Dragon Babies, Mrs. Boobs and Filipino Disco Cowboys
It’s all part of the adventure.
This line has been on my mind’s repeat since moving here to Da Nang, Vietnam. Watching a scooter fly by packed with an entire family of two parents, a grandma, three kids and a dog I think It’s All Part of the Adventure. The next day when that same family offers me a lift I squeeze on to their miniature vehicle and remind myself It’s All Part of the Adventure. When the family and I stop along the way to pick up several live chickens and a BBQ eel I say – you guessed it – It’s All Part of the Adventure.
It’s a good motto to have when you’re in a brand new place. It’s a survival mechanism when you’re in a really strange brand new place.
Not only did I move to Vietnam, I moved during the Year of the Dragon; a very lucky time to have a baby (cue hoards of pregnant women roaming the streets of Da Nang). Out of the twenty Vietnamese women at my school, fifteen are pregnant. Another three are already away on maternity leave. Dragon babies abound! While this may be lucky for the Vietnamese population, it adds another element of confusion to my overly confused life. Babies are in my classroom. Babies are at the bar. Big, pregnant bellies knock me over in the streets. Chaos inevitably ensues. I am struggling to find a misplaced teaching book. Unfortunately our school librarian is away on maternity leave. Her replacement is seven months pregnant. Her replacement’s back up replacement is four months pregnant. It seems my book will not be found until the Dragon has left. This is an unexpected side effect of moving to Vietnam, but it’s all part of the adventure.
Vietnamese is a simple language grammatically, but a difficult one to pronounce. Each word has six potential sounds. Each sound means something completely different. All sounds sound the same to me. This means I never understand what’s going on. This also means I am never understood. Apparently I am not the only foreigner with this problem. At school a Vietnamese assistant has a beautiful name when pronounced correctly. When pronounced incorrectly by us international teachers her name suddenly becomes Mrs. Boobs. The children think this is funny (I also secretly think this is funny). The school office does the only logical thing and renames our assistant Ms. Vicky. I prefer Mrs. Boobs.
Vietnamese names in general are difficult for Westerners to pronounce. Not only is the last name written first, but those pesky pronunciation accents continue to trip us up. Being as the Vietnamese are an accommodating people, they give themselves English names just to make it easier for us to say. Mostly they play it safe – Jane, Michael, Tommy, Margaret. But occasionally they miss the mark just slightly. I have to wonder what they were going for when I see a“Snake”, “DVD” and “Door” on my class roster. Good thing Mrs. Boobs is around to help explain.
Then there are some Vietnamese names that I hesitate to pronounce correctly. I can’t help but giggle a little when saying hi to my neighbor, Phuc (pronounced: F-U-C -well, you know). Then again, it’s all part of the adventure.
The world’s most gorgeous beach lives one block from my apartment. Elsewhere in the world it is called China Beach. But, as my Vietnamese friends remind me, this is NOT China. And so here it is called Vietnam Beach (we wouldn’t those sneaky Chinese getting any ideas…). China, err, Vietnam Beach stretches for miles and runs alongside one of the fastest growing cities in Southeast Asia. But before you begin imagining throngs of people sun tanning and surfing, let me explain that the Vietnamese do not like the sun. In fact they avoid it all costs. Women are known to cover their entire faces, necks and bodies even in scorching heat. Why? Because nothing is uglier than a tan. They love my albino white skin. They like to pet my arms in the market, and then yell at me in Vietnamese for wearing just a tank top. Don’t I know the sun will ruin me?! Still, I can deal with the verbal abuse because our cultural differences mean I have the whole wide beach to myself every day. That’s right. During daylight hours you will find nary a Vietnamese anywhere on the great big, sandy beach. Of course between 5am and 7am and after sunset the place is packed. And stays packed long after the stars have come out. I guess no one is worried about getting tanned from the moon.
A more recent It’s All Part of the Adventure moment happened on Friday night. After bragging that I am a great bartender (by “me” I meant “JD”), British pals were keen to take me to the city’s only flair bar. I was thinking Tom Cruise and Cocktail. Instead I got a Western style saloon where a Filipino cover band was disco-ing to Michael Jackson in spurs and chaps. The Vietnamese crowd loved it and waved their chopsticks excitedly. I should explain that drinking in Vietnam is strange. Instead of each person ordering a single drink, you order a whole bottle of booze or crate of beer to share. As soon as you order, a woman (inevitably a gorgeous woman) appears out of nowhere and stays beside your table all night to refill drinks as soon as they are set down. I don’t know what the job title is (maybe beer slave?) or how you apply, but I think the criteria involve being really pretty and smiling a lot. Anyway at by the end of the night you have no idea how much you’ve had to drink because your glass is always full. Even on the final tab there is just a group amount. You may have had two beers. You may have had twenty. Only the beer slave will ever know.
Anyway, going back to Friday, thanks to the professionalism of our table beer slave, I was quickly inspired to join in with the festivities. After all, it’s always been my dream to disco to Bruce Springsteen alongside Filipino cowboys in a Vietnamese saloon, drinking vodka from Ha Noi.
And why wouldn’t it be? It’s all part of the adventure.