So where was me.....?
Right, after Pattaya, Thailand.....
OK, so here go the random blatherings...
Tried to do my taxes online a couple months ago. With V.N.P.T.'s lovely Internet connection, it woulda taken HALF the time had I processed them and filed them over a two-tin-cups-and-a-string Internet connection!
Buncha new things.....
As much as I love my Vietnamese Family and despite how much they worry about me, it really was time for me to move out. Naw, even though my huge-ass bedroom was expensive (and probably overpriced) by Vietnamese standards (2,000,000 Dong per month), it still was a sweet deal with food, Internet, electrique, water, cleaning and laundry service all thrown in the deal!
But, there's something a bit disturbing when ya gotta call your Vietnamese Family when you're at the front door at 12:30am after a night at a cafe drinking several pints with friends so they can let you in. This is simply because The Vietnamese WILL steal ANYTHING that is not bolted down and protected by at least three locks!
Say that I am generalising and stereotyping......then come here and see for yourself!
On the other hand, there is absolutely dead zero VIOLENT crime here. No murders, rapes, muggings, armed robbery, etc.
But I'm going off on a tangent here.
But anyways, because of the rampant theft in Vietnam, it was an INTERIOR lock, so either Hang or Ngoc hadta come downstairs and let my sorry half-in-the-bag ass inside. They kept swearing left right and center about how this WAS NOT a problem, but I really didn't feel good about waking ANYBODY up (the Vietnamese generally go to bed before 10pm and wake up when the roosters start crowing....like 6AM-ish or earlier) on a consistent basis.....
....plus, I mean, I'm a North American: We demand our privacy and our own private space (this absolutely baffles the Vietnamese.....who carry NO such concept, nor are they even familiar with it).
So, after a little bit of looking, I found a palace in a bit of a dodgy neighbourhood for 3,000,000VND a month. Two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a balcony and four stories high. Saw it, and was immediately adamant about it! This IS the place.....this IS thee house.
Cool. So we were gonna draw up a six-month lease and be all set. THEN there was the police fee.
What the fuck's a "police fee"???
Well, this is where your landlord goes to the local police, gives them a photocopy of your passport, two passport-sized fotograffs, and all of your information, along with a Dong note in a little white envelope ranging anywhere from 200,000 to 700,000.
If the person who owns the house does nothing with their property or properties but rent them, then they generally have a pretty good "relationship" with the local constabulary and, thusly, your "police fee" is going to be around the 200,000 Dong range.
Problem is - MY house is owned by this guy who's elderly mother, a widow, lived in alone until he talked her to moving into his house. THESE folks have never so much as rented a bicycle before....much less a house. So, they had no idea even who or what the police were!
Told me - "You're on your own with the police files and fee....."
So my friend's landlord calls Tam and says that she knows the Head of the Le Chan section of the Hai Phong police (basically equivalent to a District Commander or a Precinct Captain, and Le Chan is the district [it is the central downtown district of Hai Phong, actually] that I reside in and have resided in even since I got to Hai Phong) and we could meet with him and see what is what!
Well.....thass just what we did.
THIS guy was unreal - he had a picture of himself in his police dress uniform on his wallpaper on his CELL PHONE....man, I can just picture Clint Eastwood: "You're a legend in your own mind......"
So we had a nice introductory meeting, and he tells us to come back tomorrow. Tam and my friend's landlord both suggest to me as we are driving out of the Police Station that when we come back tomorrow, it would be advised to buy two envelopes and make certain that there is a 500,000 Dong note in each of them.....
So we go back to the Police Station the next day, I reach out and grab the guy's hand and say, in my most normal voice: "Captain Bribe!! How the hell are you??"
He smiles and says something in Vietnamese in his most normal voice...probably "Whazzup, Stupid Tay! Great to see you again! Look forward to milking you for all ya got. So, how much do you REALLY like that house?"
So...we all chat forra bit (well, not me, but my friend's landlord, Tam and Captain Bribe do), and then Tam slides him the two while envelopes along with two 1"X2" passport pics and some fotocopies and The Captain deftly crams them underneath some paperwork that is burying his desk. Talk a bit more, and then we are outta there.
In the parking lot - "Well. that didn't go so badly" I say.
"Yes, but he would like to see us at a cafe tomorrow" says Tam.
"Oh, OK, cool. What time?"
"No, no - not you. Just us two."
"Whaaa....the fucks THIS all about? I mean, Captain Bribe got his Dong!! No need to be a Dong about it and try to hit on my girlfriend as well."
"No....ahhh....certain things are done and discussed and it's....uhhh....best that you, as a Tay, not be around to witness them...."
Well, the next morning Tam called me because my friend's landlord was deathly ill and Tam's mother stole her motorbike to go and play badminton that morning. So I got pressed into duty to give her a ride to meet Captain Bribe.
Well, we met him, but it wasn't at a cafe....it was more at this, like, Tiki-themed seafood restaurant thing. OK, so he introduces us to a couple of friends of his that he was with and he sits us down and tosses us a couple of beers and tells us to have at it and maul the appetizers on the table!
Cool, so we're sitting there hanging for a bit, then a couple more of Captain Bribe's friends join us at the table. And a few more ice-cold pints of Bia Ha Noi appeared before my eyes (and my mouth).
"Oh, well....this is nice" I stated to Tam.
"It should be - it's on your tab" she stated back mechanically.
"Suck what again?" I asked her.
"This would be the second part of the Police Fee" Tam explained. "You see, this is the standard procedure."
"What the fuck?? STANDARD PROCEDURE?? Waaaaai.....waaaai a sec here: Now, could you please tell me again WHAT EXACTLY is Captain Bribe doing for me where I hadta slip him 500,000 Dong notes in plain white envelopes?"
"Errmmm.....Hon? This is the 'back door route" and the way it works is....."
"Yeah....actually, now that you mention it, I DO feel like I'm getting anally raped! Christ, hate to see the 'FRONT door route' in that case...."
" 'Front door official route'? That is several weeks of waiting time and a few million Dong more money than this" responded Tam.
(Insert TOTAL FUCKING Jerry Brown Look on my face here)
Then, after I slowly start to get over just how totally fucking bizarre this entire spectacle actually is, I see a few MORE guys coming up to the table and joining us.
"Wow - Captain Bribe sure has a lot of friends" I mention to Tam.
"These aren't his friends - they are all members of the Le Chan District of the Hai Phong Police"
(Second in a series of several Jerry Brown Looks here)
Well, looked like things were winding down, and the french fries and shrimp and beers seemed to be done......
"Oh, well, Hon...let's tab this out and get going. We have work to do at school....."
"Oh! No....no....you can't leave."
"No, hon....you have to wait until they leave."
(Jerry Brown Look again here)
"Man! Jesus....talk about straight outta a Kafka novel....."
"Who is Kafka?"
After about five minutes of little conversation, I stretched and yawned.
No dice. Out of the corner of my eye, I see two portable gas burners being brought to the table and two pots of water.....
....followed by two enormous-ass plates of various types of seafood.
.....dual seafood hot-pots.
Then, more ice-cold pints of Bia Ha Noi started appearing.....and, somehow, two bottles of Hanoi brand vodka magically showed up at our table.
I mentally calculated the tab, and had visions of two 500,000 Dong notes growing wings and flying away out of my wallet....and I was stuck there, forced to watch it all!
Kinda like what it must be like for those people you hear about who are undergoing surgery, and the anesthesiologist was hungover that day and he gives the patient JUST BARELY ENOUGH anesthesia to remove about 75% of the sensation of pain, but not the total, correct amount of anesthesia that would put the patient totally to sleep.....so you are watching yourself literally be cut open, yet you CANNOT scream or even say anything. Because of the anesthesia, you are physically unable to!
Well, fuck that - if I'm gonna get nicked, I wanna be good an' numb while it's going on....so these cops kept inviting me to do vodka shots with them, and chug pints of bia! After a while, one cop who took a particular liking to me had me do shots with him and he started instigating some sort of elbow-forearm locking shot drinking game where the object was to knock the other guy until he wobbles or some shit like that. I had stated "Khong! Khong!" (No! NO!) to this, but they would not hear of it. So, after putting up a VERY realistic-looking fight, I gave up and teetered and bowed my head in shame.......
.....I mean, I had 8 inches and about 25 kilograms on the guy....but, Jesus, I'm NOT stupid....plus, this guy was starting to colour badly. What I mean by that is that ALL Vietnamese turn the colour of a bright red tomato after about three beers, or two mixed cocktails, or one shot. I'd seen it here enough times, and I'd seen it amongst my Viet-Kieu friends back home in Portland. They're NOT huge drinkers here.....
Afterwards, Tam told me that it was a good thing that I had lost, as it is not a good idea to win as it will cause the defeated policeman much loss of face in front of his fellow officers.
Later on, I said to Tam (this was about 11:00AM) - "Wow, these guys sure know how to kick back after a hard days work."
"I do not understand" replied Tam
"I mean, their day is done....hey, duling hot-pots, beer and vodka! Whee-Haw!!!"
"I do not understand. 'Day is done'? Does that mean they go home now?"
"Uhhh....they do not go home."
"Oh well, cool.....then, after we leave, maybe they go out and drink some more or something."
"Khong. They go back to work."
"Ahaaa...A-hahahahah! Thass a good one, Hon."
"What do you mean....'That is a good one'.....a good what?"
"A good joke."
"I do not understand. What is a joke?"
"That these guys are going back to the precinct to go back to work! Hell...half 'of 'em can barely walk...much less catch a criminal."
Tam in mechanical voice - "What are you talking about? Of COURSE they are going back to work. Do you not see? This is lunchtime!!"
"Ah, Hon? if anybody lights a match near these guys....all of Le Chan will go up in flames.....their combined breath could run a top-fuel dragster!! They're NOT going back to the Police Station."
"It is OK, My Love....do not panic or spend too much worry on them!! For you see, these men have safe jobs. They sit at the desks all day and collect bribes from the people."
"Shit..." I thought to myself in my alcoholic haze. "Really??? What the hell am I doing teaching English?? Where do I sign up for THIS???"
Anyways, we made up some excuse about an "emergency at the school" or some bullshit like that (Tam's mother called her cell, and Tam totally confused her mother and started screaming loudly [in Vietnamese] - "WHAT happened at the school??? There was a small fire? What the
HELL are you talking about?? Is it put out?? etc. etc.") and got us the hell outta there.
The damage to my wallet wasn't totally fatal = 700,000 Dong!
Last I had heard, Captain Bribe phoned Tam two weeks later saying how much all of his men just thought I was the bees knees!! And proceeded to invite ME (where, like, HE pays) out for pints......
Took him up on that offer, but said I'm really busy (and, yeah, I actually was)....but told him that I DO wanna have drinks with Captain Bribe and Captain Bribe alone......and I'll toss for it....
Normally, I absolutely abhor this shit to the ninth degree!! But given that I am in a nation with no known laws, it's ALWAYS a good idea to have a Captain Bribe on your cell phone's speed dial for in case the shit (whatever sort of shit that may be) comes down!
It's kinda like Buffalo....only SLIGHTLY more overt here about how things get done...and if I get caught bribing them here, my name doesn't go on the front page of the Buffalo News (or whatever the fuck the Hai Phong daily paper is called)!
Next blather - Canh Ga, employment and an entirely new and bizarre direction (complete with pictures for the attention-span-challenged)!