The mighty Mekong River, which appears on the bottom of the Vietnam map like a vast hand-print, starts its journey somewhere in Tibet and travels through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia before spilling its muddy lifeblood into the South China Sea in the vast sprawling delta whose name was always in the news in the 60?s. The good news about the delta for a cyclist is that it?s very flat – the bad news is that there are ferries and numerous rickety bridges to be negotiated as you travel across it – oh yeah, the place is riddled with malaria too. This means I?ve been taking malaria tablets for weeks. I had been warned that the side effects of the tablets might include sleeplessness and a speed-like state involving vivid hallucinations. Sadly none of the above occurred – even after I listened to a Hawkwind album at very high volume with the lights turned down.
The end of today?s ride saw us parking our bikes in Can Tho and we greedily gorged ourselves on pizza from the hotel bar – today?s packed lunch had been so awful it made me want to rush back home and stick a five star recommendation on the window of my local Subway. We were excited it was New Year?s Eve and a stage had promisingly been erected next to the swimming pool. Someone was yelling loudly into the PA. ?Is that what ONE TWO, ONE TWO, CHEW, CHEW, sounds like in Vietnamese?? I asked. No-one seemed to know and no-one got the joke either. It seemed there was a chance of a good poolside frug tonight. I wasn?t optimistic about hearing the latest 12? mixes from New York or London later on but I figured that at least some nostalgic Bee Gees or Michael Jackson might be on offer. From such dreams are terrible disappointments conceived.
2001 was on it?s last legs as we convened in the bar for our New Years bash. All the girls were wearing the outfits they?d had made in Nha Trang and all the boys were wearing what they?d worn the night before and the night before that. As I nursed my aperitif I became vaguely aware that a musical something was obscuring the Billie Holiday CD playing in the al fresco bar area. Suddenly it hit me – I was listening to a karaoke version of a Kenny G tune! Out by the pool a local man with a suspicious looking rug was cajoling the G-sters notes out of his aging horn. The already insipid backing to Kenny?s tune had received the requisite karaoke treatment and been further emasculated. Like diluted water such a thing seem impossible.
As we moved outside to our tables Kenny?s pal left the stage. No-one clapped. I felt the need to lift up my spirits and went to check out the buffet but the food was as listless and as brown as the waters that slipped by a few yards away and I quietly wondered if things might have been improved had our German chef spent less time chatting up the guests and more time in the kitchen. Then it dawned on me that the large and attractive crowd of young and nervous Vietnamese beside the stage were not revelers who?d crashed the hotel to get on down with the unquiet Americans. Something much more terrifying was afoot. It seemed they were all fanatical, card-carrying members of some local karaoke club with fabulously appalling musical tastes. They not only intended to karaoke their way to 2002, they were going to do it in public and had actually planned ahead – a programme of stunning New Year musical moments had been printed up and placed on every table. Mr. Gorelick?s #1 fan (Far East division) had three more appearances scheduled before the midnight hour. Wham?s ?Last Christmas? was to be performed by a ?duo? – ?Feelings? required only a ?soloist.? A martial arts display was scheduled after ?Close To You.?
I made my excuses and slipped away. As I turned out the light in my room I heard the opening lines of ?Let?s Twist Again.? ?Come back Rod Stewart all is forgiven,? I thought as I tumbled off to sleep.