Propaganda Down the River

What happened in this story, happened just a few hours ago, and a good 2 months after the last story. I am not supposed to write about it today. I was supposed to let it rest in my mind, until proper ideas and reflections could form so I could decide on what to make of the life experience and how to express it in words. But how could I treat a milestone of our relationship that way?

“Everything has been choking today,” he said while nursing his water bottle.

I looked to my right, straight into his eyes. It was hard to make out colors in the weak sunset light, but I could see the light brown marbling eyes shining. A lackluster shine. He seemed tired.

“What’s wrong?”

“I ran away from home.”

Subdued voice, as if the sound struggled to get out but ended up grating itself again the throat like sandpaper.

“I’ve been having this very strong urge to see you. It’s become a physical pain, being unable to see you since the last time we met. And frankly I’m a little bit scared.”

He was 46 years old. He was also married.

“Listen to my voice. It’s barely there. It’s so repressed.”

We were sitting on the bank of the Saigon river in District 2. Half-finished high rise buildings, conjoint with their lived-in counterparts, littered throughout the other side. Ho Chi Minh City has never been so bright at urban planning.

Small waves came and went. He liked being near water.

We held hands and did not let go until we had to leave. Dinner with mom for me, dinner with his wife for him.

And then I remembered what I told him earlier today. “The world would have been very lawless.”



There was a dive bar named Birdy in Binh Thanh District, near Sai Gon bridge. It was opened a few months ago by a Japanese guy who collected knickknacks and mixed cocktails for a living. I liked the bar on Facebook, but he knew the owner personally.

We went straight from the coffee shop to the bar with a single helmet between us. We decided that if any police officer caught us, I would speak Japanese and he Italian. And just to play it safe, I played tourist too, by clutching the handles of his bike seat as hard as I could and feigning slight panic.

We made it to the bar with our bike, bodies, and wallets intact.

“Such a tiny place” was my first thought. The counter was long enough for four high chairs on one side and another two on the other. Counter surface was made from one huge wood plank of unknown tree name that later he told me was one of the many knickknacks collected by the bar owner. A small TV screen on the far left, a billboard menu thing on the far right. Bathroom was separated by a sliding door. The bartender, a young guy named Jeff who spoke confident English, asked us not to turn off the bathroom light.

“It gets scary,” was all the bartender would say with an awkward grin.

I picked gin and tonic. Nobody knew at the time (and even until now) but that drink was the only thing I recognized from the rather extensive menu for a dive bar (thanks, 159 Bui Vien). He chose vodka and tonic.

Then we started talking.

They said everybody exposed themselves getting drunk, and we were certainly no exception. He shone like a beacon – his smile, his eyes, his tone, his hands. As reserved as I tended to be at times, I could not help but feel awed by his aura. Yes, aura, however feminine that word may sound. He was the embodiment of attractiveness at that moment.

‘Why are all the good ones married,’ I thought.

He told me an alcohol-induced adventure in which he helped a bar owner throw out some drunkard, who, at the end, just wanted to take back his forgotten wallet but was not able to articulate his action. And then a story about him starting out in Vietnam nine years ago. I found it hard at first to believe that he has been here for nine years, because, and I would never say this out loud, he still looked the part of an expat. Well he was an expat, albeit a highly achieved one, who owned a fresh cheese mini factory and a photo studio. He could drive a bike better than most people I have hitched a ride with, he knew streets I never even thought of stepping into, he was particularly opinionated on certain Vietnamese factors of life that an expat would never paid half a sliver of attention to.

(if a proper writer reads the last sentence I just wrote I will definitely get slapped)

I decided, at that moment, I will let this Italian guy into my life.

Affogato and Hot Chocolate

Dirty Chai Affogato | HonestlyYUM (

Dirty Chai Affogato by Honestly Yum

Those were what we had in our first meeting, sometime two months ago. Some of you are going to think “oh she is going down the utterly beaten path of opening a story,” but that is what happened to us. We are a pair full of cliché elements.

We met on a cold day. Saigon was trying its best at winter-ing, so you have this sort of weather where a breeze could send goosebumps from your head to every last one of your fingernails, but walk for half an hour and you would be sweating. But it was still winter after all, so he ordered a hot chocolate. Me? Affogato. Ice cream all the way. I almost never do hot beverages. His hot chocolate came with a tiny flower shaped cookie, which I imagined to be very sweet and not at all appropriate with the milky cocoa sludge. My affogato was tiny – tiny ice cream coop, probably half a tablespoon of coffee added just for the sake of the drink, and chocolate sauce drizzle.

Slacks. Tucked in shirt, top buttons opened. Nice, wide chest. Toothy smile. Not-so-business handshake.

We started talking about cheese.

Cheese is the first thing that connects us. It is a cliché element, because it is food, and connecting through food, however novel the food may be, is always a cliché story. He is the owner of a HCMC-based company that produces fresh cheese. Burrata, mozzarella, ricotta, stracciatella. I had ordered from him once or twice before we met in person. Ricotta, just to see how it looks like, and burrata, because I have been missing Pizza 4P’s burrata pizza and wanted to know if his burrata would be different. Turned out I did not even remember 4P’s flavor so the comparison is a moot point. Creamy burrata in form of a small mozzarella sack filled with creamy cheese strings. That was all I remembered, and until now all I know about burrata.

He talked about expanding his cheese business. He learned the craft from scratch – boiling milk, separating whey, pulling and stretching to make mozzarella, and seasoning and straining to make ricotta – he can do it all by hands. He has a strong, outgoing grip.

“Are you passionate about cooking?” he asked.

“I like cooking, yes, but to call it passionate… I don’t cook that often,” there went my British accent.

“Because I saw you posting a lot of cooking photos on Facebook.”

I was about to enter awkward territory. I don’t do well with compliments. Not at that time, not now, not ever.

Thankfully our conversations changed, from his work to mine. I spent five minutes trying to explain the idea of a blockchain (Google it yourself, I won’t do it again in this post) and a currency that is not physically manifested. Half way into the explanation I realized it would have been much better to just liken my company to a stock exchange. But before I got to say it, he understood.

“So, like a… stock exchange?”

“Yes!” I might have exhaled a bit too quickly.