conversations in the sand: nha trang, vietnam

words & images alexandra von arx

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An, 17, Saigon, Vietnam

What is your job?

In the morning, we gather at the same spot at the end of the boardwalk with all the other families. We are given a choice: beer, massages, flyers for nightclubs, or shrimp cakes. Only the older people get to carry the pots with the steamed crabs and lobsters. My mother chooses my job for me, so I usually do the flyers. We start around 9, when people start coming to the beach. We have to make sure we ask every person on the beach. My mom taught me to tuck a flyer under someone’s towel if they are sleeping or if they don’t listen to me. Sometimes I get chased. But still we don’t stop until the sun sets.

Samantha, 25, Long Island, New York

What are you doing in Asia?

My friend and I—see my friend, she’s over there—we just finished our junior year at Syracuse, and we thought, let’s go see the world and expand our horizons, right? We don’t know what we want to do, so we thought we might as well see the world while we’re young, yeah? Our parents were totally chill and pretty much let us go. Honestly, though I am so blessed. Please don’t think I’m spoiled. We did Thailand, Bali, and now we’re here. We closed our eyes and pointed into our Lonely Planet and this is where we landed! Honestly, it’s great though because we needed some rest after Bali, because Indonesian guys are way too aggressive.

Evan and Matthew, 31 and 29, Brisbane, Australia

What are your goals for your vacation here?

We’re just looking to chill out. This place has everything, man—great food, cheap beach massages, awesome dance parties on the beach. I think we’re just going to hang and eat steak all day, man. Yeah? We just came from the Thai Islands, and we’re trying not to break our two-week drinking streak, right man? You should come join us later. Bring a cute friend. Not that you’re not cute, but still.

I heard there’s a really nice waterfall a couple miles outside of town.

Yeah, but that’s effort.

Julia, 56, Kazakhstan

Oh, it was hell to get here. I landed in Ho Chi Minh and the people all crowded around me and laughed at my voice and the city was just disgusting. Then I had to wait for the bus for an hour. It’s the people; they don’t understand “no.” They ask me to buy; I say no; they wait around at my elbow thinking I will change my mind! That is why here I always sit at the sailing club. I don’t want to be bothered unless I am buying a drink from you.

 Ming, 22, Cambodia

 How did you find this job?

You make good money, and it is easy. Better money than if I was a motorbike driver or a fisherman. I took this job after one of my friend’s friends got fired. A lady claimed he touched her too much when he was turning her chair around for her. Said he looked at her funny when he turned her umbrella. I say he was just doing his job. Maybe she should wear more clothes. But I took his job and we don’t talk anymore so I can’t say that to him.

Thanh, 24, Dong Ha, Vietnam

What are you selling?

I am selling these rope bracelets.

How many times will you walk up and down this beach today?

Maybe thirty times. Maybe fifty. I don’t count.

Can you describe what you’re wearing?

Everywhere?

Yes.

I am wearing pants and a sweatshirt. Under the sweatshirt, I have a long shirt. I have a hat and my face mask and then my big mask the covers my neck. See, it attaches here under my ears.

And on your hands?

Oh, and my gloves, and my socks, and then my flip-flops.

Why are you wearing so many clothes?

I don’t want to get dark.

Does it make you uncomfortable when you see all these other people in their tiny swimsuits?

I don’t look.

Justin, 26, Miami, Florida

 Why Vietnam?

I’m doing a Masters in Peace Studies. I’ve been traveling throughout Vietnam trying to see for myself how much or how little the war is still ingrained here. How it has or how it hasn’t affected how the Vietnamese see foreigners. But here, honestly, I barely feel the Vietnamese presence. I have to sneak down a back alley to get real Vietnamese food. This whole town is a sociologist’s dream, and a seemingly perfect setting for a bizarre cross-cultural James Patterson murder mystery.

Uriel, 45, Moscow, Russia

What made you decide to come to Nha Trang?

My father was in the Russian navy, and they had many ties with this place during the war. When my father was alive, he liked to come here to feel the silence and the calm of the beach after the war was over. Now, this place is famous in Russia and many of us come here to party. They make it easy and welcoming. But for my father, and for me, this will always be a place of calm.

Chung, 20, Vietnam

Do you like this place?

I like it at night. I like to watch the ocean. But I don’t like the noise during the day. After work and when the beach is empty, I come and stand close to the ocean so all I can hear is the waves. That is why I stay here.

Thu, 35, Vietnam

 Did anything bad happen today?

I was selling beer and I touched a cold beer to a man’s shoulder so he would buy. He grabbed the beer and threw it into the water.

Thu, 64, Dak Mil, Vietnam

Do you miss your hometown?

Every day.

When will you go home?

Whenever I can. I had enough money saved last weekend, but then some people from Australia stole the money from my taxi when they thought I was trying to cheat them. Now I have to wait at least six more months until I can see my granddaughters.

At least you are stuck somewhere beautiful.

There is nothing beautiful here for me.

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