“I HATE that guy… Argh I’m so jealous… Getting married… tsk.”
This was the reaction of my boyfriend and I’s tour guide in Halong Bay, Vietnam, when we proudly told him we were heading back to Ho Chi Minh city for a wedding. Our friend was to marry a Vietnamese lady in her home in Saigon.
He’s from London, half-Egyptian and half-English, but a Londoner. She’s lived in London for a long time, although spent her childhood in Vietnam, and they’ve been together seven years. They used to work together. They’re both in their twenties. What’s the problem?
For every Vietnamese person we told about the wedding, there seemed to be a very big one.
My friend is not a sex tourist, and it felt like every time we said ‘our friend is getting married in Vietnam’ we had to follow it up with some sort of disclaimer, like the above.
Not that it’s even any of our new Vietnamese acquaintance’s business, but out of friendship duty I’d always reply that they’re in love, have been for a long time, and will continue to be.
I know exactly what they were implying. It felt weird, to be challenged and accused all in one.
I wouldn’t have bought it up around the other wedding guests, or even said anything beyond me and my boyfriend but the day before the wedding another friend mentioned the questioning he’d endured, and everyone around the table quickly agreed with a story or three to tell.
Even on the way to the wedding
Once we’d told our spritely driver that his taxi full of westerners was going to a wedding he didn’t hesitate in expressing his displeasure either, before we’d even got a chance to mention our disclaimer. He kept going, not in a mean way but just matter of fact, and told us what a problem there was in Vietnam with locals marrying off to wealthy, old foreigners.
“I had a girlfriend, niiice [outlines boobs], seeexxxy body. She left me to marry a rich old man from England… All the beautiful ones do it… No one left for us”
“I ask you, why do they do it?” Still him, looking in his rearview mirror at us in the back.
“They die quicker?” I offered, not wanting to make any judgment that could be deemed racist, chauvinist or just not what I meant, either way.
“Ah ha, yes, exactly!” He liked that answer.
“All the best people are leaving Vietnam.”
To prove his point in Hanoi we saw a totally obnoxious, gross and old Australian guy chatting away with some backpackers at a Bia Hoi bar n the street. He had a Vietnamese beauty by his side. She was petite, a good 30 years younger, well dressed and just sitting there with her arms folded while he continued to shout and harass anyone who’d listen. I was watching them and he’d occasionally put his big, white, mottled hand on her slim leg not in a loving way but marking his territory to the young backpackers he was shouting at. She couldn’t join in the conversation as it went too fast, or perhaps, didn’t want to.
And there goes the judging. She might have been madly in love with him, who knows?
During our chat the day before the wedding we’d all admitted that when we saw 50+ aged guys by themselves anywhere in Vietnam we all thought ‘sex tourist’.
I spent pretty much every moment of my two weeks in Vietnam with my boyfriend, but other friends, mostly guys, who’d been travelling by themselves before the big day all had some sort of ‘sex story’ to tell. Whether it was lady boys, brothels, hookers in bars or beautiful women feeling them up and then trying to rob them in broad daylight, there was a lot of sex-related crime going on in Vietnam in our collective experience. And whether or not they were at the top, the ground work was being done by women.
Vietnam is a poor country – the monthly minimum wage is equivalent to £55. I guess it can seem tempting and too easy to use your body rather than your mind to get money. I just felt so sorry for the young Vietnamese girl with the Ozzie and it surprised me it was so prevalent, it was the same story in every part of Vietnam we visited. According to the taxi driver rich westerners ‘taking’ their women is genuinely a big problem in Vietnam.
“The girls need an education. More options to make money.”
Amusingly, but with some seriousness, our light-hearted taxi driver told us that all these goings on made him fear for his race.
“My new wife is not so pretty, and our children have suffered for it. What will happen to all the future generations if the beautiful people leave?”