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All dressed up with no place to go in Vietnam

Tuesday, December 22, 2020, 11:20 GMT+7
All dressed up with no place to go in Vietnam
The Han River with Cau Rong (Dragon Bridge) in the background

Now what do we do?

We had blissfully been flying all over the place like birds until this year when the carpet beneath us was suddenly yanked away. 

Months later, we’re chomping at the bit to go abroad as if all jazzed up in our finest on a Saturday night, but with nowhere to go.

No international travel means no dreams, no dreams mean no planning, and that’s a gaping hole to fill since half the fun lies in cooking up the adventures in the first place.

So, what do we do to stave off cabin fever? 

This is by no means the ideal solution, but half a loaf is better than none.

I’ve been busy living vicariously through my travel souvenirs, and discovered it’s more fun than I would have thought and much better than moping around whining and pining. 

I am selective when travel fantasizing, unable to withstand the agony of long-winded videos during which the narrators rattle on and on, in love with the sound of their own voices.  

Have you ever seen a 30-minute monologue about a bowl of soup? How can such clips possibly be stretched until they’re longer than it takes to order, serve, and eat the damn meal in the first place?

In retaliation for those endless rants I make short videos, but they’re so short that even I, the author, am left wondering what the heck the themes and locations are half the time.

Friend: “Wait, what just flashed by in that clip? Was that the Eiffel Tower?”

Me: “Not sure - could have been, or maybe it was the duplicate in Tokyo or Las Vegas. Who cares? They all look the same, that’s the idea of replicas.”

Friend: “Wow, check this one out! It’s the Christ the Redeemer statue overlooking Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.”

Me: “Can’t be bro, I’ve never been to Rio. Hang on, it’s Tuong Chua Kito Vua (the Christ the King statue) in Vung Tau right here in Vietnam.” 

Friend: “Vung Tau? Are you sure? What on earth is an enormous statue of Jesus doing there?”

Me: “It’s a long story.”

We can try dreaming of trips we’d like to take, even promised ourselves we would take, secretly knowing we never would, which in my case is a visit to the Mekong Delta. It’s been hanging around for ages, especially since seeing the movie Canh Dong Bat Tan (Floating Lives) a few years ago, which chronicled a family’s nomadic lifestyle on the river.

Every time I get down to planning that trip, I always find an excuse to avoid it - excessive heat, rain, or a national holiday scheduled in there somewhere that’s bound to draw throngs of visitors.

I’ve been longing for Da Nang, but between the stifling summer weather, the rainy season and the floods, and the burst of COVID-19 cases a few months ago, it was shelved again this year.

If I could only hit my daytime headquarters for a brew! Not only are the coffee and company great, but the owner Trang lets me put baseball and gridiron on the television, which other customers neither understand nor care about.

Trang’s joint has other allures: Where else could you go and see a uniformed cop guarding the cash drawer? I’m not kidding - pop in and chances are you’ll see a policeman in full regalia stationed at the cashier’s counter, but he’s not there protecting the daily haul. Without a laptop of his own, he borrows the coffee shop gear.   

Then there’s the lady who runs Cay Da (Banyan Tree), the sidewalk café on the Bach Dang Promenade along the Han River, equidistant between the two gorgeous bridges - Cau Rong (Dragon) and Cau Song Han (Han River).

The Banyan Tree by Bach Dang Promenade in Da Nang

The Banyan Tree by the Bach Dang Promenade in Da Nang

She probably has the same four cans of Heineken in the fridge (must be skunky by now) thinking I’m on an extended trip to some far-off land and likely to be miffed if she doesn’t have a few cold ones on hand when I return.

That lady will always occupy an extra soft spot in my heart from that evening when I leaned a bit too far back on a plastic kindergarten chair, causing the back legs to snap, catapulting my beer can in one direction, glass in another (I’ve told her umpteen times I don’t want a glass but she never listens - thinks drinking from a can is sleazy), shooting my banh mi (baguette sandwich) in yet another, and leaving me a crumpled mess sprawled out on the sidewalk.

The neighbours swarmed instantly, picked me up, brushed me off, checked for broken bones and bruises, but the only thing damaged was my ego. I was embarrassed to have been caught out by the Vietnamese 'collapsing kiddie chair legs' trick, an old one if there ever was.

Aside from reflecting on great adventures past, there are some fun opportunities to be seized while we wait to become airborne again. 

I don’t mean ambitious projects focused on actually upgrading my lifestyle such as self-improvement and discovery, going on a diet, learning a musical instrument (on my to-do list since decades), taking up yoga (I know, I know, it’s wonderful) or, God forbid, learning Vietnamese, the ultimate exercise in frustration, at least for me.

I’m talking about good old-fashioned sitting around, doing nothing.

Vietnam is a busy place for sure yet people find time to sit around - chew the fat over a drink peppered with some mindless banter. 

Take my favourite motorbike taxi man. 

The reason for him being my preferred ride around town is he’s always in the same place, parked in front of a hotel in the center of the city. You can depend on him, plus he actually obeys some basic rules of the road. He has lots of customers yet seems to always be at his post, statuesque, never even changing pose, never mind location.

There is something to be said for that approach. 

Why get all fired up? Either the customers come or they don’t.

One ailment those of us from 'developed' countries have taken on in increasing doses over the years is the 'must be multitasking all the time' syndrome - a silly notion, as if the sole barometer of our success is based on throughput and production. 

We just have to be busy, active and in motion, or we feel guilty, as if we’re up to no good. 

I routinely see people walking while banging away on their phones, drinking coffee, music in the background emanating from another device, all while they talk to the person they’re with.

Somehow, sitting around and doing nothing has been lost in the shuffle, shoved aside in the endless quest for progress and higher standards. 

Then there’s the weigh scale lady, she’s the portrait of peace and contentment.

Weigh scale lady

Weigh scale lady

I’ve no idea how old she is, but she’s definitely long in the tooth, thus having earned the right to sit around. She moseys along, scale under one arm with gear in a cute little plastic case, reaches her service location, waits for the crew in the adjacent restaurant to bring her a plastic chair, sets up shop, and sits there.

She never moves either, mostly because hardly anyone ever asks to be weighed, and she’s happy as a clam. I’ve always questioned the viability of her business model: Who wants to be weighed? Either we’re overweight and don’t wish to be reminded or we’re skinny and don’t care.

I go through the motions and pay her but never have actually looked at the scale, terrified of the hideous tally it would undoubtedly display, but she doesn’t know that.

Maybe some good old-fashioned sitting around is the best method to await what fate sends us.

When things return to some semblance of normal, whatever and whenever it will be, maybe we’ll all appreciate sitting around more and think less about faraway fields, enjoying what’s right under our noses.

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Rick Ellis / Tuoi Tre News Contributor

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