SAIGON IN THE SPRING

2014

I woke up in Saigon on a king bed with Camille and Barny, as the previous night we decided that the small change we could save by all sharing one bed in a room, could afford us beers. The evening involved age-old hostel activities, rooftop haircuts and beer consumption. That morning, they, and two others, were on a mission to purchase motorcycles, and I, unsure of my desire to own one, joined them anyway. We took little buses and taxis to many different corners of town, expectedly finding overpriced clunkers in every nook. While they haggled with stubborn Vietnamese salesmen, I stepped into a shop for my third thick, cold robusta coffee of the morning.

The rushy American in me, the rickety caffeine whirlpool that occupied my guts and mind, or, likely a combination of the two, told me that I had to leave, now. I hadn’t seen the ocean in maybe longer than ever, and my new mission became swimming in the South China sea by that evening. I took a swift gander at a map, and saw that the coast was a mere four hour drive away, the city of Phan Thiet. Feeling stubborn, hasty, and adventurous, I managed to produce a cardboard sign stating “Xin Xe Phan Thiet”. Within minutes of finishing my coffee, I found myself on the back of an old man’s motorbike swerving towards the motorway oriented eastward out of town.

Within a few more minutes, I was sitting in a massive yellow semi on its way to Phan Thiet. We only spoke a small handful of words in eachother’s language. He showed me a photo of his family, and stopped to pick up milk for his baby. I picked up a few mystery steamed buns, which contained quail eggs. It had been seven hours when, in the last light of the day, we drove under the red portrait-embellished arching sign, Phan Thiet Province. Now in the night, I had assumed that we would be going to the city to offload whatever this truck contained. Instead, we pulled over on a barren motorway, next to a small home and covered outdoor space, where a family sat on the floor watching television. I was an unexpected specimen, and the notion of me wanting to get to the city proved offensive to their generous Vietnamese ways. I sincerely accepted the invitation to spend the night on their porch.

A few hours later, I found myself sharing tea and conversation, translated by a 13 year old girl, with the drivers 70 year-old father. We talked about life in Vietnam, fish, food, climate, and then it became known that I am from America. Energy shifted momentously when he stood up, screaming accusingly at his son, and at the stranger that was brought to his home. Amid this instantaneous argument, the daughter stated that I was no longer welcome at their home, and that there was a hotel 5 kilometers down the road.

Within minutes, I was walking, at one in the morning, down the motorway, to what was claimed to be a hotel. I gingerly stepped through the heavy sheet metal gate, and was acknowledged by wild dogs, men sitting darkly in their cars, and a slinky old woman in a mini skirt. She took five dollars, and gestured to a room at the end of the building. The doors were affixed with red and green lights, and a timer on the inside. In the place of a body-sized towel and soap, was a condom and a hand-sized towel. It took less than a moment to identify this place as a brothel, and was happy to find a lock on the door. I stayed up watching chinese soccer games on the television, dozing off with exhausted thoughts of identity, womanhood, and history.