On the Beach
Nha Trang, Vietnam
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.
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 its too early for a beer. No, its
not. We sip Tiger beers, while the attractive couple in the palapa
next to us takes up an elderly ladys offer to cook huge shrimp on the beach
at their feet. They notice me staring.
We ate this shrimp yesterday and didnt get sick, the young man
said. Theyre great. He rubbed his stomach.
all I needed to hear, I said. Im going to get some too.
I figured you were American, he said. Im 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. Its 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. Im on the lookout for Marlon Brando while exploring the jungle
lined canals, and that 60s song by Country Joe and The Fish 1,2,3,
what are we fighting for? Dont ask me I dont 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
Hmong 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 havent seen many American tourists around here, a British
woman says. "Is it true that only 20% of Americans have passports?
I dont know, I reply. Most of my friends think Im
nuts for coming here on vacation.
Id love to visit the U.S.
one day, she said. But hear its 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.
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."
Youre 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 dont want to leave, alas; we have many connections
to make to fly home tomorrow.
Feel free to e-mail if you have questions or comments.