02.05.2008 - 04.05.2008 35 °C
Come on you Reds! I’m not talking of Premiership teams. One year after throwing away a huge lead in the promotion playoffs in possibly the most ignominious defeat in the club’s history, Nottingham Forest secured a miraculous promotion by beating Yeovil 3-2 while, amazingly, rivals Doncaster lost to Cheltenham. (If this was in India, you’d investigate for match-fixing.) Leeds can consider themselves very unfortunate, docked 15 points for matters off the field.
Now Forest are back within a division of where they should be. They will need to strengthen their squad. I’ll celebrate in the traditional manner by drinking 15 pints of beer, vomiting in the street, insulting foreigners and picking fights.
Congratulations and respect to Frank Lampard for having the courage to take and score a big penalty midweek. I hope people will get off his back now.
I’m in Hội An, which is blue, yellow and photogenic. The sun has come back after several weeks in hiding, it’s very hot and I am doing almost nothing. This is the place to do it. I did make it to the Cham ruins at Mỹ Sơn yesterday, rising at 4.30 to beat the crowds, and tomorrow I hope to get around to visiting the Cham museum in Ðànãng.
I’m having clothes made. At the last count: 3 pairs of shoes; 7 shirts; 5 pairs of trousers; 2 pairs shorts; pyjamas; 1 suit; 15 ties. There may be more to come. I don’t need any shirts at all, but when I buy off the peg, the chest is usually 8 cm too big and the waist 15 cm. These shirts fit – so long as I never drink another beer (at 4,000 dong a glass it’s as much as I can manage not to have beer for breakfast). The shoes are as I had expected: the quality of the leather is poor and the stitching distinctly unBritish (there isn’t any). But they fit and they’re comfortable.
The Vietnamese are extremely tactile. You see men walking around with their arms around each others’ shoulders or hand in hand. They have less need for personal space, and fewer parts of the body are off limits. In London, if a man touches my thigh, I’m suspicious. When I went to Hạ Long Bay, Tinh was all over me at one stage; he didn’t mean anything by it. The women, too – although since I don’t know the rules (I assume there must be some), I’m careful.
It’s the same in the tailors’ here. They are all female. One tailor, Chi, was always rubbing my stomach or back, or feeling my meagre biceps as if I were carrying apples and clad in lionskin. Nor is there any polite question about which side you dress.
And they all say ‘you very handsome’. It's untrue, but it certainly does no harm. In Thailand the compliments flow like water, but there have been none in Vietnam until Hội An.
I finally polished off The Aeneid the day before yesterday. For two months I was stalled in Book 7, which is really boring, but the last five books raced by. I raced through The Quiet American by Graham Greene, having woken up to the fact that I hadn’t read it. It’s no better than an average novel of his, which puts it head and shoulders above most things written in English in the last century. I cannot think that anyone has written better dialogue. The movie is a faithful adaptation and nearly as good as the book.
"We went out by time-table and came back by time-table: the cargoes of bombs sailed diagonally down and the spiral of smoke blew up from the road-junction or the bridge, and then we cruised back for the hour of the aperitif and drove our iron bowls across the gravel." Very good.
I’ve read less than usual on this trip, partly because I am spending about an hour a day deleting photos. Other books read: A Short History of Laos by Grant Evans, The Coroner’s Lunch by Colin Cotterill, Pattaya 24/7 by Christopher G Moore, The Role of Pool in Asian Communism by Colin Cotterill, The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh, Blood on the Moon by James Ellroy (not his best).
I only picked up the first Cotterill book – at Daunt Books in London - because he writes fiction about Laos. But it was a happy discovery. The protagonist is an elderly doctor forced to become Laos’s only coroner after the revolution in 1975. Cotterill writes with great assurance, a bit like Alexander McCall Smith. I’ve searched Thailand, Laos and Vietnam for others in the same series but found none.
A great pleasure while travelling is to be able to listen to a BBC Radio show by podcast. I try to catch In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg every week (hat tip: Melanie and Iain Shaw). A little bit of England, it explores ‘the history of ideas’. Every week he takes a subject and invites two or three academics to discuss it. Part of the pleasure is that listeners are not, for once, assumed to be unintelligent children with attention deficits. In recent weeks he has covered the dissolution of the monasteries, the Fisher King, the enclosures, Newton’s laws of motion and Darwinian adaptation. He is very good on cultural history and the arts, rather wobbly on the science, but it doesn’t matter because he is talking to experts.
I have met four people called Dung in the last week or so, three female. The Vietnamese consider the name euphonious.