There are rats in Vietnam as big as your head, and twice as mean. But, to steal liberally, you buy the ticket – you take the ride.
A bit of background: As the child of middleclass parents, I had two options upon the completion of my secondary schooling and the adoption of a low paying, soul crushing job. I could move out of home, or fly somewhere and be a terrified, pretentious twat pretending to have a good time. I chose the former. As I reached the midway point of my 21st year on this planet, I have finally got around to going overseas. Perhaps, I will find myself.
I chose Vietnam, here is my reasoning:
A) I don’t have much money.
B) I like being taller than everybody else.
C) For some reason I had the notion that putting myself in the most uncomfortable surrounds would be like… deep or something.
You see, I hate the sun, I hate crowds, I’m rather obsessive about many things including my sleeping arrangements, and most of all I am absolutely terrified of both swimming and rats.
I also decided to go alone because I’m not very good at striking up conversations with strangers and I’m incredibly lazy with organization. Well done Thomas.
However, none of this was any kind of problem at all, something of a red herring if you will.
My flight began as all travel outside of an automobile or walking begins for me. I fanatasise, brain washed by repeat viewings of Before Sunrise, that I will be seated next to some charming, beautiful, blonde haired, and blue eyed trollop, who I can talk to about philosophy, Literature and why I am so self-obsessed (but in doing so make myself sound self-deprecating and charmingly ironic), ultimately leading to us drinking a bottle of wine and sleeping together in a flurry of half-conceived, half-arsed romanticisim. Thankfully in 9 out of 10 cases back home, the Golf Foxtrot is there to fulfill this important role in my fantasy life.
However, this was not the case early on the morning of the 6th of July. I was crammed into a cubicle I wouldn’t enforce on a sleazy lizard half my size with a pencil thin moustache. Here, with my knees up around my face, who sits next to me? Is it Julie Delphy and her winning smile? No, it’s a sad looking middle aged Vietnamese woman who keeps pulling down her snot-stained hypochondriac mask to sneeze and sniffle.
The paranoia kicks in. The hog is out of the tunnel, much like John Mayer on an emotionally vulnerable just-legal girl, with his lips around a bong and his pubic hair artfully knotted into some kind of hell-noose. By which I of course mean, I’m afraid that this she-cow is going to spread her germs all over my face and ruin my life. Despite it’s brevity, this was not to be a comfortable flight.
…As the plane set down and I proceeded to move through customs at a remarkably efficient communist pace, it began to rain. Vietnam certainly knows how to rain. One thing they don’t know how to do…is traffic control, and contraception. Frankly I don’t know how they aren’t all dead, but who can say, maybe they are. There are untold millions of scooters and incredibly unimpressive motorbikes, and no clear side of the road, speed limit or traffic light. Spoiler: I do get hit by a car at some point in the future of this story.
The english are here, and they are here en masse. My first night in Saigon: I feel sick to the stomach on the day’s airline food and the gin and tonics drunk from a tiny-bottle, nevertheless, I hit the town. Steve Coogan sits down across the bar with a pig glitter in his eyes and a belly full of cheap pills and spite, he turns to look at me and I feel the fear rising in my chest like a thousand angry vipers.
Okay, maybe there was no Coogan, but there are a hell of a lot of english people in Vietnam, and on my second evening I had the pleasure of making the aquaintance of a charming 25 year old girl from Stoke-On-Trent with blonde hair and blue eyes, lets call her Soren Kierkegaard, who I then talked to about philosophy, literature, and her time volunteering in Nepal. All while I made self-deprecating half-ironic quips and tried not to throw up on her face as she devoured a plate of river snails in front of me. We head to a series of bars, ultimately saying our farewells. I think about asking her back, but on the balance of whether I’m going to throw up, it’s still 50/50 and the moment passes.
The next night I bump into the English again, and end up in someplace or other with a pool table where a Tasmanian makes an appearance. He has the eyes of a warthog and the belly of a standard 45 year-old Tasmanian. He wears a wedding band on his finger, and his hand is on Soren Kierkegaard’s arse. A continuing theme is to be noted: ‘Australian’ is seemingly synonomous with ‘Sex tourist’. I think about getting old fashioned or something, and telling this prick that he’s a right bastard. But I’m too drunk to stand up. Soren can look after herself. No harm, No foul.
Vietnam is hot, it’s wet as your sister who lives in Caroline Springs’ next door neighbour’s pool, which you are not allowed to use. In addition to that it is filthier than your favourite genre of hardcore pornography, mangy mongrel dogs frolic with giant rats in the piss soaked streets, and toothless vendors ofttimes squat right on your face… but it is a wonderful place to find yourself too drunk to speak, with no idea where you are, a bicycle you can’t account for and various visa related marriage proposals to deal with.
Part two will necessarily follow part one. Until next time…
Photos are from Max’s own trip to Vietnam, you can see more here, illustration also by Max.