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Around The Sun: In Vietnam

Steve Harrison falls in love with Vietnam.

They say that you’ll always discover whatever your looking for in Vietnam. That you’ll learn 90% of what you need to know in a couple of weeks. The other 10% has to be lived – Graham Green “The Quiet American”

I was always playing with the idea of living in Bali, I loved the Orient, it’s food and it’s women. But the Bali bombing dampened my enthusiasm to go there. When I first went there with Jacquie all those years ago, the Balinese impressed me with their culture and charm. Now, because of tourist dollars, millions of Javanese had flocked there. In general they were not as hospitable as the original dwellers.

Phil, one of my best friends, and his old school chum Johnno persuaded me to go with them on a holiday to Vietnam. I’d actually considered Vietnam a couple of times and instantly dismissed the idea. Phil is a very good planner, something I’m lousy at. He created an itinerary to get us from Saigon, through the Mekong Delta, then North to Hanoi, via NhaTrang, Hue the DMZ and Haloong Bay.

Saigon didn’t impress me at all. Everything I knew about the place was from war films like Platoon and Apocalypse Now. When I was in the city all I could think of were Huey helicopters and little children throwing hand grenades. My mind was filled with images from the Vietnam-America war.

Phil and Johnno were keenly interested in that war and wanted to visit battlefields. We collected Zippo cigarette lighters, spent bullets, medals and war stories. By the time we reached Hanoi I had had more than enough of being innundated with memories of war. The only redeeming feature was the couple of nights we spent in NhaTrang. I had decided I wanted to live for a time in that town.

Both Phil and Johnno were sick for much of the time. Too much sun. I on the other hand discovered the nightlife. After ten days Johnno, was ready to go back to Australia. Phil had the rest of our four days organised in and around Saigon, but I wanted to return to NhaTrang. So Phil went to Saigon and I had a great old time in NhaTrang, drinking in either Krazy Kim’s bar or the Sailing Club and dancing the nights away.

I danced all night and was on the beach all day, swimming, eating the freshest seafood in the world. I loved every minute of it. I sent Phil an e-mail telling him what a great time I was having. When I returned to my boarding house of the usual evening's carousal Phil was there. He had been bored in Saigon. He had come by train, an eight-hour journey.

NhaTrang changed my perspective of Vietnam. No more thoughts of war. Just sand, sea and beautiful accommodating women. Phil had a job, kids, a mortgage and responsibility. I on the other hand would return to Australia to a depressing life. Phil returned home. I stayed on in NhaTrang. My life became one great day after another great night. I hardly ever went to the guest house, except to change clothes. I slept most of the time on the beach, hung out with great people all having the time of their lives. I decided I was going to live in Vietnam.

I made lots of new friends, dated lots of different girls, drinking in my new-found fortune. The only problem was I had to go back to Australia to get a new visa and sort a few things out. I put off going there as long as I could but eventually went to pack up all my stuff, move out of my little house, sell my van, get a new visa and return to Vietnam as quickly as possible.

I had a terrible time back in Oz. So many hurtful memories. Everything I tried to do took twice as long as I expected it to. Eventually, with great relief and a long term visa, I headed off back to NhaTrang. I had a one-year return air ticket, but I could toss that into the bin if I chose to do so.

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