The last plane out of Sydney’s almost gone

Today was Australia Day. I only vaguely remembered because a few days ago I was using a funny nationalist parody of Australians (Straya Day) to justify why it was ok to laugh at cultural stereotypes. At only 9pm on the 25th (local time), one of my AEST buddies reminded me by saying “Good morning Australia” on Facebook.

I haven’t overly celebrated it in the last few years but I sort of felt like a change. I’ve been working my ass off trying to prove how heavily Vietnamese I can be. When I first came here I did it too, but I had a funny tradition of sitting in my home in the heavily Vietnamese and Chinese area of District 8 and playing Redgum when I woke up in the morning and Cold Chisel before I went to sleep.

This year, I felt like putting a little Aussie into my day. There’s an Aussie bloke downstairs named John. He’s been hard up due to some unfortunate problems and he’s been borrowing money off the landlady for food and things so I like to cook him a meal sometimes, or more commonly, take him out for a few beers. And what better way to celebrate Australia Day than with a few beers at my local, wearing my Akubra and… what the hell… having a laugh at the great Australian tradition of draping yourself in the Australian flag while you’re out drinking beer on the 26th of January.

Oh, that’s John by the way. He’s from Melbourne, but I won’t hold that against him. So, we sat there for half an hour having a beer and chatting about shit when Tom the Pom came along. Tom is an ex-army officer and BBC reporter turned English teacher in Vietnam and he drops by most afternoons for a few beers and we chat about literature and journalism and crazy things in the world.

Looks like a heavy thinker, doesn’t he ? He has a very posh accent and his family come from the south of England around the Cottswalds area. He is actually friends with a fellow I mentioned in my travels some years ago back in 2011 – Charlie the Malaysian-British Vietnamese Hot Dog Baron.

Although Tom tells me that poor Charlie’s hot dog business has pretty much gone bust. He suggests that maybe old Charles the well spoken Malay has been sort of running things into the ground with his wild times.

I am disappointed to hear that, but of course fascinated to hear how the story of the Malaysian-British Vietnamese Hot Dog Baron has worked out. Apparently Charlie is still kicking about, getting by but borrowing a little money from time to time. Oh well, we all have our good times and our bad times, don’t we ? Tom and I have a few friends in common, even though they are ones I haven’t seen in a few years. Sort of funny the way the world works in that respect, but it’s very common for foreigners in Vietnam to know each other if they get around and especially if they are an unusual character.

Tom livened the party by suggesting we roll up, and he passed the job to John, who did a marvellous job which we all applauded. We passed it around and admired the agricultural skill put into it. I took a few photos. Of children, vendors I know, tourists, locals and ourselves. John got a bit hyperactive as he always does after a few beers and a smoke and the conversation degenerated into the most random crazy sort of word association game as is common after a few beers with him.

Tom sat and sighed quietly as I tried to keep up with John’s feverish mind as he jumped from pop culture references, to puns, and to all sorts of other “tangential things” as he called them. Sometimes we looped back to the same subject from half an hour before in a weird way, and I would tease him by doing it too and relating the current conversation to one from a while ago in some tangential way. Tom, meanwhile had found a nice couple of girls.

They were both blonde, though one was a natural blonde, an Australia girl from Melbourne who had chuckled and before she even sat down (on the chair right beside the road) said “Happy Australia Day” in response to seeing me sitting in an Akubra with a large Australian flag around my shoulders. The other girl was a more petite European girl with bleached blonde hair who I might have assumed was a lesbian in some countries but Tom and I decided that she was just European.

Allowing John to try and roll the second one was a disaster because he spent five or six solid minutes rolling up the cardboard filter while talking incessantly about absolutely nothing, leaping from word to word like a methed up grasshopper on a scrabble board. I tried my hardest to reign him in and encourage him to finish his appointed duties and Tom, who is a man of few works said “For Christ’s sake John, will you hurry up ?” but after well over ten minutes John had still not finished rolling it and Tom, to his credit, politely managed to wrestle it from him and finish the job.

We sat and smoked and drank a while longer as the nighttime chaos descended on us and the small 12 square meter piece of street bar began to fill up with both Vietnamese and foreign people, eager to drink the cheapest beer in the neighbourhood. Tom got up and said “Must run chaps. Aerobics class. Have a bloody good Australia day although I suspect you already have, especially you John”.

I shot John a glance and thanked Tom for paying for the last round of beers (mostly in an attempt to get John to hurry the hell up with what he was supposed to be doing) and the two remaining Aussies sat and shot the wind in a ridiculous sort of Doctor Seuss manner before I slapped John on the back and told him it was time I went home to meet the wife for dinner. Before we left he commented “You know. I didn’t want to say it because I felt embarrassed, but it sort of made me proud, to see you sitting there wearing the Australian flag around you like that”. We got up and walked up the alleyway like a pair of returning olympians.

No lebanese were harmed in the making of this Australia Day story. Many beers were harmed though.

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