Block Rockin’ Bleats

Evening rains on Pham Ngu Lao, Ho Chi Minh’s backpacker car crash district.

An inverted Baskin Robbins sign winks up from the puddles and is collapsed by steady wave function as heavy drops pelt down.

Despite earlier talk of getting a life, I am once more Sitting on the Block of Decay.

In fact I am now Living on the Block of Decay, having rented a cheap hotel a short walk away.

I figure I will drink and write as the rains fall and I decide what to do. Check out the street action.

The most pitiful begger I have ever seen painfully drags himself entirely prostrate past the tables, through puddles of dirty water down among the dog ends. He’s selling lottery tickets or something but nobody is buying. Then he lifts his head and you can see the scar and stitches running right round his scalp. One temple- hell, the entire side of his head,- has been stoved in by some kind of blunt force trauma. The brain damage must be considerable.

Waitresses hand him 5000VND notes and a tourist across the way rushes over with 20,000VND- a bit under a dollar.

They are wasting their money, if course. He will have each note taken off him by the mafia tonight and sleep on a dirt floor with thin gruel for breakfast.

The lottery seller moves on again, painfully groping his way over broken tarmac, before stopping in front of the next block of tables where a man from Essex is loudly going on about David Bowie.

The shoe shine boy (who might actually be a girl, to be honest, so stunted and child-like is his/her frame) has branched out in the wet weather, now offering plastic pac-a-macs with a despondent, weary sales manner. He/she pleads slightly then I tell him/her I don’t want a pac-a-mac.

The rains slow to a few drops. A cigarette seller grabs a handful of napkins off the table and wipes the fabric of his cigarette case as dry as is possible.

One or two of the old guard- the ones I thought were all dead and gone- are drinking a few tables up. I don’t say hello.

A mother selling all manner of crap comes up, a hugely cute toddler in tow, who tugs on your heartstrings just as surely as she tugs on your T-shirt, squeaking “Hello, you buy some gum?”

Sometimes the women have a babe-in-arms instead of a toddler, invariably zonked out- probably on Valium. In either case, the mother is not the mother and the child is on lease to help improve sales.

Another lottery seller combo- mother holding up her daughter’s arm to show off that it ends in a fused stump somewhere below the elbow. Her facial features too are deformed, eyes grey and uncomprehending. Most likely its dioxin contamination through Agent Orange or the like.

The gift that keeps on giving, Agent Orange tumbles its catastrophic disruption down through the ages, devolving and disrupting the human genome forever.

Thanks, Monsanto!

A young man goes past on a boneshaker bicycle, rattling a stick with a miniature cymbal on the end, followed by another doing more or less the same.

“What’s going on with the dudes on bikes, bro? Shaking them stick things?” asks an American tourist.

“How long ya been here?” comes the answer from a grizzled Silverback Aussie. Clearly, not long.

“Oh I just got here yesterday. I mean, I was here two years ago but I was totally hammered all the time on that trip. This time though, ” he winks, cocking his head over to an attractive blonde woman who peripherally acknowledges it with a slight and secure smile, “I gotta behave. You get me?”

Their display of happiness sickens me.

“They do massage,” the Aussie says.

“Oh, what, like real massage? Or, erm-”

“Arse fucking?”

“Err. Guess so.”

“Fuck knows, I never asked.”

Peak dinner time is upon us now. The afternoon soaks slink off after the storm to Santa’s cafe or maybe just bed.

A succession of backpacking tourists come and go on the tables either side.

I call my sister and tell her I’m being Mr Dismal again. This time I have reason.

“But you’re always like that when you don’t know what’s happening, Rick. Don’t worry about it.”

I phone Simon, ostensibly to arrange for a drink tomorrow, but instead to pick his brains about the job situation. We agree my current job, where I have worked for less than three hours, should get fucked with their 10 hours a week swizz at 20 bucks an hour, extra preparation time and marking time not included.

“They even expect me to go in the week after the course ends to mark the final exams. Without pay,” I say.

“Yeah well fuck them and fuck their fucking school,” Simon says. “Write that in the email.”

When it comes to resigning, I choose my words with tact, however. It’s not them, it’s me, and so on. I’m just not ready for that kind of commitment.

Besides, I had a full-time gig confirmed today and at more per hour. It’s not hard to find work in TEFL after a few years of experience and qualifications that weren’t earned online.

I’m not even sure I want to be in Vietnam, to be honest, though, or rushing back to work after only a month off.

What happened to that six months in Laos I’d promised myself; writing my second and definitive book absolutely no-one will buy whilst on frantic methamphetamine binges like I’m Philip K Dick or something, interspersed with simply floating down the river in an inner tube of opium?

What, indeed.

And while I normally loathe this kind of travelogue blogalogue, I am stuck in a present that, if not exactly tense, is certainly not perfect. The past is another country just now. Literally.

You can join me as we continue further into furtherer. Up to you.

If it starts getting boring for me then I’ll do a runner again.

And if it starts being boring for you then go do something else.

We all have options.

Or DO we?

Your Fiend

Ron Gridcharts

xx

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