Sunday, June 10, 2007

Nha Trang – Sex and the City

by Saigon Charlie

Sunday Morning

I have no idea what the guide books write about this place but in my opinion, the heading should read, “Nha Trang – Sex and the City”, because that pretty much sums up why white folks come here.

Where to begin? I guess at the beginning.

Yesterday, was Saturday and today is Sunday (so far so good). I needed to get some work done and the first Café near my hotel a bit off the beaten path was unable to get my laptop on the Internet even though it has connected each and every time from Bangkok where I bought it, through Laos, Hanoi, Saigon, etc. No problem. Thanks for letting me use your air conditioned VIP room with lovely ladies offering massages, but I really need to get connected and get some work done.

After paying that check, I headed towards what I figured was the beach after checking the sun's position, was soon on Nha Trang’s curving, wide horseshoe shaped beach/bay.

Yesterday, as today, was brutally hot and after a quick look along the beach, I headed towards the hotel and tourist shopping areas. Along the way, I met a Vietnamese/American who was dangling a huge camera around his neck and I warned him to take care. We talked for a bit about him and his past, shook hands and I was off again.

I eventually ended up by my lonesome self in a huge bar/restaurant where I needed to get a bite to eat as I had not had western food in several days, mostly living off rice and chunks of one boiled meat or another thrown on top. Although filing, not my cup of tea too many days in a row.

I looked through the menu and thought that the prices were quite high for just about everything. I almost walked out but the young man behind the bar was friendly enough and when he offered to put another San Miguel beer on ice, I thought in tune with the needs of his customers. I thought, ‘what the heck’ and asked for a Tropical Pizza.

As I am finding out here, things take time. Lots of it and when it arrives, it is almost like you are expected to be grateful it has arrived at all. Another very odd thing was the comment of the cook who served it to me stating that it was the best pizza in town.

As I peered down onto the wooden dish it was sitting on, it looked rather sickly and as I took my first bite, I almost gagged as I imagine cardboard tastes better.

After several pieces of this delicacy, I was still trying to determine if the chunks of something that was on top were the pineapple. Honestly, after finishing it in its entirety, I don’t know what was on it. As I was really hungry however, and it was in the category of ‘food’, I finished it.

I paid the bill and as I was walking out I hear ‘Charlie!”. As no one is shooting at me, I guess that is a good thing and see two Danish girls that I have met along the way in my travels the past few months, the first time in a Thai restaurant the night before I crossed the Mekong into Laos at Chiang Khlong.

They were sitting at a table at the same restaurant but near the street so I went back inside and we exchanged pleasantries for a bit. It was obvious they had been doing some heavy partying the night before and it was almost comical to hear them talk about how much more money they were spending than what they had budgeted. Duh! Go figure. Asia is cheap but drinking in bars is not. Buying custom made clothes and shipping them home to Denmark isn’t either. Rules Number 1 and Number 2.

After listening to their tales from the road filled with partying and young men, I gave them some suggestions about how to make their way back to Thailand via Cambodia. Flying out of Vietnam is not cheap as they discovered so they were thinking of heading overland (over water?) through Cambodia. Even for a tough guy, that is no easy trip, as they already knew, so were somewhat between a rock and a hardspace with what to do.

We said our goodbyes again and I headed to the water front again where after a bit, I decided that I really needed to make my way back to Saigon (again) and as I had already confirmed the flights were full, that meant I had two other options; bus or train.

If you have read my previous stories, for me, bus is a non-option here so off to the train station I went on the back of my 10,000 dong moto.

We arrived there at exactly 13:00 (1PM) and all the counters were closed. Of course. It was the required 2 hour napping time for Vietnamese civil servants and behind each counter if you looked down into the darkness, you could see Vietnam’s finest sleeping on metal cots behind each position. Once again, it appears that nappy time is between 11:30 to 13:30 so I go back outside to pay my moto driver and of course he thinks he as a fish on the line and doesn’t want to be paid and he ‘will wait’. No. Take the dam money and thanks very much!

Back into the sleepy train station I head and plop myself down on a plastic chair. Nothing to do but wait.

Around 13:25 you see a head pop up from behind a counter and a woman begins to pull her hair back from. Another pair of eyes with dark hair appears and that goes on 2 more times. OK I thought….show time!

Of course while I had been waiting others have come to also purchase tickets and as I made to the counter and was ‘first in line’, a crowd formed around me. There are no such things as ‘line or queues’ in Vietnam; people crowd towards the door, window, steps, etc. Getting in a line is an alien concept here.

So I am 1st in ‘line’ and after I establish to the others who are making an attempt to be first that I am first, the lady opens her window and we start what I now know is going to be the negotiations for a ticket.

How about Sunday I ask? Nope. Full. Funny I thought as with nearly 15 trains on the schedule, how can they all be full and how does she know this without even checking.

No problem. How about Monday? Sure. 3AM departure. 3AM I ask!!?? No, don’t think so.

This went on for a bit and I finally ended up, with the help of others around me, with a ticket for a sleeper ‘hard’ with 5 socialist comrades departing Nha Trang right before 11PM Monday night. That means “no mattress” if you don’t know what ‘hard’ means. Mattresses are a capitalist invention….

I left the station with my ticket south firmly in my wallet and sure as hell, who is waiting for me but my good friend, Mr. Moto. OK. No problem. Take me to my hotel where I grab my notebook from the upstairs penthouse suite I am staying in and as I come down I notice he is having a conversation with the man who is the owner. As they see me, the conversation abruptly ends and he runs for his bike.

We head back for the beach area where it is my intent to get my Internet work done. I had asked the folks at the ‘Crazy Kims’ if they had WiFi and was informed they did so it was my intent to head back there and get several hours of work accomplished.

Once again, Mr. Moto wanted to wait and was by now making his best effort at selling me something. Smoke? Girls? Massage? AK-47’s? (just kidding on the assault rifle.)

I pay him off and find a suitable table and away I go, hunched over my laptop for the next several hours until the beeping sound of dying battery starts. I move to a stool at the bar where the new girl plugs the cable in for me and away I go.

As I am getting a bit hungry and cardboard pizza is now not an option, I peer down the lengthy list of savory delights and opt for what has to be the safest thing on such a menu for foreigners; a cheeseburger with chips (for my American friends that is French fries.)

Once again, as always, the wait seems endless but that is OK as I am really getting a ton of work done.

It does arrive before dusk however and as it is placed next to me and something that appears like ketchup is set next to it, I am asked if I want a knife and fork.

Being the smartass I am, I asked, “does that cost extra?” which got a pretty good laugh from the gent across from me sipping on a coke chatting up the bar maid with lines “that he had no girlfriend.” How amazingly original I thought….

Ever heard the old Wendy’s expression, “where’s the beef?!”. That sums up my burger experience here entirely. As with the pizza, the bun was far larger than the undetermined meat that was between them.

Now I guess why I found all this very strange as this was obviously a HUGE bar for foreigners with all the trappings and signs and t-shirts that one would expect. The first bartender was making his best effort at selling me a ridiculous shirt that I am sure the proceeds would go to ‘helping the children’ (..and this is a place that also has a massage parlor…must do facials…..). I guess somehow they were also connected with a famous diving venue, according to their signs and had some thing going with the local ‘street children’ to educate them and get them money.

Sorry. I don’t buy it one bit and let me tell you why.

Long ago I learned that those that scream the loudest about this or that, are usually the guiltiest or are trying to hide something. The ‘tip’ jar had a sign saying the tips went to the children’s education. Signs everywhere screaming anti-pedophile slogans. The signs indicated that there was a night for the children to learn English as well with foreigners, but while doing so, those same foreigners consumed a lot of items from the menu at some of the highest prices I have seen in Vietnam for such a place AND when I did tip 10,000 dong (15%) for my ‘burger’ with a free fork and knife, the manager who gave me the check quickly shoved the amount into his right pants pocket and the girl behind the bar who had waited on me for the past couple of hours didn’t see a dong which is the way things work out here. WAIT STAFF NEVER GET THE TIPS YOU GIVE THEM!!!

How many times have I tried to tell people this as from Hong Kong to Saigon, it goes to the managers or even sometimes, the owners of the establishment as non-taxed money. My wife in Hong Kong who worked as a bartender in one of the best bars there NEVER SAW her tips from the tip jar as it went to management! Whether you are police or a bartender, money flows UP the chain of command. If you want to tip, which I do, make sure the person serving you pockets it.

As I was leaving I asked the young lady what she was doing so intently on her calculator. She said she was ‘calculating her salary’….

As I just didn’t have a good feeling about my social do-gooders as observed actions speak louder than words, so I went down the street after my Internet work was done to a place called ‘Guavas’. Nice enough. Good music. Pool table up front. Four or so interesting looking ex-pat types sitting at the bar. OK. What’s on their menu?

As it turned out this was a very good choice as they had my favorite vodka tonics at 25,000 dong which is a fair price. Unlike sooooooo many other places that pour such a cocktail with a jigger, this woman took the bottle, tuned it upside down until the ice was covered with the libation and with only a bit of space left (a very little), poured on a newly opened can of tonic! My kind of place! Seems happy hour there last until 8PM.

The next few folks I met came in and joined our crowd and people started to shuffle out while others shuffled in.

A man from Leeds came in with his Vietnamese lady that apparently was traveling with him around the country. Interesting character, working in offshore oil. Met the new manager of Guava next to him as well and although originally from England, he had been living in Australia and having come to Vietnam for only a month, was now here 6 months on. The reason for that appeared a bit later; as had the required tattoos and a very busy mobile phone. She obviously knew what she was doing...

And then in walked my long lost Danish friends and in tow, of course, were two young men. What had the cats brought home this time I thought? Oh, I see, a couple of nice juicy mice! Had to laugh as every time I see them, there are 2 different men in tow!

They came right up to me and started to talk with me like I was their long lost brother and the 2 men started looking at each other like what’s this all about? They were telling me how happy they were to see me as I always made them laugh (which is true I do…) and they were trying to get me to go with them to another bar called ‘Sailing Club’ (or something like that) and as I had nothing else to do, off we went AFTER another round of amazingly tasty shooters from the management. Free of course!

We strolled down ‘beach road’, their new young men in tow, in what can only be called total mayhem. I was surprised to see however we were walking towards the beach and not to the establishments on the opposite side of it, and soon discovered why as we walked into one of the largest bars I have ever been in, which ‘consumed’ most the beach’s width, including a stage area and ‘cat walk’ (that’s suppose to happen tonight).

Inside there were hundreds and hundreds of patrons with a huge number being either single women on the prowl or joined together in cat houses. Drinks were served in buckets and ridiculously cheap at 25,000 dong for vodka, pineapple and red bull.

As we settled back into our chairs and I started to talk with the young men, a lady pulls a chair next to me and sits down. Reasonably attractive I thought but I am ‘engaged’ at the moment. Be with you in a moment. Anyway…

I find out the tall lad is from New Zealand and is basically your south island beach bum type with curling blond hair from diving and surfing. I can see what Charlotte wants this one for.

The other was Israeli and I guessed correctly at 32. He was interesting but politics, history, etc. were not keeping my other, obviously very bored lady entertained.

We exited from ‘inside’ to ‘outside’ and the beach and now I am watching some entertainment from a Frenchman doing magic tricks. Tattoos can been seen poking out everywhere from under his clothes. Children following him around like the pied piper…

People are disappearing, Charlotte has disappeared again and I have discovered she is now dancing in the orgy of hundreds of dancers inside, with no one in particular.

She has let it be known to her big brother that she thinks the New Zealand guy is way too cute and has offered him a place to stay in their hotel as he as no room. How convenient I thought!

Did I mention that he had been traveling with his Czech girlfriend for many months that he had known for several years and because she caught Charlotte kissing him, she went ballistic and all hell broke loose? Geee….Sex and the City has nothing on this plot that is unfolding here in Nha Trang. No idea where that ex-girlfriend is but rumor has it she is still in Nha Trang looking for him…is that the white girl I see running down the street with a butcher knife??? wonder she is called the “Queen of Drama” in Denmark (or is that 'Drama Queen'?)!

It is obvious the night is young for everyone and as it is past midnight and they want to move on to another place close by, they insist I join them. “Sure”, I say. Why Not? And guess what? That was the name of the place, “Why Not?” Talk about stupid humor.

I however opted to leave ahead of them to allow them to decide who was having sex with who or all together. We were suppose to meet up at a place just beyond ‘Why Not?” called the ‘Red Sun’ and then go to ‘Why Not”.

As I left, it was apparent that there was some serious partying going on with 100s now on what had become a dance floor. What little clothes on most were sure to come off in the throes of passion and the city’s heat before this night turned into morning. That was one thing you could be very sure of.

Red Sun reminded me of places I use to hang out in Cambodia. This was the after hours place on this sun strip and people here were to match up with those that hadn’t scored at other venues earlier in the evening. Although I had enough at 1AM and opted for a moto home, I did stroll past “Why Not?” and saw it was also jamming. Having had enough though, home and bed was it for me. I’m such a boring guy…..

Good morning Vietnam