Being By the Sea and Feeling Special
Trip Start Jan 31, 1996
301Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
The Hoang Yen is a several star hotel that sits directly on the beach in the city of Quy Nhon. Ellen and I thought we'd treat ourselves after battling the tailors of Hoi An. I was nervous when we walked up to the front desk in this classy looking establishment. I hadn't shaved in a week and probably smelled a bit too. The hotel receptionist couldn't speak a word of English; when she showed us the per night rate of 500,000 dong I almost flipped.
“A half-a-million dong, that's like, $23.00 a night,” I said.
"The room is a deluxe sea view, with a flat screen T.V.," Ellen said.
“We'll have to cut back on meals if we stay here.”
“A buffet breakfast is included.”
I could sense Ellen was still in deep trauma over the Hoi An affair, so I relented. “Okay, what the hell, it's only dong.”
We'd arrived late, after a six hour bus ride down the coast, so we decided on an early night. We woke up just after sunrise the following morning and headed straight down for breakfast. I was looking forward to a couple of simple hard-boiled eggs.
When we entered the dining room soft, familiar music that I couldn't quite place filled the room. Then it hit me, like a sledgehammer. It was Hark the Herald Angels Sing. I panicked, wondering if something might have gone horribly wrong with me during the night. Then I saw Ellen's look of shock too and let out a sigh of relief.
When we got to where we thought they might be cooking eggs, we found instead a cauldron of soup. Underneath the lids of stainless-steel warming trays were foods we'd never seen. Odd shaped green foods and white foods, tiny fish, their eyes peeking out through green leaves, and the oddest of all, white jellied pieces of food with large brown centres
An upbeat rendition of Silent Night came through the speakers as we found a table on the terrace under an already hot morning sun.
“Why would these godless communists do this?” I whispered, for fear of being heard.
“How about they don't speak English,” Ellen said.
“What do you mean?”
“When the receptionist in a swanky hotel doesn't speak the language, you can be pretty sure most others in this town don't either.”
“Damn, you're clever.” I suddenly remembered a Moscow jazz and blues radio station that did the exact same thing. Both the Russians and the Vietnamese simply like the sound of the music, without having a clue what the words mean.
“I think we're going to find this place refreshing," Ellen said. "No hamburgers, no hotdogs, no french fries, no one trying to sell us things we don't want. And this breakfast is actually quite tasty.”
Away in a Manger was into its second verse as I drank my coffee, sweetened and made white with condensed milk. I looked around the terrace for Westerners. There were none. I was beginning to realize that Ellen was right, but I needed to get away from Christmas in March. I drained the coffee cup, grabbed her by the arm and headed for the beach.
We spent the rest of the day trading smiles with people who mostly just wanted to look at us. Sometimes young women, always in pairs, would walk up to us visibly embarrassed, wanting, trying to speak with us in English. Ellen was a champion, always taking the time to try and converse. Occasionally, I'd see a cell phone pointing our way. Sometimes I'd make like a body builder, other times I'd do Quasimodo grabbing hold of Ellen as though she were Esmeralda.
At night we stood on our balcony and stared out at what looked like a town on a distant horizon. Silouettes of young lovers sat below us, spaced apart on the darkened beach. The far away lights weren't from any shore, but squid boats, hundreds, maybe thousands of them. The lights were eerily romantic. The kids reminded me of the 60's.
Tomorrow, after a mystery breakfast I'm going to head down to the sea-shore for one last cell-phone photo shoot. In the afternoon we're catching the southbound train. Soon we'll be with the Western horde again and Quy Nhon will be just a fond memory.