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Sunburn, speed and shit food in the South.

VIETNAM | Wednesday, 10 November 2010 | Views [1271]

Clouds can look really pretty when they don't cover the entire sky!

Clouds can look really pretty when they don't cover the entire sky!

You are truly blessed when you hope fervently enough for something to see it come to fruition. Third world countries highlight this blessing Westerners have when our hopes are far less significant than the everyday survival that is most of the Vietnamese's day to day dreams. Accepting food and shelter as a given, all Uma and I dreamed of was a nice beach and good enough weather to make the most of it.

If merely recognising how our dreams differed from the locals wasn't enough to make us feel guilty, realising that the staff are on duty all day, every day certainly did the trick. I remain unsure whether having eight people to do the work of two people is a good or bad thing though. Most of the time everyone seems so bored, it's no wonder they swarm all over you when you show the slightest interest in requiring their services. Even being able to cross the language gulf would not reveal how they bide their time. Modesty is endemic in Asian culture and would forbid them from saying they were thinking about a karaoke fuck-fest or that all Westerners were greedy and ungrateful for their privileges.

I've started to be less picky when it comes to tipping, particularly when adding a small percentage to every expense still makes things ridiculously cheap. We have encountered enough rude and grumpy people, but given their workload, it's a miracle they are not homicidal. If our roles were reversed, I would be shaking down everyone I served so hard I'd be giving pyramid schemes a good name. Everyone manages to drop an offer of a tour into every interaction no matter what it might be about, but it probably means a commission and the chance for them to splash out on a beer that night.

Sharing even a small portion of my millions helped me develop a taste for Black Russian's without feeling like an gluttonous pig. $2.50 for the perfect poolside accompaniment that went down so much smoother for knowing that a small gratuity ensured the drink was free from the spit and envy of the girl serving us. While not as overtly friendly as Laotians, as cheeky as Cambodians or as polite as the Thai, the Vietnamese have an inherently good nature sometimes hidden beneath the confrontation between their communist ideals of shared wealth and our capitalist attempts to hoard it. In the end, happiness can't be brought, but good fortune can be shared.

So, the sun continues to shine on us, and on the shell spotted sands of Mui Ne beach. I see little of it though after stating I wanted some colour at any cost as I was looking like I had confused fake tan with toothpaste. 30 minutes on a sun lounge was all it took to feel like I had been fried with a flame thrower. I seem so much more stupid for saying that my Aussie skin was impervious to sun burn. Now I can't tell if it's shame or sunstroke that reddens my face. I look like a strip of tri-coloured Aquafresh toothpaste with my blue swimmers on, my red chest and a white back that further highlights my stupidity by failing to roll over.

The first day failed to endear Uma to the beach either. 30 seconds in the sea was long enough for a jelly fish to lock her leg up in a loving embrace. Luckily its venom didn't match its amorous intentions and the small welts marking their copulation disappeared within a day. And I don't think it had anything to do with the small saucer of vinegar we were given by the nonchalant and nonplussed staff. Surely it wasn't the first such sting a customer had suffered so why give us barely enough to sauce a bowl of chips? The following day, the beach looked like a d-day invasion by an army of transparent blobs meaning one hadn't made the journey from the depths purely to further Uma's misfortunes.

Heeding the sufferings of my crash test dummy, all of my swimming has been done in the pool. Most days are spent lounging around it, reading a Murakami novel, designing my tattoo and writing journals. Facebook remains inaccessible being blocked by the state who  must believe that subversives would use it to plot a coup. I know that is generally my reasons for using it, but it's absence frees me to do more constructive things than stalk the lives of people I've left behind.

The township of Mui Ne sits upon a small hill, while the tourist town stretches along a six kilometre strip of sand beneath. Such space means we have a limited selection of restaurants to chose from and most benefit from their captive customer base more than the creativity of the cuisine. There is no consistency to the cooking in Vietnam with Uma ordering grilled eggplant seven times across the country without seeing any similarities between what was served up. Some have been the sort of food wars are fought for, but more often than not, its the sort of swill wars are fought because of. VinPearl Land offered up uncooked eggplant that was so rubbery, eating it was like a bouncing castle for your tongue.

Anywhere in Thailand you can get a Phad Thai that may contain interesting local variations, but will still be far superior to anything I could make. Unfortunately, in Vietnam I am so often confronted with a dish so dissimilar to what I ordered, that I think I have another customers meal. Eating it often makes me wish it was someone else's. Never before have I so frequently ordered Western food, being far more critical of others decision to do so as an inauthentic experience of the local culture. With constitutions better suited to constipating carbohydrates, I let the locals live on white rice and I'll get by on curries, burgers and the occasional stir fry. Crapping out concrete once a week can make hypocrites of us all!

The highlight of Mui Ne, and possibly the whole Vietnam experience, was hiring a scooter one day. Unlike the Broome scooters, moderated for minions to match the imposed speed limits, this bad boy was made for mortality, not hospitalisation. Doing 90 kms/hr passed palm trees, fishing huts and half built resorts that fell foul of the GFC would be 85 kms/hr too fast if I wasn't the one driving. Uma had inexplicable faith in my control, largely because I was so alert it was like I had just necked 20 coffees. Vietnamese roads demand nothing less if you want to avoid becoming a hood ornament or a burden on body-bag manufacturers.

Speed makes you feel more alive by threatening to make you feel more dead if you don't treat it with respect. Claiming not to be a speed junkie only means you haven't found the best way to experience it yet. Except for the nearby town of Phan Tiet, there wasn't much on the road to need excessive caution. All manner of farm animals roam freely, pedestrians cross the road expecting you to just avoid them and the roads are often in worse condition than the cooking. Still, nothing is more liberating than seeing the sights of foreign lands at high speed. With Uma clinging to me tightly, her rather ample tracts of land massaged my shoulders to add extra zest, especially as I scoured the roads for bumps to accentuate the movement. Fortunately, there was plenty, and plenty more reasons to stay in Mui Ne for another week at least.

Tags: beaches, food, misfortune, on the road, philosophy

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