More Notes From ‘Nam
It has been a while since my last post. I wrote the following submission almost a year ago. Six months after my arrival to this totally random retirement destination: Vietnam (forsaking the LOS). I had no friends here and had never visited previously. I thought this submission would be too personal, so I hesitated to post it. And the fact that I agreed with, and made an informal pact with a fellow Stickmanite that Vietnam should be keep our secret is another reason I haven't posted lately. Advertising our 'good thing' was a bad idea and couldn't benefit us at all. "This is MY country and these are MY women", he said. "We don't need the riff-raff from Thailand coming over here driving up prices and stealing MY women." We cringed any time Stick posted anything about Vietnam. This is also why I hesitated to submit this post. But now I say: What the hell! I got mine and YOLO!
I need to start writing on a continual basis anyway. A writer writes. Grind away like Steve Rosse does so admirably sometimes. Something…anything. Writing is very therapeutic. And I'm retired for goodness sake. I have nothing to do and no idea what I want to do. But doesn't the word 'retired' mean to do nothing? People are telling me I'm lazy.
Anyway, here it is: the postponed post from about a year ago:
Before I left for Vietnam I was in a bad place for about six months. Low self-esteem and hating the last few months at work before I retired. Every day I'd get a day older and I would curse that day. I couldn't find a date…the longest stretch ever. I don't like getting older, it's a bitch.
But now I am fine and I love it here in Vietnam. It's the opposite!
I have met soo many willing girls online with funny names in their 20's on VietnamCupid that I can't handle them all. My head is going to explode.
It is, as the Seinfeld episode says, 'The Opposite" of the, ahem, "good ol' USA". Vietnam is a place for old men. Here they respect older humans. I came here because I wanted something completely random and different…and
boy it sure is. It's the opposite!
I am attracted to much younger ladies and I don't think this is anything unusual, twisted, predatory or perverted for a guy in his late 50's. I think most men my age look at and fantasize about being with younger ladies, but most don't act upon it…most Stickmen excepted. Many men do marry much younger ladies and do live a normal life.
Also, never having children of my own may have something to do with me preferring younger ladies. Maybe it's a nurturing thing. Is that bad? Mentally I feel like I'm still twenty-five years old…until I look in the mirror (I hear ya, Pattaya Gary).
And, Stick, I'm tired of having to defend myself on my preferences and the subject of age-gap relationships. Enough said.
Anyway, as it happens, I fell for the first girl I met in Saigon. She is 27. Her name is Hanh, but I've given her a nickname and she likes it: Hannah.
She is a little firecracker, 4' 10", fun-sized. After four dates, still nothing. Not even a kiss. But I like this gal. She treats me like a king. It's as though her sole purpose in life is to take care of me.
Met some of her family today, three other sisters ages 31, 20 and 13. They are very poor, but so happy. They have each other. 'Hannah and her Sisters' (it's the title of a great Woody Allen movie).
We met at the park in Saigon during a French cooking festival (damn good food). A sort of 'meet and greet' with her sisters. Apparently I passed the audition and received the 'thumbs up' from all three.
I can't remember when I've had so much fun…and laughed so long. Have I ever seen such a loving family?
The father died 10 years ago, so the 13-year old clung to me the whole time in the park. Missing a father figure I suppose.
They invited me to the mom's and four brother's house way down south in Ca Mau for the biggest holiday of the year: Tet Lunar New Year.
Yesterday we got a haircut. I got her some bangs…I am crazy about bangs. She looks so good in bangs. I am truly blessed!
A little story from last night:
I took Hannah and her sisters to an up scale-ish Thai restaurant last night In Saigon. Great food…the bill came to 820,000 Dongs! 41 bucks and no tip required.
After I left them, I was walking down a dark side alley in District 1 after leaving my friends. I went looking for this new bar to have a beer before bed. I saw a drum set and many instruments through the front window. Strobe lights, recording stuff, microphones, baby grand piano. A very nice setup for a band. I thought it was the bar. I knocked on the door. It was someone's house!
A guy came to the door. I asked if he spoke English. He said yes and told me it wasn't the bar, but invited me in anyway! He is a 26-year old Viet/Japanese guy that went to USC and lives in California part-time…he played the grand piano…Mozart. Then I played guitar and he played drums. It was about midnight and it was loud…but he said no-one cared about the noise. He put on my favorite album and his mom comes down and says I have good taste in music. They never heard of the band Steely Dan.
We had cake and wine…while he showed me a video game he was working on: A real live-feeling car game with a real steering wheel, pedals etc. Both he and his mother are very creative.
The house was awesome. I thought I was having a dream. Four stories with eight bathrooms wonderfully decorated…a fish tank below the clear floor where the baby grand stood! His mom built the place from dirt twenty years ago. It was like a grown-up playground with computers, antiques, high tech stuff and all kinds of neat things. She said the place was worth a trillion dong… about 4.4 million USD (I think. Too many zeros. Expensive for Vietnam). I think she kind of liked me. It was great to meet new friends. Anyway I'm going back to watch the Super Bowl this Sunday.
Hannah's sister, Huhn, the 13-year old. Her Facebook post: I very love my uncle D, he very lovely, very fun . He always smile, look like him very young . He very sweet with me and he know take care for me. He very handsome and lovely. I like him. I want meet him and want always smile so much with me — feeling happy.
I can't figure out Hannah's angle and I can't find a flaw. She doesn't ask for and won't take money. No problem-parents or sick water buffalo for me to help with. I'm twice her age for God's sake.
Maybe she's in it for the long-term hustle. I think she is very cool. She wants me to date the other girls that I have been in contact with.
We have made plans to travel after we see her family next month in Cau Mau (I pronounce it 'Carmel').
I think she is totally honest and is totally devoted to me…for the long term.
She has helped me so much and writes my to-do list every day. Went to a dermatologist today. The bill came to 33 bucks.
I asked her if she wanted or needed something, she said 'a tablet' computer. I had just bought one before I left. I haven't used it, and new stuff is difficult for me, so I gave it to her (them). She was so happy. 6.6 million Dong, big deal 330 USD.
The next day her sister gives me an old war era US service man's cigarette lighter because of the tablet. One of the most coolest and thoughtful gifts I have ever received.
I take the sisters for upscale pizza last night at the base of this cool building…the famous Bitexco building in downtown Saigon. I had 4 beers and 4 whiskeys…the total bill for six was about 50 bucks…my English friend Ian was there also.
I don't think she is trying to take advantage of me, but I tend to be a little naive. Still on the defensive.
She is the first one I've dated in Vietnam (your results may vary), and there are distractions EVERYWHERE…hmm.
I've been in Vietnam two months already!
I must say that if I didn't have a partner here (thank you VietnamCupid for matching me to the first girl I dated), I would probably be miserable
and drunk. It very easily could have gone the other way. And guys, if you have ever tried dating sites in the US and were disappointed like me, you will be pleasantly surprised.
I've stayed a month in Saigon (loved it) and eight days in Ca Mau (a nice quiet place), visiting Hannah's family for the Lunar New Year holiday.
So now we're here in Mui Ne, about a five hour bus ride north of Saigon.
After ten days at a very nice 'resort' ($25/night x 30 = $750/month…just a little too much for our daily budget), and having a very enjoyable time with the awesomely friendly staff and guests, we decided to move to another place. If we want to use their pool and stuff again, all we have to do is buy lunch or even just drinks (beer = $1.50, that's expensive!). Excellent food for around ten bucks for two. We did ask management if we could get a discount for booking a month. They gave us a decent rate of 17 bucks a night = $510/month. The Belgian owner had dumped a lot of money into this place and it showed. Again, a very nice place only a ten minute walk to the beach.
But we had heard of much better deals in the same area, a guesthouse apartment type of arrangement, from the people that we rented our motorbike from (one month = $100. I LOVE my motorbike!)…we would be their neighbors! The place was owned by motorbike man's brother. It was a clean, quiet place just steps away from our 'resort', for a fraction of the cost. $150 per month, including wifi, cable, water…power was extra (about twenty bucks a month). We booked two nights just for a 'test drive' to make sure it was acceptable before we committed to a month. It seemed perfect.
Shortly after moving in we discovered a problem. The water pressure was ridiculously low. Just a trickle. Hannah said she could not do laundry (by hand) with water pressure so low. Showers took a long time, which was not a bad thing really. But we had to move. We learned a good lesson.
Our motorbike contact said he had uncle with another place directly behind the other place for the same price. It was bigger, cleaner and had good water pressure and with a shared cooking/eating patio area. The other tenants were all Russians, which interested me because we have not made friends with any Russians yet. They tend to keep to themselves.
The Russians are everywhere and they own many businesses in Mui Ne. Many restaurants have only Russian menus and signage. The Russian connection to Vietnam came about before and during the Vietnamese War (the Viets call it the 'American War'). The Russians were Communist back then, sharing the same political philosophy—hammer and sickle—the Worker's Party and all that. They supported the Vietnamese with trade, military arms and financial support. After the war many Russians found Vietnam an ideal place to vacation from the harsh winters in Russia…and many stayed.
By the way, technically there are only five Communist countries left in the world: North Korea, Cuba, China, Laos and Vietnam (although their official name is the 'Socialist Republic of Vietnam'). But then again, how can a country with a Starbucks, KFC, Burger King etc. etc. and total freedom of religion be called Communist? I think it is because they only have one political party and no elections. But if you think about it, in reality, isn't the US basically a one-party system? But let's not get into that. All I can tell you is: I rarely see police or any type of military and government seems to stay out of people's lives. I feel a lot more free here than back in the USSA. And after almost two months I have not witnessed any crime and have not been ripped off yet. That's a first for me while travelling.
Anyway, we decided to see if there was anything better out there. We spent the whole day cruising on motorbike checking out hotels, home-stays, guesthouses, bungalows, rooms…many options. Heck, backpackers can easily find a shared room for about four dollars a night. The main drag, paralleling the beach is very long, maybe fifteen miles, along a huge bay. At the end, the point to the north, is a fishing village where the locals live. They are still friendly to tourists, for how long I don't know, because foreigners usually don't make it up that far and are viewed by the locals as a curiosity…for now. Heck, the country has only been open for tourism since 1997.
The best two places we found were a hotel directly across from our resort, on the third floor, with a tremendous view…clean and with a great bed (that's important you know!). But I got it in my head that I wanted a place on the beach so we settled for an older hotel complex. We were offered the apartment closest to the water with a view of the ocean from the bed! We asked for a two-day 'test drive' to see how we liked it.
The first night we left the windows open and during the night mosquitoes attacked us. Not a whole lot, but we were freaked out and did not sleep much of the night, scratching and wondering how infested it was. We vowed to leave the next day. But when the morning came and we saw the ocean, and how we practically had the whole place to ourselves, I thought we should give it another try. We closed the windows just before dark and were given a mosquito net, which we ended up not needing.
So we committed to a month here and really love it. Our little casa on the sea for only $225/per month including cable, wifi, and all other utilities. Wow, that's only about seven bucks a night!
We have settled in to a nice routine ending the afternoon splashing around in the ocean for an hour. The water is warm but the clarity is not great…similar to the Newport Beach area in So-Cal.
We go to the market for fresh meat, vegetables and fruit, and cook in our room. 'Economizing' as Hannah says. At the market, I am about the only white boy there which is kind of fun, being seen with a cute Vietnamese girl. I have not learned much Vietnamese yet. Thanks to Hannah we get the good deals and don't pay tourist prices. She has saved us so much money in many ways: from keeping me on a budget and negotiating prices to double checking restaurant/hotel and shop receipts. Heck she even found me a doctor to check my broken/bruised ribs from three weeks ago in Saigon. He gave me a checkup and said come back in two weeks. Total bill: nothing! Also, she found an optometrist. I had an exam, lenses and frames, for $110. I really needed new glasses.
Speaking of Hannah, I really like this girl. She treats me like a king and doesn't ever ask for anything. She is bubbly, fresh and enthusiastic. I'm teaching her to swim and she loves it. She is a natural swimmer! Very few Vietnamese know how to swim. I get a thrill looking at her face when she learns or tries new things. I live vicariously through her (because just about nothing is new to me) when I watch the joy and excitement in her eyes. Her English is pretty good and getting better by the day. She can read and write decent, but her pronunciation and delivery is hilarious sometimes. Sometimes she says 'waiting me', meaning 'wait for me', to come back. Communicating is fun, interesting and challenging to decipher sometimes.
The only way her sisters would let her travel with me is if I bought them a washing machine. Just over two hundred bucks. It was Hannah's job to do the family's laundry…by hand. Speaking of her home, it is an incredibly small house walking distance to downtown Saigon. It's about 180 square feet with a ladder to get to the second and third floors. Each floor is about six foot by ten foot and only five feet tall. And all four sisters (now three) live there!
Hannah started school when she was ten years old, graduating high school when she was twenty-two. Couldn't afford college. She borrowed five bucks from her mom for bus fare and headed to Saigon to look for work. Not a penny in her pocket and no friends there. That day upon arrival, she found a job and a place to live. For many months she lived on fifty bucks a month (the average salary is about 200 bucks a month, working seven days a week). She is tenacious and very resourceful (she uses Facebook to send messages to save money on her cell phone and will haggle over five cents). Like most Vietnamese, her main needs are food, (their lives are centered around eating and they love the National dish: 'Pho') shelter and clothing…she only wants a simple and stable life….oh have I mentioned that Hannah and her seven siblings grew up homeless living under a bridge next to a river until she was 15? And oh the stories of dumpster diving and eating things that floated down the river.
I often ask Hannah 'why you like old man?' She says younger men leave and don't offer security. She jokingly calls me her ATM and tells me her only job is to take care of me. So for those of you who think that Hannah is just out for money…the answer is yes. Why else would a twenty-seven year old be dating a fifty-seven year old? Security. Little does she know how poor I would be if we were living in the USA on my meager pension. But we live quite comfortably here in Vietnam and she appreciates it. And I appreciate what she does for me. I say: I take care of you, you take care of me. That is the Yin and the Yang of it! It seems to work very well…so far.
Hannah has had two previous relationships, both with foreigners. One with a Thailand man and one with a Frenchman. Only a short time with each…neither had much money and they both died very young…medical issues. <I'd be immediately worried, if I were you! – Stick> So she lives her life enjoying one day at a time. Not wanting children, not wanting to get married and not wanting to come to the US ("they shoot me"). She seems perfect for me!
Anyway, we seem to keep busy every day. We have a semi-routine. We will be here at least a month, then head north, slowly, to the next place. Or maybe just stay here. I really love my new freedom, different lifestyle and sweet new girlfriend. And for some reason I only sleep about six hours a night, when back home I slept between nine and ten hours. I am excited to wake up in the morning! I never know what day of the week it is.
Things I miss: Family (and family dinners) Friends and Fallbrook. I miss Mike's cooking and golf on Sundays with my Bro's (RIP Jeff). I miss Doritos, Cheez-Its and wide variety of cheeses. We drive motorbike 30 kilometers to the big city (Phan Thiet) for a small selection of cheese. I miss good beer too: Stone, Sam Adams and local micro-brews. Instead, we have Bia Saigon, Tiger and 333 (bah bah bah) which taste similar to BL CL and ML (Bud Light, Coors Light and Miller Light) and I miss weed, the stuff here is horrible. I am better off lighting a ten dollar bill on fire.
Things I don't miss: the work routine, jadedness, traffic (cars), crowds, television (manipulated news), commercials and people with an entitled attitude. We do get Cinemax and HBO movie channels here though. I don't miss driving a car (but love driving my motorbike). I don't miss the better weather in California. It has been perfect weather since I've arrived, with hardly any humidity (which was my main concern before my arrival), but I will report back when the rainy season hits.
It's not the most sanitary place in the world, and I never know what I will get in the toilet (but I do enjoy the 'bum gun'). I feel fresh, I feel clean. I haven't gotten sick yet. I am convinced it is because I only eat food that is very hot, drink a few beers and usually eat hot red peppers with my meals.
Well kids, that's about it for now. No juicy stuff for the whoremongers I'm afraid. But I will tell you that before I arrived in Vietnam I had written a list of all that I was looking for in a woman and Hannah has exceeded ALL expectations. We have been together 24/7 for the last 6 months (except for two weeks when she was needed to help sell her mom's house). She is golden. I am truly blessed.
More stuff to follow.
Take care y'all. Until next time.
Ho Chi Dave