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Suicidal Saigon: Drugs, motorbikes and hookers

Everything written here happened during a few January nights in suicidal Saigon.


It’s uncommon to walk into your hostel dorm and find someone making drugs.

He sat on the top bunk, aiming a hairdryer at a plate of clear liquid. Ignoring my entrance, he continued while I unpacked my bag.

The hairdryer stopped. I heard a scraping sound and looked over. He was making a pile of white powder on the plate.

We locked eyes. His head was shaved and tattoos ran down his arms. He sneered momentarily, then I realised he was sniffing; he had a runny nose.

The ceiling fan beat rhythmically overhead.

“You want some?”, he asked.

“Err, what is it?”

“Homemade” he replied.

I could see that. “OK, but what’ve you made?”

“Ketamine”, he grinned, exposing his crooked brown teeth.

“I’ll stick with beer”, I answered.

“Fine”, he shrugged. In the three nights I stayed in Saigon, his runny nose never stopped.

Xe ôm

I’d been dealt the short straw. Even by Asia’s standards, the taxi was overloaded. “Wait for the next one” my friend shouted as the car drove off to the bar Apocalypse Now.

There was just me and another guy left. “What should we do?” I asked. No other taxis were around.

“Xe ôm” he replied, pointing to two Vietnamese men sitting on motorbikes.

Something like four people die on Saigon’s roads everyday.

“No fucking way” I said. He just laughed and jumped on one of the bikes. It tore off.

I gulped. The remaining rider handed me a helmet which didn’t even buckle up and told me to hop on.

As if sensing my fear, the biker opened the throttle. We flew towards the intersection and my eyes watered. The light was red, but he drove straight through. And didn’t stop laughing.


The night wasn’t meant to turn out like this.

All I’d said, was that I wanted to meet some local girls. Everything had been normal up until this point.

The Vietnamese lad we’d befriended had nodded and left the grimy bar without saying anything. He was a bit odd, who names themself John John John anyway?

I put him out of my mind for awhile and chatted to my mate. The conversation halted suddenly as his eyes widened.

I turned around, and there was John John John. With him was a pretty Vietnamese girl. She had a baby face with puffy red cheeks.

But it’s her eyes that I remember. They stared at me, gaping black pits with an impenetrable story of sadness. And it was obvious why.

This girl wore a black leather corset that made every breath a struggle. Tight leather shorts with fishnet stockings barely covered the rest of her body.

She was a street-hooker, and didn’t look a day over sixteen.

I motioned to John John John that he’d made a terrible mistake. A furious exchange in Vietnamese broke out between him and the girl, humiliation on both their faces.

The disturbance aroused the interest of another local. A ladyboy sauntered over, dressed in the same outfit as the hooker, but wearing stilettos that could puncture concrete.

Her pimp. It was time to leave.

I grabbed my friend. We retreated outside in an attempt to leave the escalating scene.

But the hooker and her pimp followed us, who was screaming in Vietnamese. To my surprise, the hooker asked in English, “why don’t you want me?”

Her pained expression combined with the pimp’s coercion gave me some fleeting courage to speak up. “Your English is so good! You should be at school, not working the streets! Don’t do this. Go back to school and study. Please.”

Recognition flickered momentarily in those vacant eyes. Then the towering pimp tore her away and spat at me.

I left hoping that my words would have some effect on the poor girl. It was only much later that I realised I was naive to think that she had any choice in this.

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