A pretty bizarre thing happened tonight. Wait you say! You're in Vietnam! Something bizarre happens every day!
To which I reply...
But tonight something even more bizarre happened. I was eating dinner at a large outdoor seafood restaurant. We were having a couple of beers, laughing, and enjoying the atypically cool weather. Often, at these large outdoor restaurants where one sits on a cheap little plastic chair (remember this...it plays a crucial later role in the story), a group of boys on a bicycle swing by to "entertain" the patrons. On the back of the bicycle is a giant boombox system, something one might've seen on a basketball court in a rough neighborhood in the early 90s. This thing is absurdly large and has a karaoke system to boot. I guess we could stop the story right there and that'd be bizarre enough, but with this being Vietnam, there's always more to the tale.
The trio of boys operate their business like this:
Boy A grabs the microphone and starts singly (badly) some Vietnamese song to music blaring out of the boombox.
Boy B walks around the restaurant floor, making sure to stop at each and every table, and sells some nasty candy. Boy B often lingers around a table in an attempt to get what I call "Get the hell away from me" money. As the name suggests, this is money you give a beggar/seller to get the hell away from you. (Remember this too).
Boy C stands guard by the bicycle and controls the volume, putting it just loud enough so that no one can hear their friends speak.
So the entire 10 or so minutes this occurs is pure agony, for all involved. It's mostly a civil affair, however, with the restaurant guests biding their time until the bicycle boys move on to the next poor suckers down the road.
One man -- an obviously inebriated man...the more I think about it, the more I remember just how intoxicated this guy was...he was just hammered -- took exception to the lingering of Boy B and proceeded to grab the nearest weapon at his disposal...
A small, plastic chair.
Mustering all of the force a drunk man can possibly muster, he swung the plastic chair as hard as he could at Boy B's back and sliced the damn thing open. I say again. He sliced the man's back open. Boy B's white shirt quickly turned a bright crimson red. The thing was absorbing blood like nobody's business.
The fight quickly escalated into an all-out brawl between the bicycle trio and drunk man. After a couple of knock-down, drag-out blows, drunk man began bleeding. Drunk man was so gone that I'm convinced he felt no pain. Hell, we probably could've drank his spilt blood and gotten a buzz off of that. So with drunk man doing his best imitation of the Hulk and bicycle trio teaming up to inflict all kinds of hurt, it turned into quite the sight. Many men tried to break the fight up, but emotions were running high, and it proved quite difficult. Finally, the thing quieted down a bit. Drunk (and now bloody) man went to the back of the restaurant and disappeared from sight. Bicycle trio went on their merry away to the next restaurant.
Except they didn't.
Five minutes later, bicycle trio comes back with what looked like three broom handles.
My friend and I looked at each other and had the exact same thought.
Okay, we're taking bets! We've got plastic chair man vs broom handle trio! Broom handle trio has 2-1 odds, but remember gamblers, plastic chair man is absolutely trashed. Never underestimate the pull and power of alcohol in a fight.
Remarkably, amazingly, and thankfully, the crowd was able to discourage bicycle trio from continuing the fight. So, alas, round II with weapons never came to fruition -- at least I didn't see it. Who knows if they scheduled an after-school playground affair for the morrow.
This was even out of the ordinary when compared to regular Vietnamese fighting. Vietnamese fighting usually involves no violence (that is, of course, unless they're at war, in which case, they'll kick your ass). Let me give you the rundown of a typical Vietnamese "fight." Two Vietnamese people, often adjacent shop-owners, get angry at each other for unknown reasons. They then proceed to scream at each other at the top of their lungs on the sidewalk, for all to see and hear. As the fight becomes serious, both hold their hand high in the air with their index finger pointed straight to the heavens. This means business. When they get really mad, they point directly at each other and shout some nonsense. And the final act in this verbal barrage of violence is, well...I'm not even sure if I want to tell you. It's scary stuff.
The two participants grab their motobike helmets and flail them wildly through the air, purposely avoiding contact with the other by a healthy 10 feet. Then they get tired and go home.
There Will be Blood
In America, rats are disgusting, vile creatures. The mere sight of one will leave even the manliest of men running for the hills. However, in Vietnam, rats are part of the collective population, quietly going about their business through the night and not really bothering anyone. That's how another country will change you, will change your psyche. I sometimes have rats crawling about my feet while eating and it's no bother. I bet my mom is reading that part and freaking out.
The same thing occurs with blood and gore.
In America, one sees blood or gore and swears it's the most disgusting and out-of-place thing he or she has ever seen. In Vietnam, it's commonplace. After only a month in Ho Chi Minh City, I drove past the scene of an obviously horrific accident. One of the motobikes was in two pieces and both men were lying on the street in pools of blood. One man was moving and responding to the crowd, but the other was just a lifeless shell of a man. Had to be dead. My friend Eric helped an unconscious, bloody man involved in a motobike accident who was just lying in the middle of the street get out of the way of oncoming traffic. I remember going to a friend's house one time and having to drive through a thick pool of blood - the aftermath of yet another accident. When I was involved in my most serious motobike accident, the lady I ran into had blood dripping down her leg and onto the street.
Anyway, that's enough about blood.
Onto random thoughts. If they put drunk, plastic-chair-wielding man in a cage match with bicycle, broom-handle trio, and then put it on Pay-Per-View, you know you'd pay money to see that.