At 10pm last night I was with the crew of expat blokes I have been hanging out with lately, I won’t mention their nationalities, lest I be considered too nationality focussed (as some have accused me of!) but I will say, they are a good bunch of men.
The evening started for me at one of my favourite cafes, cafe Puku, where I was enjoying a glass of sweet lemon juice – perfect for the throat after late nights and 2nd hand smoke – and the most wonderful banana muffin – so very not-Vietnamese – when my phone sparked to life.
“Oi what are you doing?”
“I’m finishing my essay, mate”
“Right, well, we’re at Bia Hoi corner. Come and drink”
“Err… okay” I shrugged. I keep trying to stay in at night… but it just doesn’t quite work out for me.
I finish off the rest of the essay that I was working on, and pass it on to “smart learning” for a pre-submission. I’m trying to find out what I have done wrong or right… this time round.
I pack up my laptop, phone and iPod and head out of Puku. My bike is where I left it, I like to think it is being looked after by the shop next door but I do get the feeling if I forget to lock it, there would be no bike and no one would know what happened to it…
The sun has already set here; it gets dark early, around 5pm. I flick the bike into 3rd and ease off the pavement into oncoming traffic. It takes some getting used to and I’m still not 100% confident but my mantra keeps repeating “just go… just go… it’ll all be okay”. Heading north part the famous Lake Hoan Kiem I take a right turn on Ta Hien, the lady who does my laundry is here somewhere… I must find where though.
After a few minutes of searching I find her…
“You forgot yesterday!” she says, indignant.
“Oi Zoi Oi… I got lost!” we both laugh and I pay her around $7 for my now clean, dry and folded laundry. I wonder how much of my stuff came back, or if they laughed at the size of my bra’s. The Vietnamese never come in this size (!)
Back on my bike I have my laptop on my back and my laundry between my legs, I’m trying to navigate with the bike, in the dark, and keep dropping things. I do a few blocks around, narrowly avoiding dogs, cats, bikes and trucks until I eventually find my friends on the corner.
“Yay, finally you made it”
“I told you I had things to do!”
“Is that your laundry??”
“Yeah mate, I haven’t had clean clothes for ages”
Again we laugh and moments later my bike is parked in front and a fresh beer is in my hand, all the grand sum of 3,000VND, or around 30c Australian. Not bad for daily, fresh beer, with no preservatives (but god only knows what in it instead)
Not long after I sit down the street hawkers start on me.
“Madam, lighter” a young Vietnamese man says with his clipped accent.
“Madam… Bananas” says another
“Madam, Book” (argh)
I wave them away with a flick of the wrist and a short, but not too sweet smile.
A lady with donuts approaches; I bought some from her earlier but didn’t like them…
She laughs, as she recognises me.
As yet I haven’t tried the sweet balls of sugary goodness on her tray so I opt to try one.
I point and say “mot” the Vietnamese word for “one”
“10,000” she says
“Oi Zoi Oi!” I say… “I’ll give you 5”
She laughs and calls me cheap, but takes the money and hands me 3 small, deep fried ball-things. They look like 2 day-old Krispy Kremes.
I take a tentative bite of the first one, its sickly sweet and sticky, with some type of paste inside. Actually quite tasty. Unfortunately the other 2 are pretty stinky so I offer them around but with no takers, I do like everyone else and toss them away.
One of my buddies has been here a long time; he is talking to a young Vietnamese who could only be described as petite. He could be my age but I have a foot in both directions on him. He’s trying to sell us books but my friend talks him into being a runner, to get us food. $2 later, we all have kebabs, all without having to get up.
We like it better when the food comes to us, just like cats.
Throughout the course of the evening, the people we sit with flows.
First, a group of middle-age men who have done a bike trip around Vietnam sit down, then various Australians, Americans, and Europeans come and go. Bia Hoi corner is THE cool place to meet people.
Situated on a cross roads, we sit on tiny plastic stools that my western butt barely fits into. The world passes by on Vietnam time and it’s just about all the people watching one can handle. Occasionally someone we know comes past and joins, but mostly it’s just friends we haven’t met yet who pull up a plastic chair and grab a beer with us.
Just the way it is, in Vietnam.