Last night I…

Published: May 15, 2005
Updated: May 15, 2005

...had a very strange night. No matter what you do in this country, whether it be travel or just going out for a night, weird things happen and nothing ever works out the way that you planned it would. That is part of the charm of living here of course and part of why I love this place.

Initially I went out to a party to celebrate Quang’s retirement from RMIT. He left two weeks ago and has joined Hung and Thanh in a software development and consultancy business. The party was held in their offices over near the airport in Tan Binh District so I decided to leave the Vespa at home and catch a Xe Om as I figured that it might be raining when I left and a taxi might be the go. I had only been at the party for 15 minutes when the power went off, not a strange event here where load shedding is the norm rather than the exception, however they have a duel power system which meant that the computers could be booted up and the combined glow from the screens gave us enough light to see what we were doing. It became even better when they used a data projector to play film clips on a wall.

Jaap told me that Loic had phoned and did I want to head off with them for a meal. That sounded OK so I decided that I would hitch a ride on the back of Jaap’s bike. Only problem was that it was raining steadily by this stage and Jaap had forgotten to bring his raincoat. No worries. we knew that there would be vendors on the street selling raincoats everywhere, particularly on the very busy Nguyen Van Troi/Nam Ky Khoi Nghia thoroughfare. However, we had to travel a long distance before we came across a stall, by which time we were getting soaked and of course the street vendor had a captive audience at which she could target an inflated price. Even this event was funny as Jaap haggled away and the lady brought out several styles to show handing me the umbrella that she was using to keep us a bit dry.

Eventually we were coated up and back out on the wet and busy road. I have to say that I hate travelling like this because when you are the passenger and the driver is wearing the coat you end up with the rear flap over your head which means that you are travelling blind. Not a good feeling and subsequently I never saw the motorbike that appeared suddenly that Jaap ran into. First I knew was a grinding halt that threw me into his back accompanied by the sound of metal and plastic coming together in an ugly fashion. I very quickly disentangled myself and dismounted so that I could see what was happening.

Under the front wheel of our bike was another bike with its driver, a very angry Vietnamese lady prostrate on the ground. It was instantly clear that this lady was angry because she leapt up and started hurling abuse at Jaap who reacted in a similar fashion. Jaap is Dutch, but he can speak fluent Vietnamese, so for a while there was a heated verbal exchange and I didn’t need to know what exactly was being said to get the general drift. Jaap wanted to know why the lady had pushed her motorbike in front of him going in the wrong direction across the traffic flow and the lady wanted to know why he hadn’t avoided her.

By now a crowd had started to gather and some of the Vietnamese men were becoming extremely vocal in their support of the lady. I guess from their point of view here was this large foreigner arguing with a diminutive local lady and several of them decided to come to her rescue. So before we knew it we were surrounded on all sides by a milling crowd all becoming fairly abusive and Jaap becoming more frustrated as he was attacked from all sides.

So…picture this. We are still in the middle of this very busy road and we have stopped all the traffic dead so it is banked up behind us and we are getting yelled at for that as well. It is pouring rain and I’m getting soaked to the skin as the argument builds to the point where one of the Vietnamese guys comes over and pushes Jaap quite hard on the shoulder. I can tell by the look on this guys face that he wants a fight but I just couldn’t stop laughing (or at least grinning) at the absurdity of it all. Jaap turns around and abuses this guy who backs off but then circles around behind me and tries to incite the lady to greater heights of anger (if that was possible). I turned and told this guy to “di di” and waved him away, but I was still smiling and I think that must have thrown him a bit because he got a puzzled look on his face and backed off.

Meanwhile, we dragged ourselves and the bikes to the side of the road just as two ladies stopped on their bike and offered a bit of friendly advice. They recommended that Jaap give the lady the VND50,000 that she was screaming for, even though there was no apparent damage to her or her machine, and get out of there because the police had been called. I thought that they were offering very good advice and when Jaap threw the money onto her seat I quickly jumped on the back and we headed of to the sounds of this lady’s suddenly increased demands (she’d got 50,000 so now demanded 100,000).

By the time we got to Loic’s place we were a bit shattered and I decided that, instead of going for a meal I would head off for a relaxing massage. I had visions of a quiet massage room with soft soothing music and the firm but gentle fingers of the masseuse easing the evenings tensions out of my body. Alas, this was not to be and I think that it was because my timing was wrong. This was Saturday night and the first things that I had to deal with were three very drunk Vietnamese gentlemen in the locker room who were trying to either get dressed after their massage or prepare to go and have one, I’m not really sure. Suffice it to say that I couldn’t get to my locker for a while because one of this trio had the wobbles up and kept falling on me so I sat back and let him try to access his locker. Meanwhile his two buddies were keen to make me their very best friend and draped arms all over me while trying to discover my life history.

After disentangling myself from these three I went upstairs and found the roughest, meanest most disinterested masseur in the world. Yes, I admit that it was getting late and she no doubt wanted nothing more than to go home but I was scared that she would commit some type of permanent and serious injury to my person, such was her lack of attention to where she was pounding me. Forget the idea of soft music and a relaxing moment, they had the loudest head banging Vietnamese music that you can imagine on the crackly stereo and she was in full flight bashing me with the rhythm. Add to that the fact that the room stunk from the cigarette smoke of the previous occupant and this lady’s hand’s stunk of something a bit like garlic and you have some idea of the nerve shattering ordeal that I was experiencing. Needless to say I got up and left before she was finished much to her surprise and she was even more taken aback when I refused to leave a tip.

By this stage I ready to head home,  lock the door, draw the curtains, curl up in the foetal position with my thumb in my mouth and have a bit of a cry. However, as I was sitting on the back of the Xe Om heading homewards I remembered a small and quiet bar that Lisa and I had been to several times and thought that maybe it would be a good idea to drop in and have a nightcap in pleasant surroundings so I directed the driver to stop there. What greeted me when I opened the door to my quiet little haven was an absolute cacophony of noise accompanied by the smell of cigarettes and alcohol. The noise came from the approximately one hundred hopelessly drunk individuals seemingly hell bent on crucifying their livers in one evenings bout of debauchery. One of these individuals was up on the stage doing a very loud and very wobbly rendition of “Jailhouse Rock” Vietnamese style and several couples were drunkenly lurching around the postage stamp sized dance floor.

I hesitated at the door because not only was this not what I wanted, but I couldn’t see a vacant seat anywhere and I was just about to back out of the place when the hand of one of the male waiters clapped itself firmly onto my buttocks and propelled me to the furthest corner of the room where one lone table remained empty. I was too busy protesting where this guys hands were venturing to worry too much about ending up inside and was relieved to be able to sit down and order a beer to get out of his clutches. However, when I looked up I realised that my table was right next to the stage (actually I had been given the musician’s table) and there I was sitting facing everybody else in the room like some prize exhibit. As I was the only foreigner in the place everyone was staring groggily in my direction which was a bit disarming, however the beer was cold so I decided to drink just one and then go.

Silly me for thinking I could get out of this place so easily. I was only half way through my beer when suddenly I was surrounded by a group of quite inebriated tennis players. I could tell they were tennis players because they were still in their tennis attire and there were bags of racquets sitting on their tables. There was a huge group of them and they proceeded to ask me “Where are you from?” “Why are you sitting by yourself?” and so on. Finding out that I was from Australia seemed to make several of them deliriously happy as they all seemed to have a relative who lived or was studying there and so we toasted each other several times and beers started arriving at the table in great number.

These guys were very friendly and most of them spoke good English. They told me that they played tennis every Saturday and then went out and partied together. It was their big night out away from the pressures of work and family and I can understand that one OK. They all work for the same company and obviously they enjoy having a good time.  They wanted to know if I would like to dance with one of their party who was jovially referred to as a “niece” but I declined stating that I was a bit tired (that was the truth) and so they continued to ply me with beers and one chap told me confidentially four times that his son was studying high school in Australia and would be going to university next year (he must have been suffering short term alcohol induced memory loss), this while all the time spilling beer over me and dribbling just a little. But a nice guy all the same.

They were all very concerned that I was by myself and wanted to know if I needed some “companionship”, but I declined. However, this declination was completely ignored and I realised that this bar now had a new feature that hadn’t been there the last time Lisa and I had ventured in. This bar now had ladies who, for a fee, will sit with you and encourage you to drink even more beers. The manageress was called and my new group of friends demanded that some comany be found for me as it was just not right that I be by myself. My feeble protests fell on deaf ears and one of the ladies who had been sitting with the tennis group, disentangled herself and came and propped at my side. The first words she said to me were, “You wanna drink more beer?”

One of my new group of friends was a bit older than the others and considerably less drunk. It turned out that he was a senior board member of the company for which they all worked and it was he who first noticed that I was sitting alone and moved over to my table. He leaned toward me in a conspiratorial fashion and advised me that if I wanted to tip the lady beside me, make sure that I paid no more than VND50,000. I let him know that I understood, but as it turned out I didn’t have to worry because she quickly tired of my company, no doubt realising that I was a dead loss and went back to sit with her previous client who was obviously going to drink far more than I.

Another of the tennis players explained to me that this was the one night of the week when they could get away from the wife and have a bit of fun. I detected that he was being a bit defensive about this and I assured him that this was all quite normal and “Yes, of course we do the same thing in Australia”. This brought the smile back to his face and we toasted each other again as he asked me for the tenth time what I did for a living. I made good my escape as soon as I was reasonably able to and I have to admit that it was a bit of fun, but enough was enough.

So… a little after midnight I staggered out of my retreat to head home and a taxi driver asked me where I wanted to go, “Hey you, where you go? You want girlfriend?”

“No thanks, I just want to get home”.

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