You’re back home now, and there’s 15 people in front of you at your local Starbucks. You wish they would start up a simple “brewed coffee” line, but other than that it’s no bother. Why? You remember the days of getting handed a cà phê sữa đá and waiting for the water to drip through the coffee grounds into the condensed milk. The days when the “phin” was more often than not half clogged, when you thought you had to use your fingers to press the water through and half of it ended up on the table. The days when you were left with about two teaspoons of coffee after all was said and done. But that was okay, because you worked for it, you waited for it, and it was some of the best coffee you ever tasted.
And now your coffee is simply a caffeine delivery mechanism, instead of a hands-on, Dirty-Jobs, good-things-come-to-those-who-wait experience. Sigh. But hey, at least it’s $4 and you get to wait in line.
You’ve spent years zig-zagging through traffic, inching through too-small alleyways, regrettably cutting off those not as clever as you on the sidewalk, and doing so all while the wind is blowing through your foreign tresses and exhaust pipes are warming your feet. Driving in ‘Nam is a series of smells that fade one into the other that landmark your trip: turn left at the stench of durian, right at the pile of urine-soaked gravel, and turn into the alleyway covered in smoke from the fresh grilling pork. The sounds are a loud cacophony of blaring horns, horrendous techno pop from street side shops, and the clanking of nearby vendors working dawn to dusk.
And now you’re in this climate-controlled box with a GPS guiding you instead of smells, four wheels beneath you creeping along the highway to the melodies of Katy Perry between advertisements. Your 2-ton vehicle ain’t weaving through rush hour traffic and that sidewalk is just a tease.
Talk about a literal and figurative crap shoot: “The Bathrooms of Viet Nam” could be a best-selling novel with chapters ranging from those that make you cry out of pure disgust, those that make you praise the heavens with pure ecstasy, and those that, well, you just have to get through this once and then never again. If there were a pill where you could poop for a whole day and not again for an entire year, expats in Nam might be some of the first takers. After all, every one of them knows the answer to this question: what’s your favorite bathroom in the entire country?
If there’s one thing every other culture needs to take from Vietnam, it’s “Em ơi!” With these two Yiddish-sounding syllables, service comes a-running. It roughly equates to, “You young person, excuse me, over here!”, only it’s totally acceptable, expected, and works just about every time. Now you’re sitting at a Chili’s and all you can think of to do is snap your fingers at the waitress across the room…and that doesn’t go over too well. How the heck are you supposed to get a refill around here?!
You caught someone looking at you, and instead of bashfully looking away, you inadvertently started staring back just to make a point. There is none, and now it’s been five seconds and you look slightly psychotic — and that’s not even including the words you unconsciously muttered under your breath. Whoops. You remember now that your skin tone isn’t all that remarkable…is there something in your teeth?!
“You want HOW MUCH for this turkey club sandwich?!” you tell the waitress at your favorite lunch spot. “11 DOLLARS? How ‘bout I give you $2.50 and we both leave here happy, okay?”
…Or that’s what you’re thinking in your head, at least.
Back in the day, you could school a few cupcakes in one sitting. “Death by Chocolate” and “Triple Chocolate Meltdowns” were your Tuesdays circa 11 AM. You’d never met a bakery you didn’t like and your scone-making skills were pretty top drawer. But you’ve been in ‘Nam too long and would someone please invent a low-sugar version of this flan? Maybe a more savory version of this sticky rice? Yowzah.
Your sweet tooth is 100% gone and now when you’re depressed, you don’t know what to do with your hands. Just hold the pint of ice cream? Hmm.
If hell exists and there’s one group of people that are for sure, definitely, positively, absolutely going there, it’s line-cutters. They fill your veins with vitriol, tense up your muscles, and have somehow improved your Spidey sense. You can feel them coming from yards away, and you know exactly how to cut them off in their tracks. Nope, sorry, middle-aged, frowny-faced woman. You’ve been caught. The line ends back there. Is your time more precious than everyone else’s? Nope, not one bit. By the way, here’s your ticket to the 9th circle of hell — happy travels being buried under feet and feet of ice.
I mean, you get why it’s not a thing back home, but you sometimes wish it were, because, man, that would be super convenient. At first it kind of appalled you, but now it’s all blended in with the honking and the pajamas and the smoking and the men with their bellies hanging out. One time you saw a baby being lifted into mid-air while doing his business on the sidewalk and you thought to yourself, “Wow, I’ve been doing it all wrong this whole time!”
We’re all humans and it’s all gotta happen somehow, but a floating toilet sure sounds like a solid business idea. ‘Nam sure would be a good test market, don’t you think?