Today is Greg’s 41th birthday. He’s not much of a shopper, but birthdays can be quite hard and lonely on the road so far away from friends and family. I bought him a little bottle of Fernet digestive liquor and a knit blue penguin because Greg’s hair is blue and he is a penguin. I stash a single birthday candle, and need now to locate a cake and fire.
We investigate the Hoi Ann with a tourist city ticket that permits entry to five of many old buildings, most of them 200-year old Chinese merchant houses. Each house visit follows a standard tour: a welcome sit in a lacquer chair, a perfunctory lecture, and a finish in a miraculous gift shop with an entreaty to buy something. One tour was one-third informative, two-thirds gift shop plea.
We survey the stalls at the downtown market to pick the least-aggressive counter for a cheap lunch of cao lau (beef with soba noodles) and white rose (pork dumplings). Dinner later in the day rachets up luxury at slick Morning Glory restaurant, packed with wealthy, white people following the same Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor trails. Although the ground shrimp sat well on sugar cane, Greg and I try to avoid restaurants full of white people, even if we are part of the problem. Vietnam has been thoroughly discovered.
Between lunch and dinner, we take hotel bicycles out of Hoi Ann town through rice paddies, past water buffalo, over two bridges, to the beach. The way is more treacherous than scenic due to thundering tour buses, honking taxis, and zooming motorscooters. We ignore the dim and chaos to focus on the road. At the beach, we drink a couple of afternoon beers to prepare for tomorrow’s beach stay.
Bloated after dinner, we wander over a little bridge to the island of An Hoi. Touts offer tickets to bars blasting music with the lure of visiting Icelandic ladies. Part of me wants to get wasted with the 20-somethings, even if terrible, perhaps to salvage lost youth. Perhaps a drunken crawl could offer unexpected adventure and new camaraderie over strong syrupy drinks. Instead, we wander home by 10:30 pm. Next time.