He goes to a bar near the beach, orders a tofu and vegetable stir fry and a bottle of Saigon Special. The Saigon arrives with the top off. It tastes weak and watery, like the Bia Hoi you can get for next to nothing in the streets of any Vietnamese city. He suspects the bottle has been refilled with the cheap substitute. He spends the next half hour watching the staff serving beer to other customers, looking for evidence that they were topping up empty bottles behind the bar. He sees no firm evidence, and then wonders if they’ve only done it to him, because he looks like a soft touch; that they wouldn’t dare try it on the hard-faced Russian tourists who frequent Phú Quốc.
He decides not to have another beer there, makes a sign that he wants the bill. They send a five-year-old boy to his table with the bill. It’s a cute thing to do, but in his cynical frame of mind he sees it as a ploy to extract a larger tip. He pays, leaves no tip and goes to the bar next door, called “Andy’s”, where he orders another Saigon. It’s cheaper anyway. The waitress takes the bottle straight from the fridge and makes a point of bringing it to his table and taking the top off in front of him. So maybe it is ‘a thing’ in Phú Quốc and he’s not imagining it.
He’s on his third beer, second if you don’t count the watered down one. Two policemen ride by the bar on motorbikes. In all his time in Da Nang he’d never seen a policeman near any of the bars he used to frequent in the An Thuongs, not even in the ones where weed was openly sold and smoked. He thought of the mural at the Crazy Kat bar: “A friend in need is a friend indeed, but a friend with weed is better”. The boss lady of Andy’s looks concerned about the police. They’ve gone into the bar next door that he’s just left. Perhaps there’s been a complaint about watered down beer.
At the next table is a Russian couple with a child, maybe four years old – a boy, blonde haired, pale skinned. The boy has a smart phone propped up two or three inches from his face, his chin level with the table. His hands are placed either side of the phone. He is watching a video, the glow of the screen reflected on his face. For the next half-hour or more, the boy does not take his eyes off the screen. The waiter brings food to the table. The parents commence eating. The father interrupts his own eating every few minutes to cut up the boy’s food and spoon it into the boy’s mouth. The boy’s mouth opens automatically when the spoon approaches. His head remains motionless, his eyes focused on the screen. The boy never lifts his hands from the table, chews the food and swallows it as if on autopilot. The father then picks up a bottle of cola, pushes a straw between the boy’s lips. The boy begins sucking.
He finds it hard to look away from this scene, imagines a future where this boy has grown into an adult unable to feed himself, unable to stand up from his chair, his eyes permanently locked onto a screen displaying a never-ending video, a servant or robot spoon-feeding him, a plastic tube delivering liquid directly into his mouth.
He recalls his childhood:
one video after another
and a vague memory
of spoons and straws
Copyright Mike Hopkins 2018
Image : By Riza Nugraha from Utrecht, The Netherlands (Saigon’s BeerUploaded by feydey) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
(Some / most of these could be rightly described as “chopped up text”. But that’s how first drafts often look.)