Wednesday, December 06, 2006

I drank bia with the Hoan Kiem turtle (or more accurately how an old man told me a tall story I'd like to believe)
Here's a piece about the Hoan Kiem turtle - a lot of articles I've read claim the big fella often magically appears on big days; it is conveniently a symbol of good luck, so it's a good omen when he pops his wee head up on days of national importance.

However there maybe another reason for this synchronicity. I say this 'cos I met the turtle at the old Tong Dan bia hoi (RIP - we still remember you well) a couple of years ago. He went by the name Nam, he drank a lot of bia and smoked Vinataba and resembled a 50-year-old man. I didn't understand it when he said he was a turtle (goo goo goo joob), so he explained...

...the story was that he was an army man. In some division of the navy. A sub-aquatic diving minesweeper chap or something (none too exact translations by a local friend means I'm conveniently sketchy on the details). Retired he still had his contacts from his "hello Sailor!" days which had led to him being asked by an old friend to put on a wet suit and swim around Hoan Kiem on holidays with a fake turtle on his back so the crowd would "ooo" and "oi gioi oi" at the sight of the legendary turtle swimming across the lake. He got well paid, the spectators went home feeling lucky. So everyone's happy. That day he was celebrating his latest gig (for what day I can't recall).

When I pulled a few doubting Thomas looks he tried to prove he was a diver (and therefore potentially a good candidate for pretending to be a turtle) by pulling his top up and making his beer-belly continually undulate (if that's the right word). He said this was good for breathing underwater. I tried not to look. Perhaps, more convincingly, he bought a large round of bia for me and all my friends, which is pretty rare as he didn't know anyone of us.

We thanked him and tried to buy him one back but he "thoi"-ed us. He'd earned $100 that day and he was buying.

Who could argue with a turtle anyway? Le Thai To didn't so why should I?

By Yorkie P.

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