DJ’ing at Kims

I like to play music. I like to entertain people with music. I’ve always enjoyed being a hobbyist DJ and I do have my own online streaming radio station. So I love the chance to choose the music when I’m at a bar.

At Number 5, I’d do it on their computer. In Happy Pizza, the weed/opium bar in Vang Vieng in Laos I would DJ hardcore Japanese trance music. In Secrets and Sunset Boulevard I would take a back seat and just choose a few songs.

But at Kim’s in Bui Vien, I do their music, every night lately. They don’t really have a music setup. Unless one of the staff brings in an iPod, they have nothing but Yan TV on a poor analogue signal with no way to hook it up to the stereo.

When I realised they had no Wifi on the old Celeron they have sitting on the bar (When an American requested a song on YouTube and was told the computer had no internet), I was aghast. I immediately went home and grabbed my Netgear 54g dongle that I use for WEP cracking on backtrack, and I took it in and installed it for them. Now every day, I walk in and one of the staff is checking their email, their Facebook, or putting something on YouTube.

The machine wasn’t fast enough to stream directly, so I put on Minitube and I showed them how to download videos before viewing them. Now they have a Youtube terminal on the front of the bar. Major street cred there. Phuong asked me “But how much it cost us for this wifi to play Youtube ?” and I just shrugged and said “No problem Phuong. My gift to you because I have come to your bar for more than two years now and your staff are aways nice, drinks and food and rooms good and no taxi-girls or ladyboys in your bar. This is a proper bar. We just need to work on your music situation”.

So, about 2-4pm I go in there, with my laptop, and I smile sweetly at Phuong, if she’s started, else I shake hands with Anh if he’s still on duty and say “Audio please”, and I get control of their old Ariang amplifier and speakers for the rest of the night.

I have to arrange myself in a certain spot to get best position within reach of the audio cable and also with my back to the wall so that I can talk to customers. Sometimes it’s empty and I play what I want. Phuong doesn’t like Vietnamese music. She likes American and British pop music mostly. A little Kpop, but she won’t let me play SNSD – Gee. I mean, she will, but she’ll look a little stern and ask if the volume can go down a little. But she loves Kara – Day by Day. She loves T-ara. I can DEFINITELY crank Big Bang’s “Hate This Love Song” any time to make her smile. She likes ballads. Oh, AND she loves the Wonder Girls’ “Nobody” like crazy.

The young waitress, Thao. She was the first to ask for my Facebook. She loves Kpop. I put on SNSD’s new Twinkle, and f(x)’s Electric Shock and she loves that stuff. I told her I had lost my collection of Vietnamese music when my other laptop’s hard drive crashed, and she painstakingly wrote me a huge long hand-written list of songs and artists I should look up and download that she would like played.

We had an old British guy in one night. He’d just spent 8 years living in China as a teacher and was very proud of the fact. He would yell out in Chinese to passers-by, not realising they couldn’t understand his dialect and would shake their head and ignore him. He wanted the old Brit classics. He asked for The Clash. I followed it up with Paul Weller, The Jam (Down in the Tube Station at Midnight) and some Pogues and other stuff. He was right thankful. We went out drinking later that night and I introduced him to the concept of Bia Hoi, and oh my god did he get drunk. He was still drinking long after I went home.

I invited Daniel. Daniel’s moved to District 2, after obviously upsetting some local thugs, who both glassed him at Bia Hoi one night over some alleged dispute with the old lady. But he snuck into Bui Vien quietly to join me and we shared a pizza and some beers, had a smoke and a joke and even chatted to the staff and other patrons, which wasn’t bad considering he has a large slice of his skull missing and is still suffering mild concussion.

There was a Japanese girl. She came in alone. I wasn’t even sure she was Japanese, until I heard her say something, and I picked the accent immediately. I said “Kom ban wa” and she smiled and turned to introduce herself as Naoko. Naoko was quiet and didn’t want to talk about herself too much, but she didn’t mind chatting a bit. I was introducing Phuong to the concept of a cheese platter and I’d been to the convenience store and got three types of cheese and crackers and I was serving cheese on biscuits and I shared some with Naoko.

I even lashed out $2.20 a glass for the house red from Bordeaux, France. We talked a little, and I tried to play her Japanese music, but after mentioning a couple of groups she just shrugged and said “I don’t really know much Japanese music sorry”. I wondered where she’d been living and working to have apparently been away from Japan for so long, but like so many people who seem to drop into the bar, she was on her last night, and was headed back to Tokyo the next day. Naoko received my rose that I’d bought from Nam that night. She wasn’t amazingly beautiful, but she was a quiet, mature-seeming Japanese women on her way home from some journey or career in South East Asia.

The following night, some African lady comes in. Noni is her name and she’s been a teacher here for years, and just lately she’s found Kim’s, and she comes back because of me I’d like to think (By which I mean my company and music, not romantically.. she’s got a good decade on me). I overheard her taking one night about currency, and I said “You collect currency ?” and she said “Yeah. I love foreign bills. Cambodian, Malaysian, Chinese. I want to collect them all”. I said “Oh me too. Hey, I have a whole bunch of Yen at home from some Japanese guys I ran into last week and they hadn’t changed any money, so I have a bunch of 1000 Yen notes if you want to trade”.

Noni didn’t have any spares. All her notes were of little value but she had only one of each, but I have several high value notes. But we did a deal. We talked and I bought her a rose and played her a song and she gave me a 100 Cambodian Riel note, and we agreed to meet up the next night. I even advertised on Phu My Hung Neighbours that we were having a meet-up and currency swap, since people have been interested in that before.

Sadly I got distracted that night and I turned up too late for Noni, who waited a couple hours and left. But that night we had this amazing street magician come by. I’ve met him before. I have his name on video, but I can’t pronounce it properly. He comes dressed in a full business suit and thin black tie and he looks like a Japanese investment banker to me, though I don’t think he is.

But he’ll come past our bar around 11pm when he knows there’ll be a fair amount of fairly well-oiled customers sitting around, and he’ll just walk up and unassumingly greet everyone without saying anything special. Then he’ll pull a magic trick. Something simple at first, like pulling a huge number of scarves from behind someone’s ear or something. But then he’ll get onto the more fascinating stuff.

He’ll show you a 200 dong coin inside an empty drink bottle, which he has gotten off the table, not brought with him, and he’ll put the coin in, make someone confirm it’s in there by shaking it, then he’ll remove the coin, ask you to close the lid, and then he’ll hit the coin onto the top of the soft drink bottle three times, and suddenly the coin is inside the bottle. I saw him amuse this Chilean guy with a Vietnamese girlfriend with card games for a solid HOUR one night.

Another trick he does is he puts a straw into a glass of someone’s beer, and then suddenly makes it so the straw is solid and he can lift the whole glass of beer with the straw alone. This particular one fascinates me because scientifically, I cannot work out any physical explanation for how he does it. One minute the straw is solid and holds the weight of the pint glass of beer, the next it’s loose and he passes the beer back to the owner, or drinks it to prove it’s real.

But his pièce de résistance, the one that really sends the crowd fucking wild and makes everyone stand up and come outside to watch… is he swallows razor blades. He’ll have you open a brand new, fresh razor blade, cut something with it to confirm it’s sharpness, and then he’ll appear to swallow it. Chat, have a drink, and then slowly withdraw it, broken up into pieces. He’s actually chewed it up and half-eaten it. He also has an act where he has about 5 full, double-sized razor blades tied to a long piece of string, and he will put the whole lot down his mouth, and then chat and shake hands and talk. Drink beer for a while, and then stop everyone, and slowly remove the long string of razor blades from his mouth.

A true master street magician he is and after his show, he politey asks for donations. Despite the quality of his show, most people give him little more than 50c or $1, but some give more. I gave him 50,000 dong, even though I didn’t watch much of the show, because I took some photos, and there’s a mutual understanding that by paying, I have right to the photos. Some people pay him in foreign currency though. Stuff that is useless to him. Cambodian Riels or Laos Kip. After his show, he sat and chatted to me and I saw he had some foreign currency.

I didn’t want to be greedy, but having made a decent donation, I asked if he would exchange some of his foreign currency for local currency. He showed me a 5000 Rupiah note from Indonesia that I liked. I asked what it was worth and he said “No idea”. I asked “How much do you want for it ?” He shrugged and said “Up to you”. I hesitantly gave him 20,000 dong. It turns out the note is worth just over 10,000, so he doubled his useable income and I got a great foreign bank note.

Friday and Saturday were ok, but nothing special. There was a fantastic Kiwi guy there called Dave. Dave, like all good Kiwis, had emmigrated to Australia 14 years ago, so while he still sounded Kiwi, he was for all intents and purposes an Aussie, and asked me about my favourite AFL team, which I told him I didn’t have one. Dave was a good bloke. I just remember he had a good laugh with the kids, the magician, was friendly with everyone, liked everyone’s music and seeme to really enjoy himself. So hats off to Dave the Kiwi too for visiting.

On Friday I had made a deal with Lynne. I wanted to talk to her, interview her, maybe take her for dinner or karaoke. She said her mum said no to karaoke, which is understandable since she’s only 12, even though Lynne the bar manager was coming. Knowing I wanted to see her before I left, she said “Would you buy me something ? New clothes ? A hat ? Please ?”

I said “Sure Lynne. What size dress do you wear ?” and she told me an 11-13, but that she ws tall for her age, so larger was better. I told her I’d meet her at Kim’s at midnight when she started work (yes, I know. She sells roses, starting at midnight every night). She nodded and said “Something pretty please David !”

I know I have a bunch of Hikosen Cara and similar expensive stuff for Suki, but that’s for Suki, so I had to go and get something for Lynne the next day. I’d sold my Yamaha Nuovo to a young Vietnamese student the night before, for the exact same price I paid for it, which was a damn good deal, right ? 3,000 km of travel all over Vietnam for nothing more than the cost of a few tyres and minor repairs. I had so many enquiries I could have sold that bike 30 times over.

So I went to District 3. My old haunt where I lived last year. I knew there was an area of very reasonably priced bulk clothing stores, where they sold clothes out of bags around Nguyen Van Nguyen, Dang Tat, and Dang Dung streets in District 3, just near my old hotel, the Hai Minh. I hired a motorbike from down the street for $5 a day and took off to the old neighbourhood. It was so weird not having been there in almost two years now.

A lot had changed. The Hai Minh hotel had been torn down and was being rebuilt. Hai Son, the steak-house I used to love to go to was gone, replaced with a noodle shop. Even the hot dog store on Nam Ky Khoi Nghia had change it’s name to a gourmet sandwich shop. It still sells the same great hot-dogs, but the store looks a bit different now. It still has the big photos of babies playing in flour and dough though and a gourmet (with cheese) or chilli dog still only costs 25,000 dong.

I found the same clothing stores I’d bought clothes for Suki for a year ago. Prices had risen, but I specifically remembered which stores were cheap and which weren’t. I picked out Lynne four pretty dresses in sizes ranging from 11-13 and a tartan hat. The store with the hat was a more expensive one because they had nicer label clothes, but in the end I came home spending no more than about $20.

I know you probably think this is some feeble attempt to compensate for the inability to give such gifts to my daughter Suki and see her smile happily and dance around in her new hat, and yes, you’re right. But as I explained before, I have known Lynne through 3 years of life. She’s been at there at some restaurant or bar every night, waving and giving me a hug and hoping of course that I will buy a bouquet, even at my engagement party.

One of the dresses was far too big, but she’ll grow into it. She took the bag of clothes, in the bright plastic Hello Kitty bag I’d put them in and waved goodnight and said “See you tomorrow ! Thank you very much !”

So now I have to DJ until past midnight if I expect to see Lynne, and if I stay until Phuong finishes, that means 2am, it means I end up DJ’ing for 10-12 hours a night, which is tiring. But Phuong has been very sick lately. She’s working 10 hour shifts from 4pm-2am and I don’t recall her having a day off in weeks.

Last night she looked a little better, but she was clearly struggling to stay on her feet. She insisted she was taking medicine, but I wondered what, so I ducked down to the pharmacy and picked her up some Strepsils and cold tablets. Lozenges seem to be a western solution to colds, whereas Vietnamese prefer liquid medicines like Robotussin style stuff, or sometimes traditional Chinese herbs, but I knew Phuong wasn’t into any of that shit. She’s a modern girl. She specifically warned me she does not like Chinese music and she likes modern pop culture, not traditional, so I really don’t see her trying Chinese remedies.

Earlier, a number of people had witnessed the locals extensively burning ghost money. Two people stopped Phuong and asked why they were burning American dollars and travel brochures.

Phuong looked pained. She was sick and weary. She turned and put her hand on my arm and said “David. Can you explain the religious ceremony of the burning money to this person in English ?” I nodded and launched into an explanation of “ghost money”, or “Joss paper”, or as it is called in the south of Vietnam; “giấy tiền vàng bạc”. How people in the afterlife need money to survive, and it is your obligation to provide for your family even ater their death, the same things they need in this life. Alcohol, even food, but also holidays and money.

The burning of holiday brochures is a way of giving that thing as a gift to your departed. The burning of the ghost money is quite important, and they will burn large amounts very slowly and deliberately, making sure it is all burned properly so that it can successfully pass between the worlds and be used by their loved ones on the other side. I may not have been perfect, but I’ve researched and I think I gave a pretty respectable lesson on Vietnamese ancestor worship.

Jiles from Belgium was a character and a half. That wasn’t his real name, but in his native language, it was a hard name for foreigners to say, so he insisted we just call him Jiles. He requested some great modern English music, and I think he was into reggae too. I had two reggae heads in on consecutive nights and both wanted to hear some classic stoner reggae songs and Jiles, and on the following night, Chris, a Welsh fellow made me play some Richie Spice and Eek-A-Mouse and some other crazy things I’d never heard of but really enjoyed.

I put on some random popular songs I knew people would enjoy. At one point Bohemian Rhapsody, some Florence and the Machine, even a Nas remix, which went down well. But a young bloke down the front on the footpath with his girlfriend, also both local Engish teachers approached me and said “Do you have any Nirvana perhaps ? Do you maybe have ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night ?’ or similar ?”. I smiled and said “Done, mate”, because I’d picked up he was an Australian.

Over the next few hours we played the entire Nirvana Unplugged album, some Soundgarden classics, Franz Ferdinand, which REALLY fucking got everyone happy, and the Aussie down the front kept giving me a big thumbs up for just about every song, pumping his fist and letting me know he thought my music was spot on.

One of the German guys wanted to slow it down with an ambient track and asked if I could play Wanklemut – One Day, which I did, and enjoyed very much, so thanks for that reccommendation. I stood up and asked “Do we have any other Australians in the bar tonight ?” and two girls said “We’re british, but we just came back this week from four years in Australia”. And I said “Good enough. Pick this tune”.

I put on Pendulum’s remix of the old ABC News theme. It took the girl a good minute but she eventually goes “That’s the ABC News theme. The 6 or 7pm ABC news theme, right ?” and I shook her hand and said “Congratulations on proving yourself a worthy Australian” and I handed her the rose that I’d bought from Nam earlier in the night. She smiled and thanked me.

I played some Aussie hip-hop. Bliss and Esso, enjoyed greatly by the couple having come back from Australia, The Herd, and a heap of Hilltop Hoods. Chris got up and requested a British Hiphop song which he said was a very similar style. We downloaded Joe Buhdha – Lionheart: Tussle with the beast. Great song. Heavy reggae vibe, but has very similar breaks and vibe to Aussie hip hop and I thoroughly enjoyed that too.

Later in the night I put on some house classics to bring in the crowd and some mellow classics to relax the patrons. You know – Pitbull – Everything, and his song with Marc Anthony, Rain on Me. OMG the Chilean dude went nuts over that song. He got up and started shaking his body and going “This song, it’s so good ! Great choice man !” I put on U2’s “The Wanderer” with Johnny Cash and Noni the African stood up and goes “Who’s this.. Johnny Cash ? I LOVE this song” and I just nodded and said “Thought you might”. Noni is easy to read, characterwise for her taste in music. I knew every song she would love.

I put on a Robert Miles remix of Children and the german guy was well pleased and just sat there with his eyes closed, shaking his head to the awesome mellow trance version. I was told by Phuong that due to the fact there were people in the hotel rooms upstairs that we would have to curtail the music at 2am, and I nodded and picked a few final songs.

One was a favourite of mine, but I put it on for Noni. Lebo M’s “Busa” from the “Rhythm of the Pridelands” album, a spin-off album from his work with Elton John on the Lion King soundtrack. She just started listening to it like normal and moving her shoulders to it, and then she looks up and says “Who is this ? This is African drums. Who ?” and I said “Lebo M” and she said “Ahhhhh !!! Yes ! Lebo M ! I have met him twice ! His music is more popular among the white people of Africa than the black because we consider it a little more diluted than our traditional music”. I nodded and said “I thought you’d like it anyway” and she said “I love it”.

I took a quick shot of her and her friends and as usual, keeping the polaroid printer out of sight, I quickly sent it from my Galaxy Note to my Polaroid Pogo, and handed her the photo”. Her mind was of course blown. “How did you do this ? How did you print this so quickly ? You have a printer ?” and I said “No, that is a digital Polaroid, taken from my phone and printed onto a small photo. You can peel the back off and it’s a sticker too”.

“David. Come here.” Noni cried, pulling me close with her arm. I must give you some more currency. Please. I only have one of these, so this one is special to me. But please, take these 5000 Cambodian Riels. This is such a beautiful gift, and I know you want this currency and you’re going home. You have to take it”. I of course, didn’t refuse. 5000 Riels is only $1.20 Australian, but it’s a beautiful Cambodian banknote that many people never see in their lifetimes, so I was thankful to Noni for the second gift of Cambodian currency. One of the other guys also gve me a 100 Riel note as well which was awesome.

Before I shut down the DJ setup, a drunk guy stumbled in and sat down, swaying. I talked to him briefly. He was an Australian too, having lived 10 years in Vietnam as a teacher, but he was out of his regular district. Phuong wasn’t sure he was ok. She came and whispered “David, is he alright ? He’s not going to pass out ?” and I said “No, he’s just tired and drunk. He’ll have one or two beers and get a taxi, don’t worry”. She nodded. I’d been helping her all evening with customer requests and translation.

She asked me earlier what to substitute for orange curacao in a cocktail and asked if grand marnier would be ok. I took a sniff and said “I’m only trained to pour drinks not make them, but that smells close enough to me”. She poured it. Noone complained.

The guy, who introduced himself as Luke, turned and said “Friend, you mind if I ask… Is it OK at this place if I light up a smoke, you know, natural style, or if it’s not ok”.

I chuckled and said “No it’s ok. As long as you’re discreet, the fellows over here have been listening to reggae and passing a little around this evening, and the old manager lady sitting at the table in front of you, she’s discreet and non-judgemental”. Luke chuckled and said “I think she likes bad boys”. I said “Maybe. Maybe she just likes the customers. She always smiles at me”.

Luke insisted I had to play him some Neil Young, so we finished with Neil Young’s Needle and the Damage Done, Heart of Gold, and then Old Man, to bring the night to a very quiet and mellow close. Luke paid his bill shakily bowing with hands together very politely to both Phuong and the old lady which made us all chuckle because despite living here 10 years, Luke had not learned more than a few words of Vietnamese, and knew nothing of the culture or the fact that today was even Independence Day.

Noni and her remaining friend decided to stay for another beer or two after I left, and I went home, having DJ’d a good 8-12 hours a day there for the last week, slipping across the alley with my brother’s laptop bag, with a Vietnamese yellow star sticker stuck to the back of it, just like on my laptop, for which I’d gotten a special sign-maker to print me some Vietnamese flag stickers the size I wanted.

The buzzer was broke but I knocked quietly. The landlady Hoa was still awake and came to the door. She invited me inside and asked if I’d sit. She asked what I was doing during my last days in Vietnam and I said just hanging around Pham Ngu Lao doing nothing. Maybe riding around a bit to take a few photos and that’s all.

She smiled and said “David, my old friend, who I have not seen for seven years. She just come back tonight and we are talking. She has two daughters. The oldest is married to a good man. The younger one, she is 24 and has a beautiful face. She has two young children but she divorced her husband because he was an alcoholic and he would beat her and he was a bad man. My friend, she asked me if I know a good man your age who want to marry a Vietnamese girl and have a family. I know this girl since she was a little baby. She is a good girl. She is like family to me and I know she would be a good girl. But I told her it is too late, because you are going home though”.

Curiousity got the better of me and I said “Hoa. I am here for four more days. If she wants to meet for coffee, we can exchange Facebook or Skype and talk online, get to know each other. You never know how soon I might be coming back here”.

At that moment, the girl’s older sister walked in, and Hoa introduced her to me and said Hello and I said Xin Chao and I smiled, grabbed my door key, an walked upstairs after a long, long night. I don’t know if I’ll meet this girl or not, or whether we’ll talk online, but I’ve actually got 6 new Vietnamese Facebook friends in the last week just from people I’ve met around the country and around Bui Vien. One more won’t hurt. Maybe she’ll be a nice girl.

Happy Independence Day, Vietnam. I had a good time, and thanks to Uncle Ho for what he did for this country.

Enjoy the photos.

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