We had finally arrived at the only non-hostel room we had booked on our two week spree through Southeast Asia. Normally we thrive on the low budget hostel rooms, which allow for easy networking with people our age, but we couldn’t wait for something that promised relaxation. So far our trip was full of weather ruining plans and a culture shock none of us were prepared for despite over a year of research and preparation. The absolute lack of any English was rough on all of us, especially in Thailand where we got ripped off a few times for things like one minute elephant rides when we were promised an “true elephant experience” and tigers full of sedatives. But as soon as we got to Hoi An the clouds lifted and the heavy monsoon rains that had been stalking us relentlessly finally disappeared. When we walked into the sparkling lobby, with its panoramic view of the huge resort pool and the beckoning ocean beyond, we immediately became giddy again like we were at the beginning of our trip. We couldn’t wait to change into our bikinis and start enjoying it all so, despite our rooms not being ready yet, we grabbed what we needed from our suitcases and changed quickly in the bathroom. For the next few hours we hardly spoke, laying in the warm sand and soaking up the sun.
A few hours later, our skin painted with dried sea salt, we were ready to check into our new rooms. Deciding where to go out and eat in the beach town nearby was our next adventure and we had a process: whoever is done getting ready first reads TripAdvisor reviews aloud. After hearing quite a few, I was never done first, I was sitting down to strap on my wedges when I heard, “drinks inspired by fresh fruit from the nearby farms” and I squealed with excitement. If there’s one thing I love it’s fresh exotic fruits and if there’s a second thing, it’s alcohol. It was also a highly reviewed restaurant that was central to the night market and some bars in case the night turned into a dancing one, which I always hope it will. We hailed a lime green cab into the crowded and more expensive side of town which was bustling with what seemed like a festival taking place. But we were hungry and thirsty so made our way to the recommended restaurant which was already crowded, groups of tourists laughing and flooding out into the street. We were seated in the middle of the colorful restaurant which made us feel like we were dining in a party and I immediately ordered a fruity drink with what looked like little chia seeds in it and a hint of ginger. I must have had at least three of these with my meal and was getting tipsy but they were too delicious to stop! We passed over an hour here and it just kept getting more crowded so we left, bellies full, to see the festival still taking place on the river bank. There were little paper boats that everyone was pushing into the water with little lit candles glowing inside; the lack of streetlights making the boats glow bigger and brighter as they floated out to sea. My Vietnamese girlfriends bought a couple, lit the wicks, and walked down to the bank so my Argentinian friend could document them letting go, but their feet were sinking into the mud because it was too dark to see how wet it was and they started slipping and sliding. Argentina and I couldn’t stop laughing as we witnessed their feet disappear on the video recording on her smartphone. After a few minutes of laughing and pulling each other out of the mud, we keep walking up to a crowded bridge with glowing red fish shaped lanterns. We snapped a few selfies of our faces lit by the flame colored lanterns and keep strolling past a man with an accent I can’t place handing out fliers to a bar nearby. We decline politely since we feel a food coma coming on and just want to meander back to our resort. But when we get to the other side of the bridge my Argentinian girlfriend realizes her phone is missing and a dark cloud starts creeping over the night, tickling the hairs on the back of my neck. Trying to remain hopeful, we backtrack and start asking bystanders if they’ve seen it but after thirty minutes of the same sad unresponsive faces we realize our search is hopeless. The mood of the night is palpable as we realize we’ve experienced the hands of a pick-pocket for the first, and thankfully only, time on this trip. My Vietnamese friends are still exhausted and head back to the resort but Argentina doesn’t want to go back just yet. She is wired from losing her phone and I can’t leave her alone. Instead we walk back to the man on the bridge with the fliers. Argentina flirtatiously converses with him and we find out his accent is European and the fliers are for a bar with a YouTube jukebox. I’ve never heard of this before but it’s self explanatory and I’m dying to hear something familiar that I can dance to so we thank the man and follow the crude map on the flier to another river bank lined with small bars that open out onto the street. We can hear the one with the jukebox from all the way down the street and walk up to the neon lit crowd smoking cigarettes outside. We walk in and realize we may be the only girls who have come here by ourselves. There are larger groups of people from all over Europe and it’s mostly a sausage fest but we don’t care because the goal is to dance with each other anyway. Even so, some guy offers to buy us a round of drinks immediately and Argentina orders two of something from him but I can’t make out what she says. I smile and nod anyways, looking at the line for the Jukebox which only has three people in it staring down at their phones. Probably deciding which banger from their playlist to choose and impress everyone with. The drink we ordered is made fast and Marilyn hands it to me as I yell that I’m going to go wait in the line to pick a song which has already dwindled down to two. I stare at the cold drink in my hand and wait in the short line to play Skrillex. There aren’t many people choosing songs and “Burial” comes on before I can finish the drink so I give it away to a stranger and start dancing like an animal; head banging, hair swinging, and feet shuffling! I’m used to listening to music of my choice at the volume of my choice at least a couple times a day at home or in my car so over a week of just quietly listening through headphones on planes hasn’t been cutting it. That and all the stress from earlier in our trip and our lives was weighing on me so this release was like sweating it out in a sauna when you’re hungover; detoxifying and delicious.
After countless more songs and a shoddy game of pool, the bar starts closing. I’m okay with this since my head is tired and spinning from all the banging and hair flipping. We walk outside into the perfectly balmy night air to be greeted by the European with the fliers who was waiting for us with a friend outside the bar. There was a handful of locals hanging out on their mopeds with the solitary headlights turned on offering rides to other bars. The two Europeans offered to take us to on the back of their mopeds, no helmets of course, and Argentina was ready to say yes but I grabbed her arm first and start tugging her back inside the bar claiming I had to use the restroom real quick. As soon as the bathroom door closes behind us and it’s just us alone in the solitary room I look at her and she can tell something is wrong. “You don’t want to go to the other bar?” She probes.
“It’s not that, I just get a really sketchy vibe from those two. Do you really want to go?” I try to make my faces look sad as I sway her to go back to the resort. “My grandmother always told me no good happens after midnight and I think tonight she may be right.”
This was enough for Argentina and she agrees to go back with me since it’s already so late and she’s tired too.
Suddenly there’s a banging at the bathroom door and we open it to see an angry Vietnamese woman yelling, “the bar is closed! You must leave!”
We practically run for the exit as she shoos us away with her hands flapping in the air, giggling a little because she looks insane running after us. The night air feels good against my face after being in that stuffy stinky bathroom. Outside it seems a lot emptier and everyone who had been dancing at the bar earlier was either already gone or disappearing down the dark street with their friends. We were the last girls left on the street besides the owner of the bar who was now yelling at the European in broken English to leave and never come back. I understood the leaving part but the second part him never coming back was confusing since he had been the one passing out fliers for her place so we had assumed he worked there. When I ask the owner if he was just fired tonight she looked at me dumbstruck and then shot him another look of malice. He ignored her and led us to the other side of the street. The owner continued putting away the plastic chairs and turning off lights. It was clear the only thing she cared about was us leaving so she could close up. I saw no intentions of her helping us figure out who these men were were or how to get back.
It wasn’t cold but chills were forming on my skin and I was still sweating but not from the dancing. I was feeling uneasy, like I just got off a roller coaster I wasn’t prepared for, and ther was a strong urge in my belly to get back to our resort where the other half of our group was probably already sound asleep. There were no longer any signs of life or light on the street except for a few dimly lit lanterns that didn’t even outshine the moon which was now covered in clouds. The only activity was a few remaining local men and the two Europeans sitting on mopeds with their headlamps blinding our eyes. When I tell them we are going to head back because we are tired they don’t want us to leave. An altercation begins between the locals and the Europeans who were clearly not in cahoots. The locals keep trying to convince Argentina and me to hop on their mopeds, shouting in Vietnamese and reaching for our arms. Unsure of anything at this point, except how badly we both want to go back to our five star room, we start walking down the street away from everyone. The locals don’t follow us, clearly not their style, but the Europeans sidle up next to us with their moped engines humming. “You’re no fun,” the one next to me quips with a smirk.
“Why miss out on the experience of a lifetime because you’re tired,” the other one cooes at Argentina with a ridiculous pout.
We don’t stop walking and I thread my arm tighter around Argentina insisting that a cab will be easier and safer.
“There are no more cabs at this hour!” one of them exclaims with a snicker, clearly delighted at our naivete. “If that’s what you’re looking for you might as well let us take you back to your room.”
This idea seems okay to Argentina, who finished a few more drinks than I had at the bar, but a voice inside me keeps screaming “DO NOT separate from each other”, which we would have to do since three couldn’t fit on one of those dinky motorized bikes. I can see the main road in the distance but it looks far away still. I can’t remember the last time I saw a cab, or any other car for that matter, and the fear that the European is right creeps over me; but my mind is set on not letting go of Argentina as I push us to walk even faster and then it happened suddenly. One of them sees his opportunity and grabs Argentina, easily overpowering her and pulling her onto his scooter. My heart races as he starts to speed off. I quickly grab her other arm and rip her off the seat, a dangerous maneuver but one for which she is grateful. Now we are running down the street and my fairy godmother must have heard me because we don’t get past the next corner without seeing a familiar lime green car parked on the left in an alley. The lights are on and when we run up to the window where the driver is deep in thought, reading something. Before I can even ascertain if he’s working or not, Argentina and I are falling into the backseat and slamming the door behind us. We hand him a piece of paper with our Resort’s name and address on it in Vietnamese and thankfully he starts to drive. I risk looking behind us and see both men leaning on their vehicles and staring back at me. They finally stopped chasing us.
The cab rolls through the dark streets lined with palm trees in silence and when it pulls up to our lobby entrance we see all the lights are off inside the lobby and the doors are closed, no employees in sight. We thank our cab driver and give him the biggest tip we can before he drives off into the jungle. It’s an odd but fitting welcome to our night and I’m relieved no one sees us because we look and feel like hell. We follow a garden path around the main entrance but as tired as we are we don’t go back to our room just yet. Still in shock from the night’s turn of events we keep walking, straight past the rooms, the pool, and go all the way to the empty beach on the other side. The sand feels refreshingly cool between my toes and I sink down to my knees, staring out at the wave crests catching rays of moonlight. Argentina kneels down next me, shaking like leaf in the wind and I ask if she’s cold but she just shakes her head.
“What I am doing here?” She whimpers.
“What the rest of us are too afraid to do,” I reply.
Argentina is freaking out because she doesn’t fly home to California like the rest of us in a few days. She is going back to Thailand to teach English for at least one year. This was the reason for all of us coming out here; besides a killer vacation with our best girlfriends we wanted to help Argentina get a good start on her Southeast Asia adventure which was mostly successful until tonight. We feel like we escaped something terrible but what exactly?
“I’m not sure what just happened but I can honestly say I’m glad we experienced it together.”
“Oh my god I know, that’s why I’m so scared. What am I going to do when you leave?”
I didn’t know the answer to that but before I could answer I heard her moan and then it came. It wasn’t just vomit from alcohol. It looked like secreted stress built up from graduating college without financial help or guidance, attempting to keep her family’s restaurant afloat practically single handedly, and a string of horrible ex-boyfriends one of whom is responsible for the death of her black lab, Captain. The last four years of angst and unease lay there, purged from her tall tan body. It was a dark bile from somewhere deep within her and it melted the sand, sinking into it like a black hole. “Eww, gross,” she said. But she already looked more relaxed and laid back with her arms and legs sprawled. A smile began to tug on her face that I hadn’t seen in awhile. The smile that always greeted me when we used to work together the restaurant, all four of us, young and carefree. Even though we had less money then, and even less of an idea of what we were going to do with our lives, we seemed to be happier. It wasn’t that long ago but life was so different before we all graduated college and got different jobs. I stared quietly at the sea, contemplating this, looking at the moon who was looking down at its mirror image reflected in the water. We were calm and our breaths were deep and the only sound was the ocean, slapping rhythmically against the shore.Read More