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Paradise is Found
On the Beach

Nha Trang, Vietnam

Ron Mitchell

The South China Sea rolls its turquoise waves in front of us, as we gaze at a few boats bobbing in-between small mountain islands in the distance. At first glance the beach at Nha Trang appears to be a typical paradise, until vendors tease us with a variety of services, including offers to cook nine-inch-long shrimp at a time of our choosing.

My wife, Mare, enjoys a pedicure and manicure, while I opt for a full body massage. Lien, the husky, middle-aged masseuse motions me to lie on my stomach. She straddles my padded lounge and drips eucalyptus oil on my hairy back. Her hands make clicking noises as she pounds up and down my spine, before she flips me over for a face, head, and chest work-over. I pay Lien twelve dollars for both our treatments. She promises to come back tomorrow.

Exotic fruits are cut for our pleasure from a different vendor, and the most pressing question of the day is whether or not it’s too early for a beer. No, it’s not. We sip “Tiger” beers, while the attractive couple in the palapa next to us takes up an elderly lady’s offer to cook huge shrimp on the beach at their feet. They notice me staring.

“We ate this shrimp yesterday and didn’t get sick,” the young man said. “They’re great.” He rubbed his stomach.
“That’s all I needed to hear,” I said. “I’m going to get some too.”
“I figured you were American,” he said. I’m Portuguese, and my wife, Loi, was born in Saigon.”
“We like Americans,” Loi said. “Most Vietnamese are too young to remember the American War. In 1975 the only visitors here were Russian men. We called them ‘Americans with no dollars.’ We especially like your dollars.”
“I appreciate your honesty,” I said. We laughed.

Gnu, the old shrimp vendor and cook, smiled at me revealing two teeth, one with a cavity. She dangled a long shrimp in the wind, and I nodded yes. Within moments huge shrimps sparred for space with transparent green crabs on a portable grill. Gnu peeled the monsters, and we dunked the tender meat into a green sauce, made from fish, garlic, lime and other spices, including some sand. Gnu shooed away the other vendors while Mare and I devoured about a kilo of the morsels. I handed Gnu five dollars, and she also promised to come back tomorrow.

As we sip Tiger beers and contemplate our good fortune, the sea recreates the beach while the golden sands warm. The theme song from the movie “The Godfather” plays in the background, calypso style. It’s hard to imagine that just yesterday we were in Hanoi.

We landed in Ho Chi Minh City about twelve days ago, with nothing but a “Lonely Planet” travel guide book. Over two million scooter riders filled the busy streets, nearly colliding with each other, but road rage is rare. To show displeasure in public is to “lose face” in this culture. The Vietnamese smile either in the face of adversity or pleasure. I suppose a 400 year history of war could have that effect on people. They are very friendly, and I hardly noticed anyone over the age of forty. Nobody seemed to care about the “American War,” as they are too busy working, eating, and selling wares.

Traveling is so easy in this country. Most hotels offer tours, and everything is inexpensive. During a boat tour of the Mekong Delta, which for $35 includes an overnight stay in Can Tho City, we visit the floating market of Cai Be, and sink our teeth into freshly cut pineapple still attached to the stem like an ice cream cone. I’m on the lookout for Marlon Brando while exploring the jungle lined canals, and that 60’s song by Country Joe and The Fish – “1,2,3, what are we fighting for? Don’t ask me I don’t give a damn, next stop is Vietnam,” is stuck in my head.

Eventually we booked a flight to Hanoi, where we slept on an overnight train, and woke-up in the misty mountain town of Sapa, near the Chinese border. During a hike in the soggy jungle, where tapered rice paddies lined the hills, we met H’mong minority people during a village funeral. After a few days of hiking, we slept like babies on the overnight train back to Hanoi. In the morning we sipped coffee next to Hoan Kiem Lake and watched thousands of locals exercise doing everything from badminton to Tai Chi.

We decide to tour Halong Bay, where over 1900 limestone mounds, some hiding massive caves interrupt the blue-green waters of the tranquil bay. We spend the night on the houseboat and the peace and quiet of the evening is a welcome break from the “meep-meeps” of the city scooters.

“We haven’t seen many American tourists around here, “a British woman says. "Is it true that only 20% of Americans have passports?”
“I don’t know,” I reply. “Most of my friends think I’m nuts for coming here on vacation.”
“I’d love to visit the U.S. one day,” she said. “But hear it’s pretty violent.”

Before leaving Hanoi and flying to the beach in Nha Trang, I indulge in a head shave for only four dollars that includes a head and facial massage.

Back on the beach in Nha Trang, we decide to nap in our twenty-two dollar room at the Hai Yen Hotel, which includes a balcony overlooking the sea. That evening we gorge on a seafood pizza while the sun sets behind the mountainous waters. The pizza is so good, we order another.

The next morning is Monday and the beach belongs to us. The masseuse and cook are waiting for us, and prepare our palapa. Mare takes a massage today, and I simply drink Tigers, swim, and write. The other tourists are gone, and I visualize a grill with sizzling giant shrimp at my feet, while I watch my gorgeous blond wife get a massage.

Gna, a woman with long black hair, dark eyes, and white gloves sits on the sand next to me. She rubs my hairy arm and smiles. Now my wife is watching me. Another young gal wants to sell me fruit, and I feel like Adam in the Garden of Eden.

“You pay for nookie?” Gna asked. She raised her eyebrows a few times."

“You’re beautiful, and the wizard understands you,” I said. “The wizard has no need, but thanks anyway.”

She gave me a puzzled look and walked to the next empty palapa. Gnu, the cook with two teeth, shoos away the vendors while she prepares to cook the monster shrimps. The vendors return and sit with us as we eat, not trying to sell us anything. We all laugh and relax. I don’t want to leave, alas; we have many connections to make to fly home tomorrow.

Ron Mitchell
Feel free to e-mail if you have questions or comments.





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