Hes just a boy.

Hes just a boy.

In one hand is a rough box in which are a collection of rags and an unlabelled jar of something dark. In his other hand is a brush for polishing shoes.

He points to my feet, silently asking the question. I shake my head. He repeats the gesture, re-asking. This time I shake my head, make my own negative hand gesture, and say khong. (No.)

Look, Im not a heartless, fat, rich tourist. Okay, I am in Saigon eating stuff I dont recognise. And my AU$250 has made me a dong millionaire. And Im too big to fit into the Cu Chi tunnel system where the Viet Cong lived during the American war.

But Im not heartless its just that Im wearing thongs.

Sitting at a table outside a caf in Pharm U Lau street, I sip a tasty local beer and indulge in a bit of people watching.

Theres a scooter laden with boxed televisions stacked five high and tied to the seat leaving no room for the rider who practically sits on the handlebars and negotiates his way through what is the closest thing to mechanised chaos I have ever seen.

Theres a old woman in a conical hat selling dried Mekong squid from a push-cart.

A beautiful young woman wearing the ao dai (traditional dress) sits with perfect straight-backed posture on a new Honda scooter and weaves through the traffic mayhem with a mobile clamped to her ear.

The shoe-shine kid, having lingered in the hope that I might change my mind and suddenly want my thongs polished, moves onto the table beside me where an unusually quiet American with a tattoo (probably the girl who broke his heart) nurses a glass of beer and smokes Marlboros.

The kid points to the guys feet but hes not wearing shoes. This makes the shoe-shiner hesitate for a second but then he offers his services again anyway. (Hey, a polished set of feet might be just the thing. Who knows what Westerners think? They invented landmines didnt they?)

The morose Marlboro guy just blows smoke into the ever-present exhaust fumes. The kid moves on.

An old man with no legs (those bloody landmines) pedals a handmade trike thingy with his hands, stopping at a young lad lying prone on his xe om (scooter taxi) parked at the kerb. The legless man has a wide grin and for some reason waves at me. (Is he being ironic knowing that my country helped lay those mines?)

I wave back and greet him respectfully, Xin chao chi.

My Vietnamese makes him laugh and he slaps the dozing xe om lad gleefully on the knee, startling him and almost toppling him from his mount. We all laugh.

Time to go home. I signal to the lad. You can grab a ride on the back of this xe om and go anywhere you want in this fascinating town for bugger all.

Forget Dreamworld. This, like Saigon itself, is the ride of your life.


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