S OS with S Sorrensen - Oct 28

Hanoi, Vietnam.
Saturday, 8.45pm

I’m not in Hanoi just to take; I’m here to give as well.

The jazz band is grooving under the canopy of two large trees. Beyond the canopy, the full moon hangs like a lantern – another light in a city of lights.

I’m in the courtyard of the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum. In the flecked moonlight some people sit at tables; some stand in clusters on the paving stones; some dance, stilettos magically avoiding every gap between the pavers.

A bar is, like the band, in full swing.

I have a seat close to the bar. (Of course.)

The saxophonist, an older Vietnamese bloke with a ponytail and a paunch, has finished his solo. The alto sax rests on his knees and he sits motionless on his stool like a Buddha staring straight ahead through half-closed eyes as the band swings on. The piano player, another Vietnamese – all four band members are Vietnamese – moves into his solo. He is as animated as the sax player is still.

The wide-eyed piano man hammers the keys and swings his head about like a seeing Stevie Wonder with a sensible haircut. During a particularly inspired improvisation his head comes so close to the keyboard I wonder if he thinks that two hands are not enough and a forehead might add the extra notes he needs.

Beside the band is a screen showing images of the flood which has inundated the central provinces. Families sit glumly on thatched rooftops. An old man with panicked eyes is helped through the waters by younger people who have slid an inner tube over him. A mother with a crying baby stands in a flooded street looking forlornly to camera as the water swirls around her waist.

Villagers scrabble for food dispensed from a passing dinghy.

The bass player is an unsmiling young woman in a tight red dress who is constantly stealing glances at the screen. Maybe she is from the flooded area.

I sip from my glass of Casillero del Diablo. Not a bad drop for a Chilean wine. A tad fruity, perhaps.

No, the irony of the situation doesn’t escape me – I’m sipping wine and listening to a sweet version of Smoke Gets In Your Eyes while people’s lives and homes are devastated.

But that’s why I’m here.

Tonight’s event is a benefit. I paid 500,000 dong entry and all proceeds from the night go to the flood victims. (Okay, 500,000 dong is about $5 and that isn’t a lot of money but I’m also buying wine. And I’m thirsty. By night’s end I could possibly have fed several regional towns and a score of villages.)

I feel emotional tonight. It’s not just the reality of the suffering I see on the screen, not just the Chilean red, not just the full moon, but also that I’m leaving Hanoi in a couple of days.

I’m sad to leave. It’s not just smoke that’s in my eyes. (Though the smoke from a thousand footpath stoves cooking Bun Cha and Pho Bo helps the reddening.)

The band is pumping.

The piano player’s head is in danger of dislocation as the climax approaches. Suddenly his left hand stops playing and dives into his pocket.

It re-emerges with a mobile phone. While his right hand grooves on, he chats on the phone.

I laugh. Can’t help it. I have never seen that before, but I suppose in a town where texting while riding a motorbike in the chaos they call traffic is the norm, this is to be expected.

I wipe my eyes. Bloody smoke.

Goodbye Hanoi. Thanks.

(Now, back to helping the flood victims...)

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