Before I went to Vietnam, the Consular officer in Chile warned me about how tough it would be. For example, I was told, the staff in the Embassy had to sleep on the table otherwise the rats would eat their hair. The rats were as big as cats. The only thing humans could eat was chooks and these had run the length and breadth the country and they were so tough and wiry there was no meat on them.
It was true that it was regarded as a hardship post when I first went there. In those days there wasn’t much of anything – there were only a handful of lifts in the city one in the Hotel Sofitel, one in the hotel next to the Embassy and another in one of the government buildings. There were no taxis, only government run restaurants, no neon signs, the only cars were either diplomatic cars imported by the embassies or UN agencies, or the Russian built black Volgas that the government used and of course the army jeeps.
Contrary to what I was told, however, there was no need to sleep on the kitchen table. On the other hand there were a lot of really big rats.
And the most adorable dog called Chops. He was of unknown breed but those in the know said he looked like a cross between a Shitzu and a Llhasa. My first and only dog, and he was small and fluffy. My Dad would have called him yappy because he was small, but he wasn’t. He was just loyal and licked my feet when I came out of the shower and buried bones in my drawers and under my pillow. When I first got him, he was so small I could carry him around in the palm of my hand, and then later in the basket of my bicycle.
Actually the bicycle bit is a fantasy. I tried to train him to ride in the basket but he kept jumping out.
I also had a cat. The cat was not so pleasant and meowed too much. The two of them were my family for a while.
There was a guy who I quite liked. He was relatively new to Hanoi, American and sophisticated. A pre-GFC bonds trader. And we were going on a date! Or maybe we were both at a pub with friends and he dropped me home – that is a more likely scenario. My memory is not completely clear on all details. So change the scenario and we had been at the Billabong Bar at the Australian Embassy. The Embassy used to be my work place, but I’d moved out of the Embassy Compound, started my own business and found a house of my own.
The house was reasonably big for one person. It had a courtyard, and a small garden. At the top of some stairs at the front door there was a grill that was padlocked and had to be slid open when you entered. The first room on the ground floor was where I parked my motorbike. At the back of this room was a stair way and a well at its base. At the back was a kitchen.
Up the first flight of stairs was a lounge room and a study at the back. My bedroom and a guest room were on the next level and there was a balcony on the top of the flat roof.
Sure, it was over the road from a rubbish dump but it was mine and you couldn’t smell it and at night time you couldn’t see it.
When my date and I arrived back at my place I unlocked the front gate and we wheeled his Honda Dream inside to the courtyard. As I stepped up to unlock and open the grill, there was the carcass of a huge dead rat on the front step. Laugh it off, I tell myself and slide it out of the way with my foot and go through to the front room.
‘How strange! A rat – it is very unusual around here’.
He followed me past my motorbike and into the kitchen. Another dead rat – this time on the kitchen table !! Now I’m worried that my personal hygiene standards might be in doubt.
‘Erm, oh … another rat. And on the table’.
Best be up front, and acknowledge that having a dead rat on the table is not ideal.
But I couldn’t explain it, and luckily he was new to the country so thought it was something to be taken in ones stride.
I pour us a couple of drinks and we head up to the lounge.
At the top of the steps is my very happy little dog Chops, and unusually my not so friendly cat. They are both looking very proud and standing behind … yet another dead rat.
It’s a massacre!
But also something like the disappearance of the Marie Celeste. How did the dead rat get on the front steps, and how did the other dead rat get up on the kitchen table. I’d like to think it was Chops because he’s very brave for a little dog, but Chops can’t get outside. So unfortunately it was probably the unpleasant cat. Props to you unpleasant cat.
And the boy? We dated for a while, it didn’t last.