A Cracking Good Time
from : a street corner in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
The streets of Vietnam's towns and cities are full of vendors, peddlers and salespeople providing almost every day to day product one might ever have a need for. Most of them can always be found in the same spot, such as the newspaper seller, the sidewalk restaurant and my beloved 'Bia Hois', while some of them move to a different positions on the same street; the baguette seller, lottery ticket saleswomen and bicycle repair men. There is also the small group of roving shopkeepers who count amongst their ranks the popcorn poppers, the shoeshine boys and the dried seafood sellers. Finally there is the segment of street vendor society that seems to hearken back to what I imagine existed in London in the 17th and 18th centuries - the hawkers. These are the men and women who pass up and down the streets crying out a singsong refrain or making a specific sound that heralds their passage. Residents call out from a window or doorway and business is conducted.
In every city we visited, for every hawker's signal we came to understand, there was one we could not decipher. In Hanoi we had learned that the tapped rhythm of metal on metal was the noodle seller but the significance of the duck-like honk from the horn of another vendor eluded us. In Hoi An the musical lilt of the brush seller became familiar while the cries of others remained foreign. In Saigon we were tormented each evening by the young men riding the streets on their bicycles with nothing to represent their services but a rattle fashioned of old beer bottle caps. This was something we had not heard before and its prevalence nearly drove us mad, until one evening when eye contact with one such rattler was held a fraction of a second too long. It brought a young friendly man over to our table at the corner 'Bia Hoi'.
words he knew were 'hello', which he used once and 'OK? . . . OK!'
which he used over and over again during the 45 minutes he spent
to the regular massage and after a further 20 minutes of working
out the kinks I was sufficiently relaxed to let the cracking commence.
The first was the neck. Satisfying but unoriginal as the barber
in Hue had provided this service with the shearing. There was the
ho-hum fingers cracking and the old hat toe cracking. Then I was
instructed to put my linked hands behind my neck and from behind
he pulled my elbows towards my chest. The top half of my spine made
a sound like dominos falling. It felt good. Real good but it was
one of those things when you're not sure if something very bad nearly
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