Wednesday, October 01, 2003

A Walk in the Park

Every now and again I feel an emptiness of habit. The ghost of a former routine creeps up and taps me on the shoulder. There is a voice to it. It will say something like “Not much fibre in your diet these days” or “Fancy going to the cinema, don’t you?”

More often than not, the voice hits the nail on the head. Just like yesterday, when it said, "strolling through a park would be nice, wouldn't it?". At the time I was driving full throttle through the traffic, head down, inhaling my own fumes, gritting my teeth and yes, I had to agree, a stroll through a park was a nice idea. Now normally stuff like this is on the end of the list, down with things to do next month, like get a cool tattoo, ring your mother, buy some Bran Flakes, go to the cinema, but coincidentally I was actually passing one. Although I was driving, like the locals - as if there was no tomorrow, or very hungry - I had actually nothing to do and pretty much nowhere to go. I decided I would break with tradition and take a walk in the park. I had already decided it would be a beautiful moment. Perhaps, I might even write a poem.

I parked my bike by a tree and stepped into the confines of a park, which acts as a large traffic island diverging the traffic, sending one lot west and the other east. At first glance the park is serene. A whirlpool of motion outside. Inside, shaded benches, with geriatric old men sitting in their P.J.’s, puffing on fags, chewing their gums, shuffle around. The fountain sprays over children who frolic around gaily. Groups of men sit on their hunkers, watch and play chess, which I didn’t realise could be a team sport. Other kind and gentile folk stroll around with a dragged step. With the oppressive Hanoi heat, it would be foolish to be excessively lively. The end result is a classic moocher’s motion. A kind of a strolling slouch. Yes, I thought, this is nice. How about that poem? Yet, I needed characters. I needed inspiration.

Two fellows caught my eye. The taller one looked like he’d got out of the wrong side of bed every morning for 10 years straight. A huge frown, a messy hair-do, grimy hands scratching his ribs, he circled the fountain dragging his feet like he was sweeping up dust. He wore an old pair of football shorts and an oversized shirt. Then a friend approached him, a more chipper chap, strutting along like he was flipping pancakes with his dep (sandals). He grabbed the taller one’s elbow and muttered a quick confidence. The taller one’s face instantly broke into an enormous frown. In fact, he triple frowned. “Oh my god!” He said and then they disappeared around the fountain, into the shade.

I sat on the bench wondering what you would have to be told or see to frown so severely. Just then an old woman waddled in front of me, as fast as her million year old limbs would carry her. She perched over her sack of rubbish and produced a potato and sat mumbling to herself, nibbling the potato. I was half-thinking of trying to talk to her. Ask her some questions. How long has she been coming to this park? How many centuries ago was she born? Is the potato tasty? Then suddenly she pulled down her breeches and started to piss in the shade like an old frog with a conical hat.

I stood up and headed for my bike. Passing the two men who are still frowning, I nod knowingly. If I knew the Vietnamese for “Crouching granny, hidden urinal” I would have said it. But they probably don’t go the cinema anyhow. In this city, who does?

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