Last month, I frowned on those who are drawn to the vagabond, rootless lifestyle, who think it is ideal to move from hotel room to hotel room. Guess what? I've joined them. Life is goofy that way.
After my mother-in-law threatened to stab me more than ten times, I left Saigon and stayed in Vung Tau for over a month. Days ago, I took a 11-hour bus ride to Ea Kly, where I still had my stuff. Arriving at 3AM, I was out of that hill town by 6:30. With a backpack and two bags, I paid $4 to travel 88 miles to Nha Trang, via two vans. You can't even go half a mile in a NYC cab on that.
In the first van, our legroom was severely trimmed by bundles of bamboo rods, laid on the floor. It was a delivery vehicle as much as a passenger one. At one stop, a bag of iced chicken was left at a restaurant, for that day's lunch. A Rade man bargained his fare from $1.25 down to 85 cents. When an old lady got off, she also knocked off her fare by a third, "Ten thousand are enough for auntie." The driver just chuckled. He couldn't chase her down and tackle her to the ground.
"There is no discount, uncle. We're already the cheapest."
And they are. In the lobby, four mismatched, ratty couches line one wall, where staff and guests often lie. Wrapped in a mangy blanket, a dark and skeletal young man sleeps dreamlessly with his mouth half open. Next to him on the floor, there's a full ashtray and an empty can of Saigon Beer, lying on its side. It's a war zone, minus the moaning and blood. A sign lists a thicket of rules in Vietnamese and English, including "No prostitutes to bring in here."
I have two beds to myself. Why can't the CIA send me al pronto two or even three Swedes? With nothing to lose, I'm ready to be entrapped. "I love you both equally, Astrid and Ingrid, but one thing at a time, please. I only have four balls and three strikes left." I'm swinging.
Water pressure in the bathroom sink barely exists, and the toilet must be flushed at least twice each time. All fixtures and porcelain are so old, they look suspect even when clean, but hey, I'm in a great location, right downtown. I even have a pseudo balcony that's useful for hanging laundry, which I wash by hands, in the morose, I've seen it all sink. He, too, is on his last legs.
Every shelf tilts outward. Nothing is level in this room, but it's probably better this way, to remind you that life isn't fair. The paint job was likely done by a blind, depressed, arthritic and distracted monkey, but I'm sure he tried his best. All you can ask for is love.
In Brussels in 2003, I had a musty room near the train station, in a hotel mainly patronized by morose and prune faced Arabs. Two years later, my wife and I somehow survived three nights in Edinburgh's Three Sisters, where all through the early hours, drunkards howled, laughed and staggered in the hallway, just outside our thin door. We felt like these blokes and birds were all in the same room with us. Worse, the bed was so lumpy, we had to sleep on the floor. It was a lovely city, though, one of my favorites.
In El Paso in 2006, I paid $35 for a room with no toilet at the dingy Gardner Hotel (where John Dillinger once stayed!). My sheet had cigarette holes.
Compared to all that, my Nha Trang suite is a Medici Palace, and who knows, maybe some Vietnamese gangster once slept here as well.
Twenty years ago, I had my beat-up glasses stolen on the beach in Nha Trang. Life was desperate then. This city is now a stylish resort attracting throngs of tourists, mostly Russians and Chinese.
White T-shirt on a tallish Chinese, "WE ALL START OUT AS STRANGERS." Another dude, "BEAUTIFUL HELL," with a beach scene, crudely sketched in black.
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