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Drinking With The Locals At A Party In Vietnam

Swimming Pool Steve in Hanoi Vietnam
This article has nothing to do with swimming pools except perhaps that I drank about half a swimming pool worth of water the day following this special event. In 2016 I went on a solo trip to Vietnam. This was one of my first ever travel experiences since I spent the prior 25 years at the bottom of a broken swimming pool. I had always said I wanted to travel, and one random night I bought a non-refundable plane ticket to the other side of the world - knowing I would be too cheap to waste the money if I got cold feet under the light of a new day. Smart move yesterday Steve...today Steve tips his hat to you. Well played. To Vietnam I went.

My trip started out pretty rough with a very turbulent 17 hour flight from Newark NJ to Hong Kong. I will spare you the details except to say that a flight that long is not "hard" as it was described to me. On a 17 hour flight a piece of you will die. For me, apparently that part was located in my ass since it was numb for the next six weeks - without a word of exaggeration. I was more prepared for the return flight home in terms of creature comforts...a mistake I will never make again on a long flight like that.

Over a month in Vietnam including Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), Hanoi, Da Nang and Hoi An. It was impossibly hot and humid every day and the culture shock was palpable. During my adventures I wrote about the things that I experienced for friends and family back home. One experience in particular was memorable, and funny, and that is what I am going to share with you here today. As "Swimming Pool Steve" obviously the vast majority of my writing on this blog is about swimming pools and related subjects. In addition to this content I have been considering to add some personal stories and experiences - I have such a large audience with the Swimming Pool Steve platform (over 1 million viewers per year as of current) I thought this would be relevant to include a little about myself.

If you enjoy this story and you would like to see occasional content like this in addition to my swimming pool tutorials and articles, please leave a comment at the bottom of the page.

Without further ado, please enjoy this story about the time that I partied so hard with 20 Vietnamese terminators that the police had to shut it down - the best story I have to tell after a month long (first ever) solo trip to Vietnam.

Mot Hai Ba YO!

While my trip is not over quite yet, and I only have a few days left a of this writing, it will be difficult to beat what I consider to be the best experience that I have had so far. I was fortunate to be in Vietnam for the holiday long weekend that included April 30, May 1 and May 2. While the total details of these days is not quite clear to me, I believe the 30th to be reunification day, and May 1 being labor day of which May 2nd was a Monday and the observed day off for this holiday. What this translates to in common lingo is that the weekend of April 30 to May 2 2016 was essentially a huge party in Vietnam. Stores were closed and local services largely unavailable. On Sunday May 1 I headed back to my hotel at around 7pm as the restaurant I was at closed down shop unexpectedly. I would later learn this was due to the locals needing to get the party started!

Please sir, may I have no more I had had a few drinks already and arriving back at my hotel I could hear a familiar and appealing sound coming from the restaurant area which is located below my balcony - an acoustic guitar! Very intrigued with who might be playing it, and the general rabble coming from downstairs, I headed down to investigate. The door to the restaurant was closed, something I had not seen to date, so this was a clear indication that this was an invite only event. Fair enough. But not willing to leave it at that I asked the front desk for a few drinks, which I knew to be located in the cooler in the kitchen. I followed closely as they slipped into the restaurant to get them for me - deftly closing the door between myself and the apparent party that was happening...fair enough. Curiosity got the best of me and I cracked the door just a tiny bit to look in. What I saw was every table in the restaurant pushed together and about 20 Vietnamese people sitting round, along with a monumental pile of empty beer cans that any fraternity would be proud of.

Upon seeing my pink face peeking in through the door a few people around the table began to shout and furiously wave in my direction. You didn't have to ask me twice as the intention was clear - join us! The crowded seats parted and I was slipped right up to the table. The first thing that I noticed was the Fred Flinstone brontosaurus rib rack sitting in the middle of the table. I knew right away I was seeing something special. To provide some context, meat is not plentiful in Vietnamese dishes. A typical dinner might have two 1/4" slices of pork loin...and perhaps for the best since meat is not handled in a way that would meet ANY western safe food handling practices. This comically large rack of ribs I believe to have been the Vietnamese equivalent of Christmas day turkey and ham dinner that I am used to back home. No sooner was I seated then someone ripped off part of the rib cage and presented it insistently to me. I tried to refuse, as I had just finished dinner myself, but they were having none of that! Ribs for dessert it is!

So, to set the scene a little better, there are 20 Vietnamese locals, a classical acoustic guitar, and a mandolin. Everyone seems to be singing and VERY drunk. I am not there two minutes myself when someone pours me a shot of local made rice wine from a plastic water bottle. I had been warned to stay away from this drink in particular as the locals appear to be immune to its intoxicating effects - soft, pink candy-asses like myself, less so. I would have liked to decline, but apparently that is not a thing in Vietnam. If I did not take it willingly, I am quite sure they would have forcefully administered it. That is when I learned possibly the most important Vietnamese words:

Mot, Hai, Ba, Yo!

Mot hai ba yo - excessive drinking
Everyone yelled these words in unison, and equally in unison everyone cheers-ed glasses and swiftly drank their rice wine, or beer, or both. Seeing that I did not know the custom, another round was swiftly poured and a LOT of hand gestures proceeded. Mot, Hai, Ba is how you say one, two and three in Vietnamese. Yo translates to "in" but in between the lines this means "cheers". Furious finger wagging from 20 incredibly intoxicated locals got the point across clearly - yell the words and then drink the drink! Beer cans now emptied are thrown to the floor and kicked under the table - which is the local custom. Someone new grabbed the acoustic guitar and a new song started. Everyone knew the words (except me of course) and immediately upon completion of the song again came the cries from bloodshot eyed party goers - MOT, HAI, BA, YO! More cans hit the floor and I was passed four drinks from four different directions. I knew I was in trouble. I am not much of a drinker at the best of times. Mixing home brewed rice wine with an unknown quantity of beer is absolutely, positively a certain way for me to spend the night getting to know the inside of my toilet bowl. Using my usual drinking-party diversion techniques I attempted to nurse my drink and perhaps even fake a few sips - these guys were not fooled in the slightest. The man on my right grabbed my beer can and apparently its fullness did not meet his standards. He threw it behind him and thrust a brimming full can into my hands. Again the battle cries chanted - Mot, Hai, Ba, Yo!

Needing an escape from the relentless drink-slamming, something I knew I could surely not keep doing, I motioned towards the guitar. They seemed to understand right away that I might be able to play it and my way it came. For those who know me well what happened next should come as a bit of a surprise...I could not remember how to play anything! I sat there, like a big pink idiot holding this guitar, with 20 very expectant people staring intently at me. I looked down for a moment and thought I can tune the guitar and buy myself a few moments to try and think through the booze-fog. Perfectly tuned already...damn. I looked up to see 20 smart phones pointed at me. Great. From the crowd came a cry - Hotel California. Oh perfect. I am not an Eagles fan and it has been probably years since I heard or played hotel California. Oh well, here goes...

All I can say is that I am absolutely certain that I am now a star on the Vietnamese equivalent of Facebook for my no-holds-barred slaughtering of this song. It was beyond bad. I maybe got through two random versus, not in order, and let's just say I must have forgotten to pack my singing voice. As I hit the familiar chorus 20 impossibly drunk Vietnamese locals yelled "Welconahuebr ekjns jnu anid ioianhg HOTEL CALIFORNIA!! Mercifully they knew the verses even less than I, and I suspect were too drunk to notice that my cover of this song was so bad that it gave Don Henley cancer. The song ended to raucous cheering and applause from everyone.

Drinking like a terminator MOT, HAI, BA, YO!

Ugh somebody stop spinning the room please. As I passed the guitar back to one of the better, more well prepared players, I turned to my left and was greeted by a pleasant bouquet of fresh picked thistle flowers. Apparently my crooning had won over one of the locals and this possibly was some sort of marriage proposal. I politely declined, but he was having none of it and thrust the flowers into my hands (of which I am still finding thistles and stickers a week and a half later in all of my clothes). Everyone cheered at our apparent new relationship - Mot, Hai, Ba YO! Am I at a party with with 20 Vietnamese terminators? How can any human drink this much this quickly?

Another song started and finished, and another round of beer cans and empty rice wine water bottles fell to the floor. As a point of interest I estimated between 200-300 empty cans of beer lay on the ground under the table and the looks of the locals seemed to confirm this. It was impossible to count them due to the fact I was apparently on the Gravitron. Another song, or five, I can't recall, each one followed by the words that will inevitably be on my headstone - Mot, Hai, Ba, YO!

In an instant the mood in the room changed. In unison 20 people stood up and began furiously cleaning. I tried to join in, being the appreciative guest that I am, but it seems each person had a specific task and I was getting in the way more than helping mostly. Within less than what I estimate to be 90 seconds, the floor was cleared, food removed, tables emptied and guests scattered in every direction. It became clear to me that this party was over - and not a moment too soon since I had a date with my toilet that my stomach was not going to wait much longer for. I picked my moment, afraid this was an elaborate ruse to get me to a secondary party location where I simply would not survive, and headed out through the door that I had come in only a few hours earlier.

As I opened the door there was a large Indian family that I recognized from other days at the hotel. They immediately rushed towards me and asked "what is going on?" they worriedly inquired. As I processed this somewhat strange question, and their follow up, I noticed that the front of the hotel was seemingly swarming with Vietnamese police officers - each one looking more serious than the one next to him. "What happened, the police are here" the Indian family inquired again with an increasingly worried tone. Everything began to make sense in that moment and I laughed and explained that there was a party...another hotel regular asked me "were you at the party?" with a surprised tone. Apparently, as I have learned, being invited into a Vietnamese party is a rare occurrence - which I suspect is mostly because Western sissies like me die of alcohol poisoning with a 50% ratio when at them.

So now I have a new appreciation for what it means to have a good time - you have simply not lived until you have been to a party that gets shut down by the Vietnamese police. I retired to my room with a 55 gallon drum of water and a new sense of accomplishment. Mot, Hai, Ba, Yo.

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