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Corpses in Ocean

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Vung Tau, 2019
Vung Tau, 2019
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I'm renting a hotel room in Vung Tau for $130 a month. For just $22 more, I could have had an air conditioner, but I don't need it. Even the electric fan is often turned off.

I have a TV, which I don't watch. I've always preferred silence.

I'm two minutes away from Mulberry Beach, the least popular in Vung Tau, so often, I find myself swimming alone, or with just a handful of others. Just offshore, there are small fishing boats and freight ships. A fisherman may float on just a woven basket, or paddle his tiny rowboat with his feet. Standing in shallows, bronzed men cast nylon nets. Onshore, there are restaurants and hotels, mostly modest if not shabby, but still clean. Five-star hotels and loud discos are on the other side of the island. Around Mulberry Beach, four factory girls from Saigon can share a $8.63 room, so that's their weekend getaway.

The slimmest walleted can even rent just a hammock for the night. You'll share a large room with a number of snoring, belching and farting bodies, and while that's not such a big deal, there's also a damnable rooster that will start to crow at just after 2AM, and he'll keep it up episodically until well after dawn. Sleep well!

During the boat people era, corpses routinely washed up on Vung Tau beaches, for it was near suicide to escape on an unseaworthy vessel, but such was their desperation. Though every local past a certain age remembers this horror, it's recorded in no history book, so what else is new?

During the Vietnam War, 61,000 Australian troops were stationed in Vung Tau altogether, and many have returned to live out their last days, for just like half a century ago, they can still get plenty of sun, sea, sand and, well, a young p*ssy, though they might have to marry her now. Together, they can start a business. All over Vung Tau, you can see bars and restaurants that are clearly envisioned and even named by a Westerner. There's Billabong, Down Under, Bearded Clam, Ned Kelly and The Office-The Way Work Was Meant to Be, etc.

The main hub for Aussies and Kiwis is Belly's Watering Hole. With its large, airy space filled with comfortably spaced tables, it resembles a community center, and there's even a library. Its 200 or so books are mostly garbage, however, with volumes by Ian Irvine, Sandra Brown, Lisa Unger, Scott Sigler and Alex Palmer, etc. Opening at 7AM, it's patronized mostly by older white men who, more often than not, sit alone, to space out, listen to music with headphones, play computer games, read or eat in silence. They just want to wind down in peace.

All the waitresses are pretty, young women who must also speak enough English to understand what the f*ck these old farts are saying. Bantering, though, is mostly out of reach.

Bald and pot-bellied Strayan, "Where's Douglas?"

Viet Lolita, "He go bee."

"He went to the ladies' room?"

"He go bee."

This raises an obvious question. If those two, say, get married, what can they possibly talk about before sleep? Even with a relationship built on humping, fellatio and cornholing, you must still chatter with your partner before and afterwards, and all day long too, for language is at the heart of all human interactions. A constantly compromised, frustrated and degraded dialogue must mess up an already suspect emotional bond.

Leaving Belly's one day, I stumbled upon Century Fish and Chips, with two white guys sitting at the front.

"Is the fish and chips here any good?" I asked them.

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Linh Dinh's Postcards from the End of America has just been published by Seven Stories Press. Tracking our deteriorating socialscape, he maintains a photo blog.

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