Across the white tiles of the loo it darts for refuge. I could take umbrage – haven’t pissed on a lizard in years – but remind myself its behaviour is procedurally sound in a land that prides itself on eating everything but the (table) leg. Viet lizards should hold survival classes for the frogs who at night issue a collectively mighty chorus from the rice paddies. You hear it a mile off. Me, if I were a frog I’d keep quiet about it. In markets all over the Mekong and Red River deltas you see no end of ‘em in helpless squirming trios and quartets, each unhappy gathering secured by a stout rubber band. What you conspicuously don’t see a great deal of are lizards.
At the Hoi An quayside a man decked out like a peasant – which he may well be though, as noted before, all bets are off in this town – squats in a shady den perched above the Thu Bon river. Behind him is a huge wooden windlass, in front of him a sign saying there’ll be a demo of “traditional square net fishing” at 11 am. I look at the time on my camera and decide I don’t want to wait. I’m intrigued though. All things piscatorial interest me, a throwback to boyhood as a follower of the Daily Mirror comic strip, illustrated by Bernard Venables, wherein a kindly old cove by the name of Mr Crabtree took young Jim under his wing at the riverbank to give free tuition in the art of coarse angling. That was the fifties, before paedophilia was invented, when a man might still take a young lad fishing or to the togger match without arousing suspicion or requiring MI5 clearance. Sledgehammers and walnuts spring to mind. As a society we’ve paid too high a price for the wrong solutions – this for instance – to a problem whose dangers are overstated.
But I digress. Caught between impatience and desire to see the show, I decide to buy my very own personal viewing and communicate this by gesture. The moment his own hand touches the windlass’s huge protruding spokes a white egret, smaller and more graceful cousin of our grey heron, last seen stalking the reed beds upriver soars in from nowhere to perch on one of the tautening ropes as it sprays droplets in every direction on its emergence from the waterline. My man keeps at it and soon the net is in view, ten metres square at its rim before tapering slightly inwards. In two or three minutes the whole shebang hangs dripping in mid air, three metres deep and as best I can see, empty. Maybe another impatient farang had a demo just minutes earlier, leaving fish stocks depleted. The egret flies off in disgust. I pass over a 20k note, half expecting trouble – a place like Ho An can make a chap unduly cynical – but quickly realise from his look of pleased surprise that he’d not expected anything. It’s likely he’s on a day rate, funded by the local authority. If it has halfway competent local tax collection, Hoi An Council will be as rich as Chelsea.
Among other things, the girl sells silk sleeping bag liners. The one I fancy is a deep green. I already have one in what was once purple but at these prices a back-up wouldn’t go amiss. At my mock horror over the 250k she taps into her calculator, she hands me the machine so I can enter a price at the opposite end of the insanity scale. 40k doesn’t impress her but, after some to and fro, she’ll take 80. She’s delighted and so am I. For form’s sake I shake my head wearily at my royal fleecing at her ruthless hands, but a silk liner for £2.60 is not to be sniffed at. Unless my foot goes straight through the bottom the first time I use it, or I’m careless with what I toss in alongside its baptismal wash – in which case expect to see me about town with a green tinge to everything north of my beltline.
Speaking of striking a colourful note, Hoi An’s the BK for getting yourself fitted out with a three piece whistle, classily bespoke, at a fraction of what you’d part with at home. Materials, silk included, vary from IBM-sober to drapes Screaming Lord Sutch would decry as vulgar. Being a jubilado, I got no call for business suits so don’t be surprised to see me striding the lanes of London Town in an outfit that would have Bertie Wooster green with envy, and Jeeves averting his eyes in scandalised deprecation
I’ve a sore bum from the free pedal bikes my previous and current hotels offer. While walking’s the thing for the old town and port, especially after dark when the night bazaar’s heaving and all wheels – as I discovered to my cost in 2014 – are verboten, it’s most pleasant to tootle along leafy lane and riverbank in forays out of town. On Saturday I wheeled eastward, downstream toward open sea. Never got there but whiled away a happy afternoon putting beers away with locals at a riverside bar. While we drank, a man squatted at water’s edge, where in a cleared space he had piles of bamboo methodically sorted by length and diameter. With a few tools – hammer, tape measure, double-decker saw (allowing free hand to pass above the blade and grasp the soon-to-be-severed unwanted end), machete and power drill – he knocked up in under an hour a complete roof gable: a triangular structure seven or eight metres at its base. There were no nails, just pre-cut dowels banged in with the hammer before trimming the excess with efficient machete chops. I always did like work; could watch it all day. But I was a tad wobbly on the ride back and, as I may have mentioned, have a sore backside.