Never Get Out Of The Boat: Pt 3
They ask me to go for a "môt tram phân tram", or "100%", a full mug skull of the ice-chunky beer, but I plead ignorance, plead (in)sanity, plead for the waitress to do mine but she is not there now, plead medication. They don’t believe me, and I have to do it at least once. But after that I say, "No more, just gentlemanly sips", to the young Doctor next to me who spits his last half-mouthful to floor between his feet amongst the food scraps.
He looks up, ruddy cheeked, red eyes slightly unfocused, and mumbles something in Vietnamese that I take to be "OK" or "Whatever".
We call a taxi and drive for 4 more hours in the even more terrible traffic at night-time to Can Tho, half drunk, half exhausted. I have not brought a full change of clothes as we were expected to fly out from Ca Mau first thing in the morning, so tomorrow (today [yesterday]) I will be in the same beer and sweat stained shirt and trousers.
Today, this day of twice-worn clothes, we go from clinic to clinic, the waiting-rooms full of smiling expectant mothers, avoid lunch and dinner invitations, and show the Doctors how to obtain pretty 4D pictures of the baby's face. The primary clinical use of this view of the fetus is to search, ironically enough, for cleft lip and palate.
Someone offers me some cold corn, I pass it up.
In the back seat, eyes closed, bouncing with the road and the bridges as we drive to Saigon, I am listening to an audiobook of James Joyce's "Ulysses", and am transported away by a gentle Irish brogue to the dear dirty streets of Dublin of June 16 1904. (Dirty indeed and reminiscent of my days on the Mekong delta: in one episode of The Wandering Rocks, someone hawks up phlegm, spits it onto his shop floor and stirs his foot across the spit in front of Leopold Bloom... and he doesn’t protest.)
[Addendum: In this Saigon hotel, an Australian joint venture, there is a jar of Vegemite available for the breakfast toast. I kid you not. Some European businessmen in the lift point to a sign on the lift-legend and smile at what they think is a quaint mistranslation. I know however that the Manly Room is not the macho gym, but a meeting room named after a suburb of Sydney.]
[p.s. I broke this post up into three because it was not going up in one piece... WTF? Turns out, by a process of elimination, that the server did not like the phrase "ice-chunk*d"... What, it has an inbuilt bad neologism detector?
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OTHER MONKEYS SAID
I love the smell of Vegemite in the morning.
dh... it had to be you, sugar! ;-) (because we all know charlie don't surf)
DH: It smells like... Victoria! (the southern state of Australia, duh)
Sav: by 3 o'clock, charlie's too pissed to stand up on the ground let alone on a surfboard.
i've missed you, sugar! ;-) where are you now? home? on the road? new york city?
Expat you have a talent for the descriptive turn of phrase. The picture of Vietnam you established makes me wonder why I have it in my head as the next travel destination for me? I guess seeing it for myself will only reinforces the existence of those dragons...
Excellent form and make sure you take some worm tablets when you get back to the capitalist dictatorship to be sure you do not carry the 'bonus' of those tasty morsels served for your pleasure in the boondocks.
Sav: back in Sginapore. Resting. Not needing to in fact, the last two day in Saigon, I did nothing: they didn't turn up to take to any customer visits. So I fought with the server for 8hrs to get these posts up!
Sino: no, the tourist parts of Saigon and Hanoi are nice, everyone should visit, but it's one of the poorest countries on the planet as far as per capita income is concerned, and when you get amongst the locals out of town and see how they really live, and you see the health system they have to put up with that you really appreciate THEIR reality - for the rest, it's like the Henry Vth Part 1 (I think) and everyone is tries to out Falstaff Falstaff.
p.s. I did a really good shit today, so everything is just hunky the dory, ya!
And remember this was a TUESDAY, and they didn't know I was coming. Everyday is like this presumably. The patients all know; in the afternoon the Doctors will be pissed neutral.
They have a similar problem in China with all middle management and professional staff. They just get legless at lunch. They have had a bit of a purge in China to try to stamp it out.
People do get up around 5am there in Vietnam though, it is the country, so a lot gets done in the morning. The afternoon however is for hammock and Heineken.
Having said all that, after a few beers here, I am so totally over cruising into 3rd world countries AS A TOURIST and expecting to see something cute and primitive in the 'noble savage' tradition that will entertain me.
To live the poor life in India or Vietnam or rural China is to do it really tough, tough beyond a modern Westerner tourists abilty to conceive...
So enjoy the excellent coffee (ask for white - it will still be black) enjoys the mainstream restaurants and climb down in the tunnels, etc... and laugh with the locals who are so very friendly and yeah don't give to the beggars, they really are run by guys in big black Mercedes.
In fact, obviously I am so conflicted about Asia I don't know WHAT the fuck to advise, what to recommend, what to do... It's just this huge fucking unfair mess or repression and poverty and exploitation. As my ex-flat mate called his book on Asia (based on his New Yorker articles from the late 90's) - Lands of Charm and Cruelty...
OK one thing to strongly recommend about SEA...
DO NOT GO TO BURMA.
Every dollar you spend there supports one of the nastiest regimes around. (Also DO NOT CALL IT MYANMAR - even though it is just a different way of spelling of the word, it was coined by the regime.)
So how many die due to the pickled medical staff? I think too many people do not understand the total lack of choice or options available to 80% of the worlds population. Imagine those people even having the thought to sue a doctor for gross negligence.
Yes I certainly will go to see the place with my own eyes and lens. I found many more things to like than dislike in Cambodia and I am sure Vietnam and Laos will be the same. The quality of the people and their resilience.
Did you get any clothes made or is that just too predictable?
Sino: I am so over clothes.
It's a reaction now that rather than run away from the ubiquitous Indian tailor, rather than threaten to hit him, instead I ask him what part of India he is from... just another businessman forced to live away from home.