The Americans are spreadeagled on the (only) couch. Elbows bent over Saigon beer and cigarettes, absorbed in philosophical discussions about …. America, from what I can pick up.
One of them just used the word ‘clusterphobe’.
The music here is some throbbing electric racket. The bar is small. Intimate, perhaps, if not for the motorbike-buzzing street.
I’m the only one on this side of the room, which isn’t as lonely as it sounds because there’s three of them and one of me and a dog.. It’s Friday evening and too early for anything other than this spectacularly voluminous glass of Dalat red wine, which cost twenty-five thousand dong ($NZ1.22) and which I plan to enjoy. Alone.
The sign above the bar says LEAVE YOUR WORRIES AND SHOES AT THE DOOR.
We’re all wearing shoes.
The Americans have moved onto income tax. The dog is pissing on the doorframe.
It’s three-and-a-half months since I left New Zealand. I have to keep reminding myself because it seems like much, much longer. Six countries make it seem like longer. Germany and Ireland and London flashed by. India was a great galumping marathon that was wonderful and inspiring and beautiful but also utterly fucking exasperating because shit just went wrong, and went wrong and wrong, but it was always okay because there was always chai and cheap rum, and there were always charming stupid men smiling through mouthfuls of paan and asking yesmadamwhatyouwantrickshawmadam?
India, I believe, is best loved from a distance.
And now, Vietnam. In Ho Chi Minh I melted in a non-airconditioned room for $NZ14 a night (AC was another six dollars). I drank too many iced coffees and ate too much fried tofu and bok choy because I hadn’t seen coffee or tofu or bok choy for three months. The men didn’t stare and the children weren’t ragged wailing waifs, and nobody offered a rickshaw or a postcard.
It was fabulous.
It was also too fucking hot, so I went to Dalat. I’ve been here a week now and I may just put down roots. Dalat is a holiday city for couples and honeymooners and domestic tourists with fat wallets. Most backpackers/Westerners either zoom through on motorbikes or skip altogether. It’s somewhat quiet blissfully chilly (24 degrees). There’s a lake to run around. My room – two double beds, fridge, a window and wifi that works – is ten NZ dollars a night. There’s a market with jackfruit and lychees (and coffee) and the women laugh at my terrible Vietnamese and make me repeat the words for ice and thank you and delicious until they’re satisfied with my pronunciation.
And the wine is good.
Yeah, I’ll be here a while.