Guest blog entry from former FHer and Quinine FC goal-poacher, Mr D Smith Esq
Guest blog entry from former FHer and Quinine FC goal-poacher, Mr D Smith Esq - For those that have read a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (or seen it, as the case may be, as it is now available as a full length motion picture from several DVD shops and certain motorway garages), you will know that the meaning of life is 42. Which makes it all the more auspicious that on the forty-second day of my travels, I should bump into the artists formerly known as Nicola and James in Hanoi. Nicola and James have undergone a full rebrand since being in SE Asia (beer and rebranding are both cheaper out here) and now only answer to their abbreviated rap names N-Co and J-La. A word of warning to anyone else thinking of attempting such a feat, it does not work for all - my friend Edmund Mullington tried it whilst on vacation in Thailand during the last rainy season, but was dismayed to be bombarded with Rod Hull jokes on his return to the UK.
Our meeting place was to be Restaurant 69, which came recommended by both the Lonely Planet and J-La (although I'm not sure who recommended it first - eastern philosophers are busy debating this as I write). According to the menu, in Asian cultures the number 69 is thought to be lucky. Quite.
Anyway, enough numeric digressions. A few observations of our intrepid travel-bloggers first: one is sporting a beard with potential; the other is busy wedding planning whilst en route; both are boasting excruciatingly deep tans; and neither have discovered the meaning of life from drunken gap year students spreading their infinite wisdom (the meaning of life is 42, in case you missed this earlier).
I will not dwell on the course of the evening. The edited highlights read as: Vietnamese meal, beers, more beers at a local watering hole (sitting on children's furniture on the corner of a street, in fact), and then several hours of myself and J-La getting beaten at pool by semi-competent locals in a bar called Bar Dracula (which when translated from Vietnamese means 'Bar Dracula' in English) whilst our poor girlfriends feigned encouragement of our geometrically-challenged efforts to a 1990s r'n'b soundtrack.
I suppose as a guest travel blogger on this fine e-publication, I should address the topic of the location in which we find ourselves. So, in no particular order or logic, here are a few rambling observations about Vietnam:
1) It is the most capitalist of communist countries to which I have ever been. The Americans fought a pointless war on these shores under the guise of trying to stop the domino effect of communism. Someone should have told Nixon not to have bothered (this applies to many of his domestic policies too, but I digress again) - the only domino effect on display in Vietnam today is the widening spread of urban Vietnamese bellies as they gorge on global capitalism's finest asset: take-away pizza. Indeed, whilst the populace try and pretend to care about their communist roots, it is not exactly a convincing performance. Ho Chi Minh's face does still appear sporadically in public buildings throughout the country (and on their hyper-inflated currency) but given he's been allocated the nick name of 'Uncle' by Vietnam's powers-that-be, I can't help but think that it's a matter of time until he too is rebranded to 'That embarrassing uncle who everyone thinks is a bit weird and who'd we rather not sit next to at family gatherings' - or something more catchy and easier for school kids to remember along those lines.
2) Talking of being more succinct, my second observation of the country is that most words in Vietnam are four or fewer letters long. Whilst this makes playing travel scrabble against the locals rather bland and low scoring, it does manage to bring joy to the immature traveller (a category from which I can not seem to escape), for not only are the words short they also make for some of the rudest signage any country could ever wish to put on display. If you are even mildly titillated by phrases such as 'Hung Long' or 'My Dong' then you will spend several hours of every day giggling like a school boy in a sex education class. Nothing says 'tourist' more than a man standing outside of a post office laughing like a hyena whilst taking a picture of an innocuous sign which simply means 'first class stamp' in the local dialect.
3) Thirdly, you should probably be made aware that Vietnam is currently being invaded by mopeds of the loud and tooting variety. This pandemic seems to be spreading quicker than warm margarine and if want to see this country before the scooters take over for good, then I suggest visiting in the very near future.
4) Local beers here are named after the city in which you find yourself - you drink Beer Saigon in Saigon and Beer Hanoi in Hanoi. You get the picture. This makes ordering a beer very easy as long as you can remember where you are, which is sometimes hard if you've had too many local beers. It's a vicious circle.
Finally, I'd just like to finish by wishing N-Co and J-La all the best with the rest of their travels, and also to voice my congratulatory happiness that they have decided to become Mr and Mrs La.