.”

 

 

Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Grey Shous

Photography by Trevor Lah

 

Tim Walker’s Vietnam XX

Arguably the major reason for my going to Vietnam was to have my teeth fixed; I had already booked a consultation at Ho Chi Minh City’s Nham Tam Dental Clinic on Tuesday the 31st at 8:15 a.m. – I just had no idea how many obstacles I would be forced to overcome before making that appointment.

When I awoke it was Monday afternoon; this was to be my third night in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 1…

As per my pre-trip booking schedule I had since moved away from Bui Vien (albeit just around the corner), from the comparatively high-priced Aston Hotel to the cheaper Bali B (think it’s alter-ego is the Bali Boutique) on Nguyen Thai Hoc (Nyooyen Tie Hoe).

…Upon waking I felt good; then I remembered how much money I had spent the previous night, also the night before that…

The Bali B was a nice enough hotel and the bed was glorious, the main issue I took with the place is that I just didn’t feel comfortable there, and I wasn’t spending enough time in bed to truly appreciate the latter point.

…Last night had been more of the same; the same ridiculously coquettish Crazy Girls, the same sexually provocative advances, the same implied assurances, the same exorbitant drinks. On the plus side though, the woman of my dreams was there and at that point in my journey I would have done just about anything to be in the same place as her; additionally, we did make a formidable pool duo…

The reality however, my budget to cover the following 25 days in Vietnam was not even close to being on schedule, and this was a genuine worry; worrying me less but still a genuine concern was the fact that my phone wasn’t functioning, and I really ought to have contacted home to update family on my progress.

…Noobie and I had just finished annihilating a very confident, very cocky, but just not very good, young European pair who I guessed were hoping to show off in front of their hot little European girlfriends but who, by the end of the game, were made to look less like pool sharks and more like posers – their girlfriends appeared to have lost interest in them by then anyway and had gone off to find themselves some real men – therefore my partner and I were now looking around for other challengers. There were none so, looking up at me, Noobie asked the question, “You wan play?”

“Me play you…?” I responded with a to/fro gesture, “Sure.”

“You set, I break,” she ordered and strutted towards the bottom of the table.

I set up the 15 balls in perfect formation then watched as the petite little lady steadied herself at the edge of the table and smashed them apart; two were down – big and a small.

“You wan ring?” she asked.

I gave her a 500 and she trotted away; I missed my first shot.

She returned with the drinks and handed me 280 change. “Wha down?” she asked.

I shook my head to indicate I had had no success.

Her shot also went astray.

As we walked toward each other, each holding our own cue, Noobie grinned at me and refused to let me pass, instead delighting in prodding my stomach and pinching my nipples. I laughed and pushed her gently away; she made a show of stumbling then deliberately falling back on the pool table, her tiny (denim) skirt lifting and exposing her underwear. Immediately popping back up, hurriedly smoothing her skirt while pretending to be embarrassed, giggling hysterically with a beaming smile she launched herself off the pool table and collapsed into me. Her huge eyes were bright with excitement as she posed the deal, “OK … You win … I come home with you.”

“Sure,” I said, inwardly feeling a jolt of tension, “I win, you come home with me.”

“OK,” her smile was scintillating as she spoke, “you win, I come home with you … But I win … I come home with you.”

It was the longest sentence I’d heard come out of Noobie since I’d met her; she seemed a little drunk – or high…

As I would come to learn, when a guy buys a drink for him and the bargirl, while her first one or even two might be alcoholic – generally they will claim to be drinking whatever the client is drinking thus in my case Black Label with tonic (Coke keeps me up) – given that the ladies work the floor and the bar simultaneously, usually before the alcohol truly takes effect they will start pouring themselves non-alcoholic beverages of a similar hue; although as I believe I began to mention in a previous instalment, on two separate occasions I saw unconscious young women being carried upstairs on a male employee’s shoulder – Crazy Girls employees having drunk too much – both times after, reportedly, talking a ‘rich Westerner’ into buying a bottle of booze then being talked into helping him drink it – they can’t very well fill their shot glass with ginger ale when he’s pouring from a bottle of bourbon.

…Huh, I thought, she must have actually been drinking with me; I had learned towards the end of the night before (with Noobie jokingly complaining that ‘I was drinking all the booze but I not getting drunk’ I wasn’t terribly surprised to notice how over the course of the night my drink was coming to me with an increasingly potent alcohol content, yet on the one occasion when she actually tasted it to check – ‘Is there even booze in that?!’ – her head had whipped back in disgust and she almost vomited on that awful – awfully good, mind you – scotch flavour) how the ladies in Crazy Girls don’t generally drink a lot of alcohol…

Anyway, I decided that if anyone could survive in Vietnam on around a tenth of their original budget (I had put away enough cash to allow for a daily expenditure of about $100 – which before the Labour Government caused the value of the NZ dollar to plummet with its reckless and crippling taxation thus ultimately kneecapping the NZ economy this equated to approximately 1.200.000VND – which, given that Vietnam is one of the cheapest tourist destinations in the world, should have been plenty. I even had a security cushion in place in case of emergency – yeah, who would have imagined the ‘emergency’ would turn out to be meeting the woman of my dreams on the very first night), I could. The plan: I worked out I needed to separate around 5 million for future accommodation, I found a great street-food joint where I could get a ‘buhng mee, op lah’ (spelled ‘banh mi’ and essentially a bread roll with egg along with assorted Vietnamese ingredients) also my favourite ‘café sua dah’ (iced coffee which, last year, I recall I made the mistake of referring to as ‘café sua’ – coffee, white – ‘nuok dah’ – water, frozen – when in fact the term ‘café sua dah’ is quite satisfactory) for a meagre 55.000VND.

…Drugs though, drugs are rife on the streets of HCMC’s District 1; most every time I walked the length of Bui Vien Street, for example, the offer of ‘illicit’ substances (inverted commas because, come on, this is Vietnam baby, anything goes in Vietnam…) was posed to me – ‘Sir, marijuana Sir…?’ (one must imagine the aforementioned and the following words spoken in a seedy whisper; the later the hour the seedier the whisper too, and uttered with an accent that scarcely allows for articulation of consonants, making it all the more repellent) – that was all through the day until early evening – or, with often the very same vendor doing the propositioning, ‘Sir, cocaine Sir … Sir, crah cocaine, Sir…?’ – that was early to late evening and perhaps after – or the most sinister one – ‘Sir, ice, Sir … Sir, methamphetamine’

Upon hearing this one I actually stopped, turned and looked at the dude – the face of whom, by now, I had grown familiar – and said, “Are you serious – meth?”

“Yes Sir,” the scrawny character replied with a sly grin, his thin lips spreading up over his tobacco-stained teeth, “best ice you can buy … Buy right here … Vietnam meth … Buy from meee.”

I recall exhaling deeply, shaking my head and walking away; although that shady narcotic vendor and I would run a similar theme – if only for comical value – almost every day/night that I was in Vietnam.

…I learned on about day six, from a Canadian expat named Aiden having retired to Vietnam at age 60, sitting outside a (blessedly licensed) Bui Vien coffee shop drinking a ‘café sua dah, whikky’ (see last year’s Chronicles), that most young men, and often even the women across HCMC, in fact use (Vietnamese) methamphetamine like many Westerners might use coffee; the main point of difference, of course, is that where caffeine has a pleasantly uplifting but generally controllable effect, meth usage (in the Western world at least) tends to manifest more of a frenetic disposition…

The thing that I had difficulty tolerating about these kinds of guys, though – I could deal with the fact that they were making a living from the pervading of illicit substances thus potentially destroying the lives of others – was that they are all self-promoting, unscrupulous, loathsome and ultimately shit-headed, liars; one never can be certain of a single word spoken by these kinds of people (interestingly in ‘the book’ that I will later read but which I have yet to encounter in my travels, there is a line that reads: ‘They say if a Thai’s lips are moving, he’s lying’; from what I experienced in Vietnam I’m pretty sure the same ruling applies to the majority of Viet folk as well), meaning that one never truly knows what they’re buying. In fairness though, the same really applies to anything one buys for consumption in Vietnam; a consumer can never be certain exactly what the product they have purchased, at a rock bottom ‘genuine Vietnamese quality’ price no less, will contain – buy a drink over the bar, as I did, ceaselessly, of course one has no idea how much Rohyphnol they’re putting in it (in the projected hope of rendering you sufficiently agreeable to hand over your last thousand dong, then perhaps talking you into going to an ATM to get some more), just as one has no idea when one buys a few grams of meth, or cocaine, or crack cocaine, or even weed, just what that product contains.

…That night on Bui Vien, Monday night and with a devastated budget that I’m still hoping to pull back into shape – having spent under 200 dong so far that day – I’m feeling as though I can afford to head down the street for a few (overpriced) drinks. Currently residing at the Bali B hotel, off the hype of Bui Vien but with around ten times the pollution due to a main thoroughfare, Nguyen Thai Hoc – with a minimum of six lanes of slowly moving traffic honking, merging and cutting off but never hitting each other – running past the hotel front, it was just a short walk, including several perilous street crossings, to get back to Bui Vien…

‘Best marijuana in world, only seven-fifty’, was a claim I frequently heard; I stopped on one occasion in the hope of gleaning some further intelligence on this ‘best in world’ claim.

“Oh wow,” I said, feigning interest in his product, “you say that’s the best in the world – where do they grow it?”

“It grow rie here, Sir, Vie’nam weed, bess in world.”

“Interesting, see, I always thought the best weed in the world was grown in California, or Jamaica…?”

“Oh no Sir,” he waved his hand dismissively, “Vie’nam weed, bess weed in world.”

“Hmm, that’s impressive, and you were saying five grams will only cost me seven-fifty (750.000VND)?”

“That rie Sir, three gram, only seva hun’red and fiffy dong … Bess in world…”

Now, I tried some of his ‘best in world’ weed and, having only days earlier sucked on Canadian Aiden’s bong packed with Vietnamese pipe tobacco (you talk about not knowing what’s in a product; I would guarantee that ‘pipe tobacco’ contained several ingredients other than pipe tobacco), I can honestly say, whatever it was, I preferred the ‘tobacco’ hit.

…That night, Monday night, my third night in HCMC, turning onto the top end of Bui Vien it was still just over an hour before 9:30, the time I had intended to show up at Crazy Girls. I decided to try my budgeting skills at a bar that, while I did recall entering last year, this year I had not; I approached and was immediately cajoled the rest of the way by a very ‘hands-on’ yet, by Vietnam standards at least, not a very attractive, bargirl. This situation was oddly reminiscent of something else – somewhere else. I didn’t ever get the name of this place because in fairness, it gave me no reason to remember its name other than to say, it was across an intersection from my (blessedly licensed) coffee shop. In this instance the bar was deserted but for a few straggling patrons and one woman playing a game of pool with herself. Without hesitation I approached and asked if she was interested in joining me for a game. She agreed to the challenge and I asked her if I could by her a drink. She chose to drink local beer while I drank local scotch with Coke…

While budget constraints meant I didn’t purchase any myself, later in my tour of duty, later one evening, I found myself in the company of an Australian man, Bruce, who did take advantage of the, ‘Sir, cocaine Sir’, offer and, as is the theme in Vietnam, therefore so did most people in the vicinity; honestly though, I reckon I gained a bigger rush from ‘backdrafting’ Shisha (directly inhaling the exhalation of pink vapour from another’s – ideally a beautiful woman’s – lips) than I took from a line of, worryingly affordable, Vietnamese cocaine.

…The first game went to me by a ball; the second went to her by three. She then asked me if I could buy her a ‘balloon’ for 90 dong; I had seen people – mainly women – on past nights with large pink balloons in their mouths and wondered if this was a craze that had yet to make it to New Zealand. Given my budget constraints I considered telling her to buy her own damn balloon then thought, ‘Shit if I were in Crazy Girls I might have already spent ten times that amount’; ultimately, of course, I bought her a balloon. She was an attractive young lady wearing a yellow singlet top (which I couldn’t help noticing showed off a paunch), a pair of tight denim shorts (really?) and an exquisite pair of heels (absolutely the shoes making this ensemble). I couldn’t believe it though, I didn’t even know her name; that wasn’t like me at all. I asked her name and she told me ‘Nguyen’. (Like ‘Ngoc’, also ‘Anh’, Nguyen is very common as both a Vietnamese name and a word/label, also just like ‘Ngoc’ and ‘Anh’, the name/word/label Nguyen can be seen all around Vietnam.) Nguyen the person was wonderful and she was gorgeous, and she drank beer by choice (when there wasn’t a giant condom-like balloon hanging from her mouth) yet she was strangely aloof; while she appeared to speak good English I couldn’t seem to elicit any real conversation from her – typical of many Viet women questions regarding life, family, or work was met with brisk deflection followed by giggling, nipple-pinching and butt-patting. After the fifth time checking that my wallet was still where it should have been I checked my watch; I told Nguyen that this would have to be our last game as I was expected down the other end of Bui Vien in a bit…

That same man, Bruce the 40-year-old Aussie cocaine fiend, upon the consumption of his flour/icing-sugar/cocaine stopped another late-night street vendor. Here he bought a terribly ornate cannabis pipe then, seeming to know exactly where he was going, at sometime after 4 a.m., he ventured out for a stroll. Nobody even seemed to notice his disappearance. He returned some time later to our group of white-skinned tourists/expats and pulled from his pocket a handful of small bags.

…Nguyen won that game and I immediately challenged her to another. “I thought you have somewhere else you need to be tonight…?” she teased in her near-perfect English.

“I did,” I remarked, “But something more important seems to have come up.”

She grinned and gave my butt a smack (I presently checked my wallet was still in its buttoned back pocket).

I bought her another beer and another balloon; I asked what had happened to her last balloon, she told me it had gone down. I asked her why she had undone it, she told me she liked sucking in the air inside the balloon. I recall thinking at the time, that was somewhat of an odd thing to do but then again, I’m somewhat odd myself (it would not be until sometime later that the significance would be revealed of these so-called balloons), so I wasn’t ready to judge…

Bruce was proving to be quite the middle-aged hedonist; taking a seat most people watched as he first packed his ornate pipe with cannabis, lit that, took a few massive hits then passed it around. Using a clear space in the table he then doled out some more of this white substance and fashioned it into short lines; they disappeared in less the half the time it had taken to form them. Bruce then withdrew from his pocket a different pipe which, as there were around twelve English-speaking men sucking on his other one, I supposed it was sensible that he should have two. Nobody else at the table was paying a great deal of attention to what Bruce was doing yet, without looking overly interested, I watched him fill his secondary pipe with contents from the third small bag. He ignited a Zippo lighter any held it beneath the bowl of the pipe; I heard a hissing, popping, fizzing sound coming from within.

…When I finally left ‘Nguyen’s Bar’ the sun had gone down and I was ravenous. I strode down the street – which is to say I walked as fast as the Monday night pedestrian congestion would allow – looking for somewhere I could grab a bite to eat. I had a feeling there was a banh mi vendor down here and right now I could really go one of those a banh mi op las. There it was, just up there on the left…

There was a rumour going around the table that Bruce was smoking meth but, judging by the fumes wafting past my nose, it was something decidedly less sinister.

…“Ban co quear kohm,” I started.

“Ah, doy quear,” the lady smiled with a gracious bow.

“Buhng mee, op lah…?”

The lady nodded and started putting together the morsel…

Bruce had fallen asleep before his pipe was even passed back to him; put to rest were my suspicions also about the contents of the pipe being from the amphetamine gamut.

…I had stepped around the back of the food cart to take a seat as I dined but as I sat, requiring two hands to eat yet with one holding the banh mi and the other gripping my water bottle and 120 dong change, was forced to set down the two right-hand possessions – placing the small wad of cash beneath my water bottle – on the chair beside me and stood in order to rearrange myself. I flipped my wallet from back to front for ease of sitting then turned back to the water bottle; it was just where I’d left it only now it was rocking gently back and forth…

Some other guys around the table were talking about a scuffle they’d witnessed on Bui Vien a little over a week ago. Seemingly a Western tourist had inexplicably antagonised a group of bored, also potentially high, Vietnamese youth; as the man’s story went, the situation had become gory when one of the delinquent Viet Cong had used a blade to open up the White dude’s cheek – it was at this point, through my fug, I realised they were recalling the incident just last Monday, which had befallen me right beside the banh mi vendor’s cart.

…I grabbed the bottle. As I had suspected it was not somehow obscuring my money. I looked up; a lean Vietnamese youth was walking casually away from me down the alley running perpendicular to the main street, to my right. As there was nobody else in the vicinity this man was clearly the guilty party. “Oi!” I called to the disappearing figure.

He made no effort to stop.

Before I knew what I was doing I had taken chase. “Hey, you,” I called again, now more forcefully.

This time he stopped, and slowly turned. He was an alarming good-looking young man and I almost felt bad accusing him of petty theft. “Dude,” I said lightly, even close to chuckling as I spoke, as though this was just some kind of silly misunderstanding, “come on bud, you can’t do that – I was standing right there.”

The young Viet looked at me in confusion and made some unintelligible sound, I guess implying incomprehension.

“My money…?” I extended an open palm with a friendly yet quizzical expression. “Tien…? I asked again, in Vietnamese.

He shook his head in apparent confusion and shifted from foot to foot; at that moment I noticed the corner of a yellow Viet banknote – my Viet banknote – protruding from his left jeans pocket.

“There,” I pointed, again almost laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation, “you have my money,” I stepped closer. “Give it back…?”

The youth shook his head vigorously and refused to even look down, instead thrusting both hands in his pockets.

I stepped closer still; now just a metre separated us.

He lifted his hands from his pockets and started to back away.

Suddenly annoyed at the youngster’s unwillingness just to accept when he’s been caught in the wrong, keeping my head upright (never show your opponent the back of your head – jiu-jitsu), I made a lunge for the money in his pocket; as I wrestled my 120 dong (just $10) from his pants I gazed a disbelieving stare into the young Viet’s deep and frighteningly dark eyes.

Suddenly there were three more Viet youths staring at me with their deep dark, soulless eyes.

Four Vietnamese youth with a combined age of no more than 100 and oh my, did they look pissed.

 

 

Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Nev R Buckdown

Photography by D Lin Quint

 

 

 

Tim Walker’s Vietnam XIX

Honestly, I didn’t much care for Shisha; I just could not embrace the concept of inhaling strawberries and anyway, without a calyx to chew, how can one be certain they are strawberries?

My return to the game of pool had been a success and I was excited about hopefully replicating Saturday night’s efforts tonight; Noobie had returned to her dingy lair in the upstairs of Crazy Girls for sleep, before the start of her workday, that night, Sunday…

I on the other hand wasn’t so accustomed with long periods of sleep while in Southeast Asia; worst to worst I knew I could take a nap tomorrow. I felt as though I could really get into this ‘5:30 a.m. to bed, 12 p.m. (or later) rise, perhaps followed by a mid-afternoon nap’ schedule; Vietnamese mornings just aren’t so ‘invigorating’ in the way that I find mornings in New Zealand – in Vietnam the mornings are hot and they’re smelly, they’re just not terribly uplifting.

…9:30 p.m. Sunday I stepped off the pavement and into Crazy Girls premises; I was greeted warmly by employees and noticed that most of them were even addressing me by name (which I found odd because while I had, naturally, retained all of their names I never expect that people will bother to recall mine because, let’s be fair, in New Zealand at least, most people don’t; but which I now realise was/is a brilliant tactic by the bar manager/bargirls at Crazy Girls to make a longer-staying, potentially repeat customer – I believe I had mentioned to Noobie on Saturday night that I intended to be in Vietnam for weeks rather than days – feel important therefore more likely to spend time thus money at the establishment in question)…

This was to be my second night in HCMC and if I was get my budget back on track, I had to ensure it was more cost-effective than the previous night had been; that plan sadly vaporised the instant I heard Noobie’s shrill, nasally, but classically Asian timbre virtually screamed at me from across the floor, “Tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiim!”

“Noobiieeeeee!” I called back as the doll-like little lady precariously burst forward on a pair of 6 Inch heels, propelling herself/stumbling/falling/collapsing into my waiting arms.

Recomposing herself she looked up at me with a face of disingenuous indignation. “My name not Noobie,” she said forcefully, uttering each word in a clipped manner; furrowing her brow but still with a grin in her eyes. She was exerting a concerted effort not to break into laughter as I observed her winding up for her next line; her big eyes lit up then her eyebrows went up, her chest went up then her little shoulders went up as well as the breath went in and finally, “It Rrrrrrnnoobie,” she attempted to enunciate the English version of her name with her Vietnamese tongue/palate, and in a tone similar to that of a child with a head-cold.

Feigning surprise I pulled my head back suddenly, clasping her delicate shoulders while still maintaining contact with her big shiny eyes. Taking an exaggeratedly large breath inward and dropping all expression from my face I abruptly blurted, “Noobiiiiiiiieeeeeeeee!”

With that her head rolled back and she laughed; not cute Asian giggles, not the kind she is paid to do, not fake, not ‘canned’ laughter – this was genuine, hearty, stomach laughter. (I reckon it was the most beautiful thing I saw that night, too, and if you knew some of the sights I saw that night, believe me, that statement would astonish you).

I stood there with my forcedly blank expression, staring at this exquisite little Asian princess as she uninhibitedly howled with laughter, and wondered how I could be so fortunate.

She eventually stopped laughing and regained eye contact. “You craaazy,” she said meekly with moisture around her eyes and the cheesiest of grins pasted across her face.

“You say I am a crazy boy…? … You are the Crazy Girl.”

She giggled (canned laughter), “You craaazy boy.”

I stared into her eyes, “Ah, come on, you lurve my crazy.

“Tim craaazy,” Noobie spoke thoughtfully, then as though she was playing word games with herself she went on, speaking each word individually rather than in sentence form, “Love … Tim … Crazy … How you?”

Initially confused by the swift change of tack I responded presently, “Oh, I’m good now, thanks.”

“You good day?” she asked, leading me to wonder why the English language uses so many obviously extraneous words; although she only used half the word-count that I did her wonderfully broken English was still fully comprehensible.

“It was alright, thank you.”

“What do?” (Even fewer words yet still totally comprehensible.)

“Walked, mainly – how was your nap?”

“Good – where walk?”

“Oh, around – across a couple of Districts.”

“I see you.”

“What?” I was shocked, “Where?”

“You walk by bar.”

“I did, yes,” I smiled, “I passed your bar twice – I would’ve expected you’d be asleep – once heading out, and once heading back, several hours later.”

Noobie’s face became distorted with confusion, or perhaps it was distrust; insecurity. “Where you go?” she pushed.

“’Where did I go?’ What do you mean? … I just said, across a couple of Districts – nowhere in particular.”

Her face brightened. “Why?”

“’Why?’ Because I enjoy walking,” I leaned back and surveyed the gorgeous specimen before me; I decided she looked hurt. With no idea how anything I’d said might have had a negative effect, but deciding that I wanted to see her smile again, I put on a macho voice and said, “Walking keeps me fit and muscular, see?” Standing at full height with hands now at my belt buckle, wearing jeans and a tight white T-shirt, I gave my right pectoral muscle a few twitches. Seeing a mild reaction from my audience I then twitched my left one a few times.

Noobie’s eyes widened and that glorious smile returned. “Do again,” she ordered.

“Do what?” I said as, with thumbs hitched into my belt and looking aimlessly around the room, I twitched the left then the right in succession a few more times before resting my eyes back on her.

“You amazing,” she stepped forward, “you craaazy, but you amaaazing.”

I tilted my head, pursed my lips and flicked my eyebrows in acknowledgement; Noobie stepped closer and I draped my arms over her shoulders. She pressed closer and wrapped her arms around my midriff; I kissed the top of her head.

She suddenly pulled back and looked up at me with a start. Still standing in my light grasp she cocked her head and looked at me, her eyes beseeching. “You buy ring?” she asked with a smile.

I went suddenly cold. I understood that I was not totally aware of Viet custom regarding dating/marriage, but surely just one sexual encounter did not constitute a platform for betrothal – surely she didn’t expect that the purpose of my stroll today was to purchase an engagement ring…?

I looked into the eyes of the Vietnamese doll peering eagerly up at me and tried to read her face for more information (and for the record I had decided, in those few moments, that if she wished it, then yes, blown budget notwithstanding, I would buy an engagement ring for Noobie).

She must have detected my confusion as she brought to my attention the drinks menu…

Incidentally the third hotel at which I stayed during my voyage was, overall, the best hotel (I am leading somewhere); in fact I would have extended my stay at the Pink Tulip, situated on an offshoot of Bui Vein Street – while not technically ‘Bui Vein’ there are two parallel streets near the top of Bui Vein Street running through one city block perpendicularly to the main Bui Vein – but sadly, by the time I had finally decided that I wished to stay on amid the Pink Tulip’s inviting atmosphere, the place had become flooded with British and Dutch homosexuals (more on this later, also the male owner/manager named Annie) meaning, in that hotel at least, there were no unoccupied openings to be found.

…With her black-painted fingernail underlining ‘Johnnie Walker Black Label’ she asked again, “You wan riiing?”

Finally I understood: the Vietnamese language is composed primarily of vowel sounds thus consonants – the main point of distinction for most English words – are not afforded so much focus; this means that a Viet’s ability to enunciate a language’s hard consonants, unless they have had extensive diction training at a, usually American, language school, is generally lacking – hence Noobie’s inability to properly pronounce her own English name. (Like so many Viet women her Vietnamese name was Ngoc – ‘Nyowp’.)

Many Viet names, as already documented, to the Western ear, are almost identical, yet to a Vietnamese ear, the highly nuanced articulation of vowel sounds is what sets apart one form of address from another. Interesting (as a White man) learning a Vietnamese name, one must listen extremely carefully then mimic the sound exactly – or risk becoming the source of great amusement because while a mispronounced vowel sound mightn’t seem much to an English speaker, to them, it might be tantamount to calling a Michael ‘Michaela’ or a Brendon ‘Brenda’ – and the same goes with their everyday speech – consonants are often dropped from the beginning and end of Viet words, yet provided that clear enunciation is projected of the word’s inherent ‘sound’ the intended word/meaning is generally conveyed; it is for this reason that foreigners (like me) who, although the words spoken might have been accurate, with their (my) inaccurate accents hence ‘sounds’, they (I) sometimes have (had) difficulty being understood…

The Pink Tulip hotel on Bui Vein was wonderful; it was comfortable, it was homely and importantly, it was cost effective. What I had not realised when I made the booking from New Zealand however, is that apparently the Pink Tulip is registered online as a ‘Gay Friendly’ (curious, two terms which, in one sense, mean practically the same thing, yet in another sense, take on a mildly different meaning), meaning that if a homosexual tourist from, for example, Netherlands, or Great Britain, wishes to stay in Vietnam but wants to be assured their sojourn will be free from persecution, or just want to be surrounded by like-minded travellers thus free to revel in their gaiety, they should come to the Pink Tulip. I did initially find it odd, when chatting with a well-dressed, middle-aged Brit seated outside the hotel having his customary midday bottle of local Viet beer, that he should, (in context mind you), disclose his sexual orientation to be homosexual, and this only hours after speaking to a Dutch man who had revealed to me the very same thing (I realise this is beginning to sound queer) which was just the day before I would speak briefly to a homosexual woman who in fact, (as I was by now noticing a pattern) didn’t need to reveal a thing, and that was shortly before bumping into a veritable bevy of, pleasantly aromatic, men of a similar persuasion.

…The only times Noobie seemed to have difficulty understanding me though was when I embarked on one of my famed rambles, or if I tried to explain something about which she had no clue, or better yet, if I had one of my impassioned rants; she would step back from wherever we were or whatever we were doing, armed with a face of consternation, in a big (albeit shrill, nasally, and typically Asian) voice then, while looking all flustered and upset, she would angrily flap her arms while demanding that I ‘Stop talking!’ This was usually followed by, in her clipped-words manner, ‘You … Too … Many … Words!’ Then finally my favourite, also I believe their favourite as it affords Vietnamese folk a great deal of liberty regarding commerce and ultimately any kind of dealings with foreigners – with a shake of the head and often a pull of the earlobe (for some reason) – ‘I no unnerstaan!?’

The manager/owner of the Pink Tulip was a lovely Dutch man of around middle age – who would also turn out to be homosexual – who introduced himself to me as ‘Annie’. I spent some time ensuring I was hearing him correctly and yes, as he confirmed, it was a typical girl’s name, and as it turned out, Annie had come to Vietnam some years ago from Netherlands with the very intention of investing in a hotel in Ho Chi Minh City. While Annie loved the people and had embraced the ‘HCMC 24/7’ lifestyle, he admitted, in fact he had arrived in Vietnam ‘Arnie’ (or it might have been ‘Ernie’, I’m not entirely sure); yet given the Viet people’s unwillingness/inability to enunciate consonants, Arnie (or Ernie) became ‘Annie’, which the gentle homosexual eventually accepted as his handle.

At the bar, Sunday night, I gave Noobie three 100s and watched her trot off to fetch the drinks; admittedly I was left feeling a little dejected – I had three goals that I wanted to achieve while in Vietnam and the possibility that, on only my second night here, I had located an exquisite Vietnamese woman who was willing to share a life with me, that would have effectively been one goal achieved.

Alas, Noobie did not expect a marriage proposal and the question ‘You buy ring?’/’You wan ring?’/You wan buy ring?’ (along with a variation of the international ‘blowjob’ symbol – loose fist to mouth in a twisting motion – which I presume was the Crazy Girls version of subliminal messaging) was an inquiry that I would hear many times over the next 23 days.

 

 

Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Noah Ring

Photography by Tue B Bort

 

 

Tim Walker’s Vietnam XVIII

We slept until after midday then, woken by housekeeping, Noobie and I went out for breakfast at a nearby street-food restaurant.

There is something inherently romantic about being fed by another; that goes tenfold when using chopsticks.

Wandering back towards Crazy Girls, I already understood she worked in the bar but was shocked to learn that Noobie lived there too – as I would later see for myself, along with a number of other ladies all crammed into an upstairs ‘loft’ in a setup not unlike a scene from what I imagine might comprise a news article on ‘Inhumane Living Conditions for Workers at Chinese Sweatshop’ – we stopped in at another café/bar for a quick game of pool and a drink…

Crazy Girls didn’t technically start trading until early evening yet, checking my watch to find the time was nearing 2 p.m., I had no compunction about drinking my first scotch for the day (90.000VND), and at a different bar.

…There were no other customers in the small establishment which – as the supposed bar manager observed us from a table near the wall looking half asleep/drunk while smoking a cigarette and sipping a heavily iced drink – afforded us the freedom to talk, laugh, be idiots and moreover, to be happy in each other’s company. Looking around the inside of that bar, watching Noobie as she elegantly pranced around the table balanced atop ridiculously high heels (it had yet to occur to me that when she removed those shoes in fact she became ridiculously short), seeing the bar manager go behind his bar to fetch himself another beverage; watching the woman of my dreams sink yet another ball, then the black, before grinning, giggling, turning and wiggling her butt in my direction in an apparent display of mockery, I actually found myself wondering how this moment could be any better. I thought about the night before, stepping up to the Crazy Girls pool table as challenged; how it had struck me but not terribly fazed me that I had actually not played pool in around 15 years…

I used to play all the time, used to love it; shit I even used to be considered good at pool. I recall back in 2003 shooting down to the pub to play pool after work, drinking lime-water and catching up with buddies (obviously these were different times; still working a real job, still teetotal, still with a circle of people I could call friends); alas with the progression of the severity of a Post Traumatic Tremor, the first aspect of that former life to become little more than a cherished memory was the career in diesel mechanics along with the majority of any hands-on abilities, then at around the same rate the ‘friends’ had dissipated, the booze was reintroduced. Huh, funny how that worked out.

…I remembered the night before, the sense of exhilaration as I assumed the position at the edge of the table, cue in hand but having no idea how my body, after all these years, would react to the concentration, the immense pressure faced in a game of pool…

Sunday morning – sorry, afternoon – in Ho Chi Minh City, having recently eaten (been fed) a breakfast of that same meal that I just could not seem to avoid during my last visit to Vietnam (see last year’s Chronicles), followed by a glass of scotch and a fairly intense game of pool, and Noobie is claiming to be ready for bed (sleep in Vietnam, as I did learn last year, given the high number of night-time workers also the way many people choose to sleep in their air conditioned rooms rather than endure the daytime heat, is generally taken whenever and indeed wherever one can manage it); as she points out, anyway, she has to start work in about five hours and is hoping to grab a few hours’ nap before then.

…Saturday night, as I recalled, forcing calmness – difficult given the massive speaker mounted on the left wall pelting inordinate volume in my face and indeed, through my entire being (as I recall this particular songstress was repeatedly demanding that someone ‘give it to her’) – I surveyed the table. Even from afar I could tell it was in awful condition; while the felt was intact it was the table’s surface irregularities that concerned me – for someone hoping to get back into the game of pool following a 15 year hiatus, I didn’t know if the challenges presented by a lumpy table were going to be altogether surmountable.

“You break..?” Noobie asked, cocking her head, batting her eyelids and giving me the cheesiest smile, with the brightest red lips I’d seen.

I gave a casual nod and stepped up, carefully adjusting the white ball’s position on the D (in fairness the table bore no markings at all, players simply had to presume where the dot, the line, and the D was located); meantime I was just being careful not to allow a spasmodic hand to slap the white down the other end of the table. I was actually a little anxious; I didn’t know what I was going to do if my nerves refused to cooperate – I could hardly step out of a game before we’d even got into it, but nor was I willing to make an idiot of myself if spasming limbs did become prominent. I’d just drained my sixth glass of supposed Black Label with Coke and Noobie was pushing me to buy us both another. I gave her 3 100s and she trotted away…

I felt at that point – definitely feeling the effects of the booze but still a few from ‘drunk’ – the alcohol ought to have been working for, rather than against me; just the right amount of booze, I’ve found, renders me calm and comparatively steady and while not enough has little or no effect, too much, well too much alcohol and it appears my nervous system starts getting pissed again, and not in the good way.

…Good, I thought, hoping to relieve some of the self imposed mental pressure, she’s gone – at least now if I mess this up I can quickly reset and re-break.

Splaying my right foot back and left foot forward, cue gripped in right hand pressed against my hip to hold it steady, slowly bending my torso over the table, I felt everything just slot into place; it was as though I’d played the game yesterday – my stance, my cue coordination, even my hand bridge (well, with a few minor adjustments to take care of twitching fingers that I didn’t recall posing an issue 15 years ago) was on point. Noobie had set up the balls horribly, leaving the triangle well off centre and with the peak directed almost at a corner pocket. Never mind, I thought; just bash ‘em up and see what happens. I drew the cue back and forwards a few times, smiling wryly at the way my right arm spasmed and jerked throughout the movement…

This was always the thing back in 2003; I used to shake a lot, I used to look downright awkward, but I could always somehow get the job done. At the time, sinking balls with a jiggling cue, I’d flippantly maintain that I would just wait until the constantly moving cue tip passed over the centre of the white then I would give it a quick tap but realistically, I don’t know how I did it. At that moment, watching the cue tip jump about, I remembered the first piece of advice I was ever given regarding the game of pool: ‘The first thing you need to do to make any kind of shot in the game of pool is, for Christ’s sake, hit the white square on.’

…My smile became broader as I felt the adrenalin surge through me; this was it. Spasmodic limbs, flailing arm notwithstanding I felt good, like I was meant to be in this position. I drew back the cue for one final practice manoeuvre, squared it up against the white and…

At that moment, from my right peripherals, I saw Noobie returning with the drinks.

…I wasn’t worried; I knew I had it nailed. I gave the horrendous set my strongest break with a powerful follow-through (the misconception with breaking a pool triangle is that the shot has to be hard; on the contrary, the force of the shot is not so important, it’s the follow-through that gives the ball its inertia – its ability to break). There was a satisfying ‘crack’ and every ball on the table scattered – every ball other than the black…

I’m told that’s a sign of a good break – when every ball scatters but the black doesn’t move.

…I straightened my torso as a few errant balls came to rest in the lower half. I saw, far left corner pocket, number 10 down; I was on ‘bigs’ (or ‘stripes’, or ‘overs’, depending where you’re based). I walked calmly past Noobie who was looking on with suitable admiration. “What you on?” she inquired.

“Bigs,” I replied, making a ‘large’ gesture with my shaking hands. I then identified my drink, leaned over the table and, with one hand placed on the corner and one foot hovering slightly in the air, I placed the straw in my mouth and with five massive slurps, drained the glass.

Noobie looked at me wide-eyed, grinning like a maniac, “You wan ‘nother?” she asked.

“Sure,” I said, handing her another couple of hundreds and turning back towards the pool table, “less ice this time though, yeah?”

“OK,” she answered eagerly. Somehow over the pelting audio I could still hear her clip-clopping most of the way towards the drinks dispensary area.

Back on task, I lined up the 13, having left it wonderfully close to the adjacent corner pocket. It was a simple shot, but awkward, given that I had to access the shot from the wrong side (also I could see the table surface around that pocket was particularly uneven). I raised a foot, leaned forward, extended my posture, and my neck started to spasm (which wouldn’t be so bad only a thrashing neck is effectively a thrashing head which tends to result in a quivering torso; also I struggle to see through a blur). I stood back on two feet and swung the cue around left handed…

I was never a fan of left handed shots back in the day but in fact over the years, given my increasing difficulty with both sides, feeling it could be a beneficial skill to learn, I have been working on my ambidextrous ability.

…It was awkward and the Tremor, if anything, was additionally troublesome yet, by clasping the cue butt between extended fingers rather than a gripped fist then rotating my hand outwards and holding the cue far away from my body, with a little effort and a lot of discomfort, I made it work; boom, 13 down.

I heard Noobie clapping and cheering from back at our table and wondered momentarily if Vietnamese appreciated sarcasm. The next best shot, the 15, was a side-pocket shot and involved a great deal of angle; the kind of shot, back in the day, at which I used to excel. Nowadays, I was less confident. I lined it up anyway. It didn’t matter; I had already sunk two – already surpassed the point of total incompetence. No, damn it, that didn’t matter; now I knew I could still play, shit man, now I wanted to win.

I assumed the position and lined up the shot. I saw the lines in my mind; I transferred the lines to the felt. It was a big angle but I could make it, all I had to do was make sure I hit the white squarely. My head shook, my shoulder jerked; I stood up again. I surveyed it from a standing position then resumed the pose. I didn’t waste so much time this time.

I swung the cue gently (never hit side-pocket shots hard); perhaps too gently. Crap. Still doubled over I watched the white meandering towards the burgundy ball. I was surprised to see it contact exactly where it was supposed to, glancing off and starting the 15 rolling directly towards the side pocket. (In that moment I was impressed that at least I had struck the ball at the correct angle and, irrespective of outcome, expected Noobie would be too.) The ball still had around 250 millimetres to go before it reached the pocket. Wow, I thought as it continued to make its gradual way across the table, that felt must be really worn. The ball just kept on rolling. The 15 rolled for about 200 millimetres, slowly but with inertia, then began to pull up. It now had only the width of the ball to go but was practically stopped. I couldn’t believe it though; it just kept on moving. It was as though it was propelled by some otherworldly force, it just kept on moving. I could see Noobie from the corner of my eye, watching with anticipation; never had I seen a pool ball travel so slowly towards a pocket but still keep moving. This shot, where most pool shots are over in a matter of seconds, seemed to be taking minutes to play out. Either way, I conceded, I’ve left it close. Finally it was there. The ball appeared to hesitate right on the precipice. I couldn’t believe how close it was. I glanced at Noobie with a grin. Her mouth was agape. Suddenly the ball dropped. Noobie jumped off her stool, clapping madly, then ran over and threw her arms around me. “You amaaazing,” she said in a tone of admiration/adoration.

I tried to play it down but couldn’t stop the massive grin spreading across my face. “Damn right,” I muttered with a laugh.

Suddenly she pulled back, a big smile plastered to her face and almost screamed the word, “Shishaaa!”

I didn’t know what to say; I didn’t know what she was saying.

She was still looking me with that mischievous grin, “You want Shisha?” she asked, cocking her head.

“I … Don’t … Know…”

With that she grabbed the drinks menu and pointed, “Shishaaa!”

I looked; ‘Shisha, 350VND’, it read. “Sure,” I said.

Noobie again dashed away to return a while later holding a large jug/urn/bong-like structure, and the word “Shishaaa!”

Shisha. Now I understood. I had seen this around Christchurch bars a bit but had never known the name; two 30 by 5 millimetre pellets sit smouldering atop this ornate bong, then participants inhale their smoke – having first passed through water (hence, bong) – from two hoses protruding from the sides…

A variation on an Indian method of tobacco-smoking, where it has reportedly been used for centuries, where Shisha differs from a conventional tobacco pipe is that firstly, the tobacco, similar to vaping, is blended into some awful strawberry flavour and secondly, the act of passing the smoke through the water supposedly rids it of its tar along with various other pollutants. Make no mistake though, this is not an innocuous alternative to cigarette smoking; Shisha is equally – some have argued more – harmful than conventional tobacco smoking. The technique used to smoke Shisha is similar to the way one would smoke a Cannabis bong – rather than easing the smoke into the mouth then regulating how much one actually inhales, this is direct inhalation – a Shisha smoker inhales a lungful – and after watching it being done, alluring as the pink vapour looks filtering from the nostrils of a beautiful Asian woman, again similar to vaping, they are inhaling massive volumes of smoke; studies believe that in a night smoking Shisha a user might inhale the equivalent of 200 cigarettes and even if the tar is removed, that’s only one of tobacco’s deadly constituents – let’s not forget, nicotine, like most heavenly drugs, is ultimately a poison…

I feel as though we’re getting off track; toxin or otherwise, I want to take a moment to reiterate, during this recent voyage to Vietnam, if only to find out what happened when I did, I did not shy away from any substance I encountered and if it was airborne, oh you better believe I inhaled it.

…Like most poisons though, take just the right amount, the outcome is heavenly.

 

 

Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Puffy McGee

Photography by Sukkan Shisha

Tim Walker’s Taxing II

The point that Jacinda and her Government of Losers appear to be missing is that to raise the cost of fuel is effectively, to raise the cost of everything.

National had it right when they ran with the mantra ‘Improve the economy and the people will benefit’…

The problem with this, and likely the reason Labour couldn’t comprehend it, is because it’s not a ‘quick fix’ like our governing party of losers seem to favour; building a stable economy takes time.

…This principle makes so much sense it ought to be a millionaire; the idea is to boost New Zealand’s economy by, for example, improving the cash-flow of our big exporters so that the money they make can then trickle down through small businesses enabling them to pay their staff better wages meaning they have more money for their families which would put an end to child poverty also probably a lot of the domestic violence we see about at the moment and hey, everybody’s happy – but certainly not the way it’s currently being done where the idiot Government simply demands that employers pay their staff more; what if the businesses can’t afford to pay more, what if they’re struggling themselves? Forcing a small business to pay its staff higher wages can easily be the end of that small business; then what? The alternative, the businesses lay off employees until they can afford to pay their staff more then we’re even worse off than before because while existing employees might now be earning a better wage, taking into account those redundant employees and the failed business owners from before, now unemployment has gone up steeply.

If unemployment goes up we have more people on unemployment benefits, which the Government pays anyway and (although one could argue in that case they’ve shot themselves in the foot) with so many people no longer contributing, the country’s economy will begin to slip; if we’re not careful it will fall right back to where it was before National took charge in 2008 and fixed it – back to the way Aunty Helen left it before she happily handed over the reins of a broken sulky to Uncle John and he had to bring us back on course from, basically, national bankruptcy – then the Global Financial Crisis hit so Uncle John and National had to steer us clear of that calamity as well.

Possibly the worst thing to come from higher fuel prices thus higher commodity prices thus less expendable cash for families thus renewed demand for higher wages thus increased minimum wage thus increase in unemployment thus loss in overall production thus less national income thus falling value of the New Zealand dollar, is increased inflation.

Inflation is a tricky one; it’s always going to increase, the goal is to ensure it increases as little as possible because ultimately, inflation is the value of money.

When a country is doing well, for instance when competent governance ensures a nation’s economy is healthy, inflation remains low; when a country begins to slip, for instance if poor governance means a country is spending more than it can afford (Helen Clark led Labour Government), inflation will rise sharply.

When this happens interest rates tend to rise also; I feel as though New Zealand’s homeowners will be pleased with the way National left New Zealand’s interest rates but, you can be damn sure that with Jacinda’s coalition of losers at the helm and with a Finance Minister who struggles to do basic sums also a Deputy PM who seems hell-bent on all things outrageous, they’ll be back up soon enough.

Roads need to be built and maintained therefore money needs to be spent, yet the Government’s exorbitant tax on fuel, as outlined above (and if I can see it where the hell are they looking?), is not a prudent way to go about sourcing that funding.

Worrying as it sounds, it’s as though New Zealand’s Government doesn’t understand how money works anymore; does our Labour led Government not understand that the economy is a fragile beast?

 

 

Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Acon Nomie

Photography by Esther Unsar