Because Dutchie insisted that we visit a Casino while he is here so that he could waste some money on poker machines, we decided to kill two birds with one stone and have dinner at the sumptuous yet reasonably priced (by Australian standards) Saigon Sheraton buffet and that way it would be an easy walk across to their Casino. Accordingly that is exactly what we did last night, we returned from Nha Trang at about 5.30, had a quick tub and were gutsing down the finest seafood, lamb, salads and wines by about 6.15pm. We ate until we could eat no more and staggered across to the Casino lounge on the same level where it took Dutchie approximately 34.5 seconds to lose the limit in US dollars that he had set himself and then we went home to collapse into our beds. (Did I tell you that the buffet costs US$25 per head with free flow wine, Australian or French, and soft drink).
The thing is that while I was sitting there eating, my mind wandered back to where I had eaten lunch yesterday. I have often said that this country is a land of very acute opposites and it could be truthfully said that my lunch and dinner venues were possibly about as opposite as you can get.
Lisa and I decided to drive our rented motorbike down to the Nha Trang markets around lunch time as we fancied sitting having a beer at one of the food stalls out the front. Because it was the hottest part of the day the markets were nearly deserted when we got there except it seemed for two very vocal and insistently pestering young boys who tried to talk us into parking our bike away from where we wanted to sit. However, I had other ideas and parked the bike under the partial shade of a small street stall where we had sat once before on a previous visit to Nha Trang.
We ordered a couple of Heinekens with some ice to cool them down and I enquired whether anyone was still making Banh Mi, (bread roll with meats and salad along with pate and mayonnaise). One lady obliged and made me up my lunch which she handed me wrapped in the usual leaf torn out of a phone book. She asked me for 10,000 VND (A$0.85 approx), which I jokingly told her was far too expensive and that in HCMC I only paid 5,000 VND for the same thing. This lady, whose name is Linh, very smartly advised me that I should try her Banh Mi before I complained about it and we had a big laugh together when I bit into it and told her, “Yes, you are right, this is very good!”
Linh sat down and talked with us, as did the two young boys who hadn’t stopped pestering or talking to us and asking us if we would buy them a drink. Linh told us that neither of these children had a mother or father and that they lived in the market making what money they could begging or helping tourists find a product that they are looking for.
I asked Linh where they slept at night and she indicated a second hand clothes stall where I had purchased a used Tommy Hilfiger sailing jumper last New Years for US$2.00. Evidentially, the boys sleep on the clothes after closing time and wash themselves in the public toilets inside the market. They don’t go to school and are kind of looked out for by most people around the markets.
I asked the boys what they wanted to drink and they nominated a Coke, but I told them it would be bad for their teeth, so they opted for a Nuoc Mia (sugar cane juice over ice) and I bought one for each of them as well as for a young girl who had suddenly appeared.
The six of us sat and ate and drank and talked and we found out a bit about their lives as they did about ours. The whole time we sat there one of the boys kept touching Lisa’s arm and staring at her eyes and Lisa said afterwards that she could have adopted this child on the spot as he was so well mannered and appealing. I agreed and we rode away in glum silence wondering about the future of these kids.
So, as I sat and gourmandised at the Sheraton last night I contemplated the day and the dichotomous nature of how we often live here. I hope that the kids spend the 10,000 VND that we gave them each on some good food. Shit, imagine how many of them could have eaten out on what we spent last night.