Captain Luong and the dog meat restaurant

Every day without fail, Luong goes to the same street bar as me to drink beer. I’ve seen him there for as long as I’ve been living in Saigon. He’s 56 years old and he works as a security guard at the central bus station in Ben Thanh. He’s very proud of his job and the first thing he says to people when he meets them is “Hi. Do you know what my job is ?” and they look at his uniform and say “Security guard ?” and he says “Yes ! That’s right !” with pride.

Some people might think that being a security guard at a bus station isn’t a particularly glamorous job. You might think “So what ?” But this is Vietnam, and many men of his age do not have good jobs. Unless you happen to work in government, you might very well be picking up trash for a living. So Luong is proud of his job and he loves doing it.

And he was especially proud this week, because he got promoted. He turned up to our regular bia hoi place with a big grin on his face and sat down opposite me. He pointed to the shiny silver laurels on his collar and said “Look ! I got a promotion today. I have a new rank of captain and a higher salary. They said that it was from my many years of hard work and my excellent English skills”.

“Wow ! That is great news Luong ! I am so happy to hear that ! Let me buy you a drink” I said and I called out to the old woman serving.. “Ba oi ! Mot ly bia hoi. Toi mua !” and pointed at Luong. (In English, what I said was basically “Ma’am. One glass of beer. I’m buying”) We all sat and chatted and everyone congratulated him and he smiled and smiled.

The following day, Luong turned up as usual after work and sat down and Andy, a German friend said “Luong, I heard about your promotion, congratulations”. Luong thanked him and said “Buddha smiles on me this week. Today, I have something so lucky. I saw a foreigner who I had not seen for one year. He was back in Saigon for a holiday and he saw me and said hello. I told him about my promotion and he was so happy for me that he gave me $100 as a gift”.

Andy’s eyes went wide and he said “Really ? He just GAVE you $100 ? That’s amazing. I’m a nice guy. Why is noone giving me $100 ?” Luong grinned and said “This week is so good for me. First I get a promotion and a higher salary and then a customer gives me $100. Tonight, I want all of you to come out with me. We will go to a restaurant near here and drink rice wine and eat dog meat, ok ? Andy, you and your girlfriend will come ? David, what about Yi ?”

At that moment Yi turned up behind me and put her hand on my shoulder and said “Hi” and I turned around. “Yi,” I said to her. “Luong here wants to celebrate his promotion. He wants to take us all to a dog restaurant. You want to go ?” “Sure, ok. Let me go get changed” she said.

The six of us (Andy’s girlfriend also brought a friend of hers) all walked a short distance to District 3 to a restaurant that served dog in all different ways. We tried three of them. One was a dark coloured sausage, one was grilled meat and one was a strange sort of curry-like soup that you ate on top of rice noodles.

All of them were pretty good. It’s not the first time I’ve eaten dog, but it was the first time I’d eaten it in any of these ways. The sausage was not really my favourite and Andy in particular didn’t like it, but his girlfriend said that it was her favourite. Andy and Yi both liked the grilled meat the most, although Andy complained that it was very fatty. I thought it was fantastic, though personally I ate a lot of the soup dish because noone else seemed as interested in it.

The week previous I had been sitting at another bar on the street late one night when Luong came past. I was drinking shots of Saigon Rum and I called to him. He stopped and sat down and had about 5 shots with me. So of course when we were at the dog restaurant he made sure to buy a couple of bottles of this amazing banana flavoured rice wine, much like a banana liqueur. It was so delicious and Luong kept pouring and pouring until we had finished close to a litre of the stuff just between the two of us. Everyone was laughing and happy.

Luong had bought a new phone. It was the cutest little thing I’ve ever seen. Some new Nokia that was about the size of a cigarette lighter. It was quite heavy, but it was definitely the smallest phone I’d ever seen. We were all amazed by it, and it even had a camera, so Luong took many photos. He opened his wallet proudly and said “Look. Look how much money I have today ! Today is such a good day” and I lifted my glass and and toasted him, saying “To Luong’s good fortune” and we all clinked glasses. After we finished eating, we all walked back to the bia hoi place for more beers, but Luong had clearly reached his limit because after his first beer came out, he looked at it and said “I cannot. Time to go home my friends” and he took his leave and went home.

There were many great things about the night. It was a lot of fun, and we drank a lot. Turns out both Luong and Andy’s girlfriend were into collecting foreign currency (one of my hobbies as well) and I was amazed to see that between them they had some excellent coins and banknotes. Luong’s prize note was 5 Hong Kong dollars, and we all agreed that it was surely the most beautiful bank note that any of us had ever seen.

But the best thing about it was… it didn’t matter where we were from or how old we were. Our party was made up of some Vietnamese, a half-Taiwanese Vietnamese, a German, and an Australian. We ranged in age from 19 all the way up to 56. But we were all good friends and we all had a great night together drinking and eating dog, like it was just the most normal thing in the world for us to be doing.

I love Saigon :)

luong

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