The dock rocked as the boys climbed out of the boat with the blossoms, all pink and white and delicate framing their smiles from below. I tipped them a dollar and went to collect my bag for the bus.
The border crossing between Cambodia and Vietnam is revealing: the Cambodian station being an architectural feat in itself modeled partly from Angkor and partly from slightly more contemporary (the past 500 years) Khmer architecture. It's a synthesis of Angkor Wat and the Royal Palace in Phnom Pehn, glittering with yellow and red cermamic tiles and dragons. Across the line, the Vietnamese station is a concrete monstrosity more at home in Minsk than a sleepy border in Asia. It looks like a factory. For entry visas.
A plucky Vietnamese lady named Ling was on the bus headed to Saigon and kept warning me about local ladies there. "They say 'love-you love-you', but no love-you, you know? Yeah. Lady-friend want money. Yep. Careful, very careful you must be because... because some people very bad. Yep." I asked if boyfriends were the same, but she didn't really get where i was going with that, so she mentioned she didn't have a boyfriend. I have to say that Ling is one of the most beautiful women i've ever seen and she sparkles in every way, and with that in mind i gave her a lotus blossom. I think (?) she understood that i don't want to be her boyfriend, but the gestures involved in communicating that were so complicated that even i'm not so sure i'm not her boyfriend. Maybe i am, who knows? Anyway, she liked the flower.
As for the lotus blossoms, there's a palace in Saigon that was surrounded by tanks in 1975, and photos of those tanks in front of that particular palace marked the beginning of independence for Vietnam. It was unified, finally and at such a cost that hardly ended with the final days of the war. It continued with re-education camps and interrogations and secret police and persecutions. The flowers were for those people taken away when those tanks rolled past the palace gates... the first people imprisoned in a newly-freed country. I didn't find the palace until after dark when i found it closed, so i chucked the blossoms over the fence and wondered how weird it would look to see someone throwing flowers over fences in the dark. Is that suspicious?
This morning i walked around the city for a bit and ended up at the palace. Someone had taken the flowers away earlier in the morning; i imagined it's like looking for a person only to find him or her taken away, but that's a bit much. In any case, it was symbolic and went well with my cigarette. There's a park (a PARK, you hear me? GREEN! QUIET!) across from the palace that seemed an ideal place to sit and think and read the morning paper. I bought a newspaper from Manila and took a bench under the trees to read and smoke in solitude. No one coming up to me offering me narcotics or a wild time, so one asking 'where you from', no one expecting me to acknowledge them back. There was only one problem and it's a grave one: morning with morning paper with cigarette and NO coffee. Ugh, unforgiveable. So i tucked my paper under my arm and set off for a cafe, excited that i would be able to try Vietnamese coffee for the first time and compare it to the divine beans of Laos and Ethiopia.
I'll include a special note here that Saigon is already a mad place for me. Pure chaos, but a chaos that can be managed or at least enjoyed if you know how to dance. So far this morning i've been offered heroin 4 times, a 'lady' twice, a 'boy' once, and a guided tour of the mekong with complimentary blowjob just about everytime i turn around (i've taken to asking if the overpriced tours include a free blowjob, and the answer is always yes). Just crossing the street is a major adventure that can make your heart stop. Traffic doesn't stop on any of the streets, and as far as Ling is concerned there are 4,000,000 people on motorbikes clogging the streets at rush hours. Four million people to dodge. The trick is just to walk into the street slowly, allowing the motos to see you and move around you... your job is to avoid being hit by the cars which will NOT move for you or even slow down. It's a dance.
So yeah. I set off to find an acceptable cafe. A place with a terrace. And oleander. Maybe a potted hibiscus in the corner with photographs on the walls. I'm anal about cafes, and it gets extreme when the newspaper is involved. I crossed several streets -- expertly, i might add -- with motorbikes zipping around me as i tip-toed around the cars, shaking my hip one way to avoid the side mirror of a taxi and moving a foot ever so slightly out of the path of someone's tires. I take pleasure in it, having become very skilled at such things in Cambodia. I was crossing one street though and out of the corner of my eye i could see a motorbike FLYING down the street to beat the rush of traffic about to cut off her path. I slowed in the middle of the street to allow her space to zoom by, but a truck ran smack into the back of her bike, sending her FLYING smack into ME. Luckily she was a tad fat (and therefore soft), but we were airborne for a few seconds and landed SMACK! on the pavement. I felt sort of crushed, you know, innards i mean... but when i looked up i saw she was holding her head. There wasn't any blood, and as i looked around there were about 20 or 30 Vietnamese crowded around with pieces of her moto scattered all around us. Her shoes flew off her feet. I helped her up and then gathered the shoes while other people picked up parts of her bike. She strapped on her missing parts to the somehow still-functional bike with a cord, slipped her shoes back on and drove out once more into traffic. I was stunned and STILL WITHOUT COFFEE.
I consider that to be my first official traffic accident in Vietnam. The tragedy is that right down the street i found a suitable cafe, but after choosing the perfect chair with perfect lighting and after lighting a fag and getting over the 'wow' of it all, i realized i left my Manila newspaper in the street among the splinters of her plastic fender nobody thought to collect.
The moral of the story is that i should have just bought some heroin earlier in the day and gone back to my room to cook it down. Yep.