Monday, October 31, 2011

Up Past Curfew

Phuc Tan at 4am

There is a twelve o’ clock curfew in Hanoi, or so I’m told.  True, most respectable places of business do close their doors well before this time and the streets are almost devoid of people.  As for those places that do stay open, and for those people who do wander past curfew, I hold a bit of suspicion.  I don’t really know the penalty for operating past curfew; all I’ve seen in regards to this phenomenon are laughable scenes of bars having patrons walk around the block, drinks in hand, until the police have left; that, or restaurants, alerted minutes before the arrival of the police, quickly taking away everything on your table to make it appear as if they’re closing up.  My suspicion arises from the fact that these places and people, you know who you are, obviously have no problem breaking the law, albeit a small one; who knows what other liberties they’re willing to take.

I’ve only been in Hanoi for a month now, so those seasoned souls who have been here for years will probably laugh at the naivety of my perceptions regarding the dangers of living beyond curfew.  Having said that, there do seem to be lurking dangers that had never occurred to me when living in Saigon… namely gang rape.  A friend of mine, let’s call her Sheila was out with another friend, we’ll call her Jane.  It was past curfew and they were clubbing.  Jane got so drunk she could barely stand, so Sheila, with the help of a Vietnamese guy loaded her into a taxi.  Sheila was having a hard time giving the driver directions to Jane’s house so the good Samaritan, who helped load her in the car and claimed to be a police officer, got in and said he’d help get them home.  The Good Samaritan instead directed the man to a dark alleyway where a group of men were making rude gestures.  The men proceeded to grope Jane and try and pull her out of the car whilst Sheila screamed for help.  Apparently one of the men had a moment of conscious and started yelling at the others.  The cab took off and brought Sheila and her friend to her house.  The cab driver then tried to overcharge them.

So you see what I mean about these den’s that stay open late and the spiders that abide in them.  The other night I went to one.  Hanoi Rock City was closing for the evening having hosted a few bands playing decent covers.  I’d been drinking for the better part of the day and saw no reason to stop just because the bar had closed.  It was suggested that we go to Phuc Tan, which apparently never closes.  I was pretty much out of money but figured that would work itself out somehow.  Phuc Tan is a meat factory: full of sweaty scantily clad young bodies looking to hook up.  I don’t know why but the upstairs area we eventually shoved our way up to gave me the impression of a boat.  Something about the mouldy windows, musty scent, and the way everything seemed to be swaying.  This last part, I presume, was from the alcohol.

Phuc Tan again
After a series of nineties classics one of my female friends said that this club was situated right next to the Red River and that there’s a path that leads there.  I told her we must do this!  She then warned me that one of her male friends had been “molested” and that there’d been some weird naked guy shouting at her last time she’d taken the path.  I put the quotes on molested because I don’t really know what she meant and since she was smiling when she said it; it probably wasn’t all that bad.  We must do this, I reiterated and proceeded to convince the rest of our group to join us on our adventure...they all said yes.

It was a dark path on slippery wooden planks hovering over a lotus pond.  The railings, when they were there, were rickety things that offered very little stabilization.  It was a horrible idea.  I thought this many times on the way as the planks gave way to a muddy path I twice did a cartoon style wobble.  The kind of wobble that feels as if your legs are whirring beneath you circular fashion keeping you from falling.  There was lush vegetation to the left and right but again, very little visibility.  I stomped in the muck beneath me having once heard that you’re supposed to let snakes know your coming and they’ll probably get out of your path.

Our destination was full of mosquitoes but quite picturesque with the lit bridge in the background and the Red River beneath.  No naked danger at all really except that of falling.  When I was bringing my wife, who was having a hard time staying awake on the dance floor, home I was extremely aware of the possible dangers.  In my mind were the aforementioned gang rape story and other tales of people being stripped of their possessions and beaten.   Instead, I got a very good deal on a cab ride home.  In Saigon I never thought twice about my personal safety and regularly wandered about until it possible that these dangerous tales I’ve heard have been exaggerated?  Does curfew create a haven for deviants?  Is it just a matter of time before I too get into trouble?

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