Saturday, August 20, 2005

Little Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

I met a little girl tonight. I really wish I remembered her name, but I don't.

We were on our way to a French restaurant, to get some dinner before we went out for a night on the town. We were hoping to meet our new-found Japanese friend Becky in a club in HCMC. On the way there, we were accosted by a little girl. She must have been eight or nine years old. But she spoke perfect english. Well, not perfect, but amazingly good english. And she was doing what a lot of little girls her age were doing to a couple of tourists like us. She was trying to sell us some little useless trinket for way more than it was worth, grabbing some tiny portion of the mountains of money that we westerners have. And she broke my heart.
She was obviously very intelligent. I mean, she followed us for a good two blocks, trying to sell me this little pack of gum. She just wanted me to buy some condensed milk for her and her little sisters. But she was verbally sparring with me. I was trying to be the wry, funny american, wittily countering her pleas for my money with mildly sarcastic jokes about being poor and greedy. But, she argued with me the whole way, easily matching whatever feeble arguments I had with a sharp mind and a quick tongue. By the time we got to the restaurant that was our target, I was a broken man. Normally, I make it a point not to give any money to beggars and street salesmen, but she was good. The only thing that saved me from giving her all the money I had was our fortuitous arrival at our destination. So, I ran into the safety of our temporary home, and figured that was the last I would see of her.
I was wrong.
After an hour at the restaurant spent eating ridiculously expensive food, and gabbing with some Australians about the burgeoning Indian rave scene, we stepped back out into the Vietnamese night. We were just going to make a quick stop at the hotel to make sure that Becky hadn't emailed us before we went to the club that Le recommended. But, on the way back to the hotel, I was once again stopped by the little girl. At first, she didn't recognize me. But, as soon as she did, she jumped right back in where we left off. I had two blocks to go before I was safe in my air-conditioned hotel room, but I knew there was no way I was going to make it. That little girl was unstoppable. It just crushed me that she was so obviously smart and charismatic, but she was stuck doing these menial tasks, selling recycled schwag to rich, vacationing foreigners. She could be doing anything she wanted with a brain like that, but, because of the unlucky circumstances of her birth, she was pigeon-holed into scamming honkies for their change.
So, I stopped at the corner, capitulated to her pleas, and squatted down on the sidewalk, so I could see her eye-to-eye. Not to be outdone or patronized, she also squatted down. So, I sat down on the sidewalk. She sat down with me. Finally, I lied down in the street. I was determined to give this girl an equal footing, no matter how hard she tried to maintain that distance between us. And she smiled. She smiled and she laughed. For those two seconds of giggling, she actually looked like a little nine-year-old girls should. She wasn't selling me crap, and she wasn't scamming some rich sucker. She was just a little girl laughing at the silly grown-up lying down on the sidewalk. You can't imagine how happy that made me.
I ended up buying a pack of postcards from her for way to much money. I also got her to tell me her name, but I can't fucking remember it. But, I've never been good at remembering names. No biggie.

I won't forget her face.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

JB... glad you're enjoying the homeland at its people. now get your ass back to Pasadena before Hobbs destroy what's left of the fluorescence system :) if you have some free time, maybe you can say hi to our relatives in saigon (dude, the natives do not call it HCMC).

8/22/2005 4:13 AM gmt

Blogger jason said...

Word up, boss. Tell Hobbis to get his hands of my FD and go play with some capillaries.

Unfortunately, we are leaving Saigon in about five hours. We'll be taking the Reunification Express for a short 30-hour jaunt to Hanoi. Do you have any relatives in that area? We'll probably be there and in Halong Bay for a bit.

8/23/2005 10:37 AM gmt


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