inspired by fun flowing flexible free fearless females
I stumbled out of the bar, the sun blazing down on my head, as I awkward glimpse and squint at my surroundings. “No no, Oanh-mai, you can’t bike around in your state. You’re leaving the bicycle here,” my buddy William says.
“Probably the right decision,” I think to myself… “But how the hell did this happen?” Granted, day partying till you can barely walk is not an uncommon past time for a middle aged Vietnamese male, but I am none of those things. I am a young California girl, on my first week backpacking alone in Hoi An. In fact, with the exception of special occasions, I rarely overindulge in my drinking. Yet, somehow I found myself in this position. Strangely enough this was not the first time I had stumbled out of this bar, with no way home and no idea where I was….
Rewind to a few hours prior. I had called my friend William in search of the illustrious “thit nuong” (bbq pork on a chop stick, served with vermicelli rice, heaps of lettuce, rice paper, which is then wrapped into a spring roll and dipped into a delicious spicy peanut dipping sauce). I met him on a random corner in Hoi An. It’s one of my final days there, it was beautiful and sunny, I had errands to run, and food on the brain.
“I have a proposition for you. Some of my Viet friends are having a party. A big celebration, lots of food…you in?” William asks me.
Although the thought of abandoning the thit nuong which I had longed for many hours seemed heartbreaking, rule #1 in backpacking is always EMBRACE SPONTENUIOTY! So I cycled on down the road, over a bridge, through some narrow streets and found myself at a dingy whole in the wall bar. This bar was filled with middle aged men going, young Vietnamese girls dancing, and elderly women dropping off dishes of freshly home cooked Vietnamese food.
“I’m not making any promises that you’ll make it out of here sober,” William says. I shook my head, highly underestimating this statement.
It seems to be a Vietnamese custom to get the foreigner at the table as hammered as possible. Of course it’s even more humorous if you can do so as quickly as possible and before allowing them to get a bite of food in. So, upon entering the bar, I had a seat a table, a beer La Rue in my hand and about a million shots of rice wine waiting for me to slurp down. Being the polite young lady that I was, I drank my beers and slurped down my shots. Not before long, I was a very happy tipsy.
I glanced at each man at the table, all of which were much older than me. Many were dressed down, casual attire; all with big grins on the dark skinned face. They smiled at me, excited to see what would happen next, and I smiled politely back. Before I knew it, I was being hoisted up, and beckoned to the dance floor where I was encouraged to shake my booty to a Justin Beiber remix, followed by Gunam style dance. The girls hopped around me, grabbing my hands and swinging them back and forth. We twirled and we spun, keeping the dance at a good PG13 rating. One of the girls jumped onto the bar and signaled me over. Suddenly, this all felt so familiar and for good reason too. As I looked around at the young girls shaking their hips and partaking in the drinking when I realized, DÉJÀ VU! I had been here before!
About a year and half before, I had visited Hoi An with what was then my boyfriend and the first boy that I had ever loved. He and I had gone out to dinner with a group of friends. We proceeded to a few more bars and after one too many drinks before, we ended up here at this dingy bar just over the bridge and out of the old city. The night ran long and the shots doubled in numbers. We danced on the pool table, we graffitied the wall, we DJ’d on a small computer next to the bar and we photographed every drunken antic, every drunken dance, and every drunken kiss that we possibly could. It was a good night and a tough ride home (given that we had no idea where our guesthouse was or where we were at the time).
I drunkenly glanced around, taking in the surrounding. Everything had moved. The bar that was originally in the back was now in the front. The pool table was gone and parts of the bar were repainted. The only thing left on the wall that I recognized was the image of a painted girl. She was curvy, voluptuous, dark skinned and beautiful. Her hair flew wildly around her body and she held up, above her, a guitar. In the same fashion that you hold up a flag after a victory, passionately and inspirationally.
I sat down with the sobering reality that my relationship was over. It had been 6 days since we had decided to part ways, and as much as I fought it, a sadness overwhelmed me. Some of my table mates, as well as William picked up on my change in emotion. They ushered me over and proceeded to feed me heaps of egg noodles, grilled calamari, slow cooked pork and all the food my heart and body so desperately desired at this point. I tried to brush the heartbreak off my shoulders and put on my party face again. I turned to the man next to me and asked what the occasion for such a big celebration was about. He pointed to the man across the table from me.
This man was the one who had earlier been lining me shots. He was the life of the party and quite frankly a hard guy to miss since he made it his goal to make sure everyone was drunk and everyone was dancing. He had long hair that was slicked back into a pony tail. His teeth were stained from tabacco and rather gangly. I only noticed this because he was constantly smiling throughout the day and his smile and chuckle got bigger with every shot I took.
“What about this man,” I asked again, still not sure what exactly I was celebrating.
“Uhhhhh….His son…not here, 10 years, he go.”
“Where did his son go?” I wondered, so I turned to William.
“We are celebrating the death anniversary of his son. He died ten years ago today.”
It struck me then that he too was recovering from a loss, a loss far more severe than mine. More sever that what I could ever imagine. I am not a parent, but the thought of losing a child is without a doubt one of the hardest things to bare. Yet, the whole day this man was smiling, passing out drinks, dancing with the young girls and having what looked like the time of his life.
It was then that I realized we weren’t there mourning a loss, but rather celebrating a life. It is coming in Vietnamese custom to grieve for many days after a family member passes. Once the grieving is over, they cherish, respect and worship the memories of their loved ones gone. This is done through prayer, ancestor worship, and apparently the occasion party. It sudden dawned on me that we were celebrating the memories we made and the happy moments worth cherishing, even if they were moments from our past. We were putting behind the hard, and embracing the good, appreciating the happiness that one individual person can bring to ones life.
I smiled politely back at him, grabbed the bottle of rice wine from one of my fellow table mates, poured two shots and brought it over. I thought back about the memories I had made in this bar, the love I had, the new friends I made, the endless night, and the ongoing day party. Each memory seemed more amazing than the last. I realized the sadness still hadn’t gone, I was still in the stage of grieving, and although it was hard, I tried to let go of the hurt and hold the good memories, just for that moment. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and one last shot.