It’s hot. It’s December and I’m in shorts and a wife beater in a little internet cafe where every fan that hangs from the wall is whirring and we’re all in here just sweating and typing and loving it. Rows of computers and shiny shoulders hunched over grimy keyboards.
There is rarely a moment in Vietnam where I have less than two beverages in front of me at any given time, whether it be a frothy fresh-fruit shake, a can of Orangina, a glass of Johnnie Walker or more often, a cup of iced coffee.
There are few things in this world greater than a glass of Vietnamese iced coffee. It all starts with a small cup is glazed with condensed milk (yeah, thick, sweet goodness) and then the coffee is steeped slowly in front of you in a little metal filter atop that small cup.
It’s a tiny ceremony in an otherwise uneventful day. Only once your patience wanes is when it will finish, and then you remove the filter and pour the hot coffee into a glass full of ice. Then you savor. I usually gorge on things I love but this coffee is so good, I try to save every sip, swish it around, and sit back and just look at it, like a fine creamy body or poignant painting.
You cannot exist in this climate without some sort of fluid at your disposal, honestly, I think it’s the law. Or it should be, purely for the sake of not collapsing in the street from some head-induced coma.
The British drink a lot of tea. I wonder how neck and neck that horse race is between the Vietnamese and English because the tea here is drunk before, during and after anything you do. With good reason because whether it’s hot or iced, the different lotus and jasmine teas are strong and not too perfumey, being both sippable and quaffable. I’m going to ask the next Englishman I see.
Vietnamese beer is no joke. They have fresh beer for 35 cents a glass and many of the Westerners pack these little street side joints and they’re hard to resist. Short legged tables and small plastic chairs, a Heineken will still be a few bucks but if you know simple math you’ll be downing enough draughts to forget the price of a microbrew back home. This is also the only place I’ve ever drank beer on ice and I must admit, it ain’t so bad, the beer is light so there’s no telling the difference. Hey man, 5% alcohol is 5% alcohol, gimmie all the ice you got. There’s also plenty of posh little spots if you got your fancy pants on but I’ve done sweated through my grungy dungarees. Those “I’m so cool standing here with my drink” joints are only tolerable if you have someone cool to stand with and she’s 7000 miles away. Naturally I have no idea what to do in those places.
I am, however, nearly fearless when it comes to trying new things and any exotic elixir for sale to slurp, I stand there like Chuck Yeager with a straw. Beverages are easy, it’s not like eating weird things where you’re chewing and tasting, picking things out of your teeth, you’re stuck with it for a few minutes. Drinking takes about a second and down it goes. Easy. In Asia I’ve drank some questionable things, chunky, fermented, floating, egg soda, duck’s blood, bird’s nest tea, but my favorite (just so I can tell my friends) is weasel coffee. Yep, it’s tasty and you’d never realize why.
I’ve also had some of the most beautiful and delicious drinks I’ve ever had while I’ve been here and will be hard pressed to find them again when I come home.
Maybe then I’ll ask someone if they know the way to San Jose.