It’s Not Casablanca, But It Will Do
Perhaps the proof of my prowess as a keeper of the kitsch flame was the reaction other backpackers had when the bus stopped at Hang Nga and I got on. The other passengers hadn’t even heard of the place and most thought it was a tourist attraction (non-guests can tour the grounds for about 50 cents US), not a hotel until I was on the bus. Many of the riders were shocked they’d missed the place, but all were impressed I had discovered it.
Too bad it didn’t last.
My star plummeted when I fell asleep and my head nodded forward sending my hat down into the stairwell of the rear passenger’s entrance. In addition, an Englishman in his 20s and two 40-something brothers from Australia watched in awe as my limp body rolled with each bump in the highway and I slept through what they said was some of the trip’s most amazing scenery. They wouldn’t admit it, but they fell asleep, too.
A day before leaving, I passed a woman who asked if I’d been to the Hard Rock Cafe. I ignored her because I’d become accustomed to being panhandled. I didn’t even realize she wasn’t selling something until a block later, so I apologized.
It didn’t take long to figure out why she’d asked. She was wearing shorts and a T-shirt with large Hard Rock logos on them. I had forgotten my black polo shirt had a small Hard Rock Cafe Saigon logo on the chest pocket. I wasn’t much of a souvenir buyer, but I just couldn’t pass up the chance to buy the shirt in Ho Chi Minh City because the bar opened the week I arrived.
I apologized for ignoring her, she accepted and I figured that was that. I ran into her the next day at a scenic overlook on the way into Nha Trang. We saw each other again an hour later at Krong Pha, the site of two crumbling 13th century brick towers.
After introducing herself she asked me if I knew of the towers’ religious significance. “Don’t ask me, I’m just a nice Jewish boy,” I said.
“You a Jew?” she asked, sending me into a fit of laughter.
She’d been traveling with Israelis for several days and was stunned because, apparently, I didn’t look Jewish enough.
I guess there’s a first time for everything.
To paraphrase Humphrey Bogart in “Casablanca,” I knew this could be the start of a beautiful friendship.