Sunday, 8 March 2015

An afternoon in a temple with a bar girl

I am having a very humbling day here in Nha Trang, as I write these lines in a little notebook at a small temple on top of a hill overlooking the city. Tin and her cousins are taking me out for a meal and a prayer. I feel under dressed in my swimsuit (it's laundry day).

I met Tin last night while going home. She is a flyer girl / waitress in a bar in town. She handed me a flyer but I told her that I was going to bed. She asked me why, am I on a holiday after all? I told her I'm trying to get used to getting up early, because I am a teacher. She grabbed my wrist, her eyes getting bigger. "Can you help me? Lesson?" I answered "Sure, tomorrow, 10 am, I give you a lesson, you buy me a coffee". With a huge smile she shakes my hand and says, yes, thank you, see you tomorrow!

Today. Tin tells me she hopes to have a boyfriend either from Canada, Holland, Germany or Poland because men from these countries are always nice (Nha Trang is over-run by Russians, last night one man asked if he could buy her a beer and fuck her, she slapped him, he slapped her back and was kicked out of the bar). Vietnamese boyfriends drink everyday, she tells me, and hit their girlfriends when they're drunk, like it happened to her cousin who is with us. She is pretty, with a smoking body and delicate manners. I notice for the first time, what I mistook for a small birthmark under her right eye, is in fact a bruise concealed by make-up.

Tin is praying right now, on her knees, forehead resting on the back of her hands, on the floor. She is praying to a lady Buddha, perched on a lotus, on top of a globe, itself towering over a shrine and steps.

It is very quiet here, compared to the buzzing city centre. Little dogs are sleeping everywhere and cripples wait patiently for a hand out. An old woman with tiny legs, sitting on the ground, looks at me and says "Money" while holding in her hands small bills. I thank her and pretend to take the money, everyone laughs. I am left alone after that. A monk in brown robes, wearing glasses, is copying a text from a small book onto cardboard while serving people who want to buy water, fruit, incense. The smell of incense fills the air.

The small temple has no roof. It is built on top of a conic tower, you drive in circles around it to get to the top. There are small shrines at every cardinal points of the platform.

The monk is preparing for a ceremony, setting a pillow at the foot of the stairs. he also sets a small table and boxes of beer that appear very light, full of little holes.

He kneels on the pillow, in front of the statue where Tin was praying earlier, prepares his microphone, puts on his reading glasses.

A Lasapso, absolutely dirty, scratches himself on the shrine's steps, not too far away.

The monk rings a bell a few times and starts his prayer. Women kneel behind him for prayer.

At a certain point, he hits the bell 3 times and everyone bows to the ground, before he starts chanting.

Tin tells me she comes here to pray every day. I ask her what she prays for. As I thought, she is praying for a boyfriend, for a good man to come to her. She said she also prayed for me, that I will find work in Saigon and meet a beautiful woman.

Many people just arrived, probably from work, on their lunch break. The monk is still chanting.

Minutes later, a lot of the people who gave water bottles as offerings - set at the foot of the statue on a golden altar with rising golden dragons - are taking them back and drinking from them. I ask Tin why they take the water back. She takes her own water bottle and tells me "I tell the Buddha, I will drink this whole bottle of water that I gave you, to show you my devotion. When I finish it, please reward me with  a good man".

The monk now dips a big yellow flower in a bowl of water, delicately, to then bless whatever is in the boxes of beer in front of him.

Tin is next to me, speaking with her cousin. She is crying. When they are done, I ask her why she is crying. She is crying but she is strong, she tells me. She meets lots of men at the bar, but none are nice to her. She had a westerner boyfriend, but she left him when he started convincing her that it was okay for him to sleep with other women. She had a Vietnamese boyfriend as well, but he was treating her like property. Another Vietnamese man proposed to her, for she is always smiling and he wants a happy wife. He gave her 10 million Dongs so she could buy pretty clothes. In the end, she turned him down, because he was 50, the same age as her father.

The other bar girls tell her she is stupid, because she will not fuck men for money. An American offered 5 million Dongs for her "just to come to his hotel room and sleep in his bed, nothing else". She did not take the offer. Most bar girls make 2 million Dongs a month. She doesn't care about money, she wants love, from a good man.

As we talk, I miss the opening of the beer boxes. The monk let out the blessed birds within. When this was done, he came barefeet to sit at our ceramic table and speak with the girls. His eyes are surrounded by smiling lines, his eyes appear completely honest. He smiles a lot. I think he is giving them advice. He looks at me often and I think he is asking questions about me.

After that, everyone went for a nap, while I retreated to my hotel room to plan the next few days. The day after, I would take Tin to the Ba Ho waterfalls where we would play a little bit in the cascades, watch a group of Vietnamese people drink beer and play music, and clandestinely look at a couple in their forties, cuddling in a pool of water, kissing. This is not a scene you see often, as people are very reserved here.

That night, Tin tells me I am a very good man, because I did not ask her for boom boom and offered to give her lessons instead. She tells me that I should stay in Nha Trang, that she will cook for me every day. She asks if I want kids. Jokingly, I say, I want 10. She answers, I will give you 20. I will start with a baby boy.

I tell her, you don't know me. I've made a few girls sad in my life, she should not give herself to me so easily. I am going to Saigon to work, and I might never come back to Nha Trang.

"I wait for you. 10 years. You will be 40, I will be 33. Then I give you a baby boy, and I cook for you"

"Don't wait for me. Live your life."

"Okay. Thank you for being honest."

If you take the time to get to know people, if you give your time to them, you are often rewarded with smiles and good memories. My stay in Nha Trang was no exception. Sometimes though, you get to be hit in the face full-force by the reality of their lives.

Keep your head up, Tin. Good things will come to you.