I was up early next morning, as anyone whose room overlooked an army base would be. Not that I minded, I am an early riser anyway, but the noise of hundreds of boots drilling below drove me out. Reception lent me an umbrella, and off I went.
Beach resorts on grey, wet days always seem far more depressing than inland towns and cities, and Nha Trang was no exception. As the day progressed, a few hardy souls ventured out to the beach, but not many ventured into the sea, which, as the pictures show, was sandy and troubled. This man was clearly in two minds about the advisability of taking the plunge. Ten minutes after I’d taken the photo, he was still there, lost in thought.
There being little point in remaining, I turned my back on the beach and headed towards the market, stopping at a small coffee shop on the way. There was one other person there, who greeted me in and affable manner. He had a North American accent, but whether Canadian or American I could not tell, so I asked.
I did not mean to offend him, my reaction was spontaneous. I said I sympathized with him, it must be difficult for and American travelling at that moment. He didn’t day anything, but went to the counter, ordered another copy and found a seat as far away from me as possible. Americans can be sensitive, it seems.
I’m not a marketoholic, or whatever the word is, but the persistent rain meant that the resort-based attractions of Nha Trang were not an option for me, and, judging by the people mooning around restaurant, bars and coffee shops, most other people. So, armed with my trusty umbrella and camera, I set off to see what else the town had to offer, which was mainly a market, although, as I found out later, some surprising other options, given the nature of its politics.
I took some desultory photos of restaurant menus, the ones with pictures of each dish on display, in the rain, motorcycles in the rain, stallholders in the rain, my foot (not intentional) in a puddle, tourists wearing plastic macs, locals wearing plastic macs and so on, in the certain knowledge they would turn out as drab as I felt, until I found the market.
Part of the market was inside, but I did not spend long there, prefering to see what was on the street. Perhaps it was me, but the all pervasive damp had rendered the interior forlorn. At least outside there was life, and colour, although the mood was still one of dull resignation, as the photo shows.
The rain had probably reduced the size of the shopping crowd, but some stallholders still busied themselves with minor tasks, much as staff in empty restaurants do. I was interested to see the conical hats everywhere, much as I had previously in Hanoi the year before.
The downpour steadily increased. My umbrella was at its protective limit, so I diverted into a café for and unnecessary, and as it turned out iced, coffee. It wasn’t particularly cold, but I wasn’t in a hurry. As it happened, I’d taken a seat outside under the veranda, rather than in the air-conditioned interior, and there I saw the man whose job it was to look after the motorbikes parked outside the café. His face was expressionless as he walked up and down ay a leisurely pace, until the ennui got to him and he returned to his chair. He stared out disapprovingly into the rain. It was Vietnam, so he had seen a lot. I could only sympathise.
I headed back towards the hotel, resolving to change, and find somewhere to eat. Despite having weathered the downpours, I hadn’t considered the impact on my little 500m stroll down the lanes to the guesthouse. They had turned into mini torrents, not more than knee deep it has to be said, but it would make for an uncomfortable walk, especially as the waters hid the occasional pot hole, as I would no doubt discover. Accordingly, I took shelter outside a massage parlour and consulted my guidebook for good places to eat. While I did, one of the girls started chatting with me, pointing out the obvious advantages of massages, and the cheap price. I smiled, we chatted, then I politely declined, saying I’d think about it later.
When that later came, after I’d bought my air ticket from Hué to Hanoi and after the rain had stopped, the game had changed. The same girl came out, and began offering me even lower prices. I kept on declining, and she kep on lowering the price. Finally, having exhausted that, she offered something I’m sure the Communist Party of Vietnam had outlawed years before. Frankly, politely declining was out of the question, so I raced off , followed by the girl for a frantic couple of metres, until she stopped and said something in her native tongue I’m sure wasn’t polite.
I reflected later, over a consoling beer, that the whole situation was really my fault. Yes, I had been naive, in not even thinking what might be on offer, but more so because my politeness had been mistaken for interest. I had lead the girl on, a simple “No” to begin with would have prevented an awkward situation. At my age, I should have known better.