China Beach

The train arrives at the Da Nang train station at 1:00, only thirty minutes late. While waiting to step off, I look into the public sink-room next to the train attendants room and notice a glass filled with liquid which could be apple juice but is most likely something else. I step off the train and head through the station to the awaiting taxis.
“You need taxi?” I’m asked.
“Yes, how much to here,” I say as I show him the address of the hotel I’ve reserved.
“50,000,” he answers.
Considering the hotel has told me it will be 60,000-70,000, I agree.
He helps drag my bag and, after a very hot five minute-walk, we arrive at his motorbike.
“What? It’s a bike? No car?” I point to my fifty-pound bag.
“Is good,” he replies, pointing to the back of his bike and adding, “You carry on back.”
Um, no. I politely refuse and head back to the now gathering taxi line.
I eventually get myself an honest-to-goodness automobile taxi and stare at the meter as we make our way to the hotel.
I’ve arranged one night in the Golden Summer Hotel prior to arriving. I’ll decide once I get there whether I wish to book more nights. I’m welcomed and shown to my room. It’s nice, with a window which looks down the street to the sea. Perhaps I will book further nights.
I hang out, get myself organized a bit and do some work. At 6:30, I have arrangements to meet Ngoc, an owner of an AirBnB which I’ve attempted to book but, unfortunately, she wasn’t able to accommodate my dates. Still, she’s invited me to a picnic at the beach with her and some friends.
At 6:30, I meet Ngoc downstairs. She actually looks past me and, when the hotel manager points me out, she walks up and says, “Oh, you look smaller in your picture.” Aah, Asia, you just don’t have the same societal norms that we westerners do.
picnic on beachWe have a lovely picnic at the beach where I learn much about Vietnamese laws, norms, and society in general. I ask about the Vietnamese practice of eating dogs. I’m told that, in some areas (mostly up north), due to poverty, dog is something they eat. I learn that there are different names for dinner dog than for pet dogs (FYI – I’ve not seen many dogs at all here in Vietnam). I’m also told of a Vietnamese expression describing marriage; for a Vietnamese woman, life is all pink before marriage, but after marriage, life is gray and dark. Yes, even if they work, the women are expected to cook and clean, without the help of the husband. They’re not always treated so well. Finally. I ask what, if any, religions are represented in Vietnam as, as I understand it, communism doesn’t normally support religion. I’m told there are various religions represented. I’m then asked my religion and, when I respond that I’m Jewish, I receive a puzzled look. Nobody seems to have heard of this religion.
I make an attempt at being understood by saying, “Well, it’s not the same, but do you know Israel?”
More puzzled looks.
“Do you know Germany in World War II and the Holocaust?”
Not so much. Wow, this is strange.
After a while, I’m asked if I want to go dancing. As I’ve had a long night on a train I explain that it’s time for me to go to bed and I decline their invitation to go dancing (yes, I’m old). I head back, jump on booking.com and reserve another two nights in the Golden Summer. I’ve not even bothered to look around as, while there are many hotels in the area, this is just fine, with a decent price and, as the last three nights have been one night-stays, I can’t bear to pack everything up and move again. I just want to sleep in and go to the beach.
At 7:45am the next morning, my phone rings.
“Hello, sorry to disturb you but I know you booked more nights on booking.com, but we are full and you must leave.”
“Um, what? But I got a confirmation! Why would you accept the booking?” (See, Vietnam is Like a Box of Chocolates).
I spend the rest of the morning packing a bit and on the phone and internet figuring out where to go. After a while, I end up in the lobby where the manager attempts to talk to me. I tell him not to bother as, right at this moment, I’ve just about had it.
Sure, I could move, but I’ve now wasted half a day and that will waste more. Tony, the manager, leaves and, when he returns, he offers to have me move to the room next door, which is officially a double, as they’d put me in a triple. As this means not packing everything but simply moving it next door, I accept. My new room is much smaller, doesn’t have the shower separated from the toilet as my other room did, and has no window. I never would have booked a room with no window but, as I don’t want to pack and waste more time finding a new place to stay, I decide to accept what seems to be the inevitable and go to the beach. It’s about a seven minute-walk until my feet meet the sand. During the war, Da Nang was known as “China Beach” and was the place American GI’s would come for some R & R. Seeing it in person, I can understand why.
I pay 40,000 Dong for a beach chair and plant myself under the shaded awning with as few others (the sun here is really a scorcher). After a bit of reading and lazing, with the occasional dip in the South China Sea, I brush off the sand and walk down the beach in search of food. China BeachAfter about ten minutes, I find a small hotel with a beach restaurant. I’m shown a menu and, as I really need a beer, I ask if the HUDU beer I see in the menu is a local Vietnamese beer. I’m told that all of the beers are from Vietnam, including the Heineken. Yeh, I don’t think so.
I see a man sitting at the next table who appears to be a Westerner so I ask him if he’s eaten here and, if so, what’s good (still not sure about many local dishes). His name is Sean and, while he lives here now, he’s from Derry, Ireland. We sit for hours drinking beer and chatting about oh so many things. His Northern Ireland upbringing, the cliché of his having two brothers named Liam and Seamus (you don’t get more Irish) and what he’s doing here (manufacturing clothing). China BeachAt the end of the evening, he drops me at my hotel and, when I look at my dinner receipt I realize I made a classic traveler’s mistake by not closely inspecting the bill. Sean is a typical Irishman who has had many beers. Apparently, I paid for them all. Yup, when I say you can’t trust anyone in Vietnam, I’ll include the Irish in that. I text him and, hoping there’s some mistake, tell him that I paid for all his drinks. I don’t hear back.
Tomorrow – A day of volunteering and another day riding the cable car.  
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