I was in a good mood when I when I opened the [December 2014 issue of the] magazine. With Christmas just around the corner and my ca phe sua nong dripping, how could I not be in a good mood? I started reading. First, Nick Ross’s article which managed to put a positive spin on the metro upheaval in Saigon. It also managed to cleverly backhand Hanoi at the same time. That story was well received.
I turned the page. Excellent; something about Beckham visiting Vietnam. Some guy called Niko Savvas appears to have gone drinking with Beckham. Great, I can’t wait.
But I’m not even halfway through the first paragraph when my excellent mood is shattered. David Beckham is introduced as “The guy who used to play soccer for the Los Angeles Galaxy”. What! What! David Beckham, six times captain for England! David Beckham, OBE! David Beckham, the best paid player in the world! David Beckham, the saviour of endangered animal species! David Beckham, who owns his own beer label! Described as “The guy who used to play soccer for the Los Angeles Galaxy”. I snorted and huffed through the rest of Savvas’s article. I felt like I should chuck Word in a bin and storm back to the security of my home. I didn’t. I’m persistent.
I turned the page. It did not look promising — The Axis of Not Cricket. This sounded wrong on so many levels. But, what an unexpected surprise. An article which was basically sending out notice that the cricket season is upon us and the Saigon cricket scene needs players. That in itself wasn’t so surprising, because it was cricket season and Saigon needs players.
It was the kernel of the article that got my spirits soaring. The story told of a poor unfortunate from a country that was outside of the realm of willow and leather. Someone whose country plays ‘games’ with sticks and balls. A country that doesn’t bathe in the luxury of knowing their more superior activity is God’s game. That’s right, an American who converted to cricket. I’m not religious, but Aspin’s article had me mentally shouting-out triumphant hallelujahs. And to top it off, to show that his faith was strong and permanent, he tattooed the Aussie cricket crest on his now fully redeemed body.
Wow! My emotions were on that rollercoaster called Word. Dare I turn the next page? I flicked through to page 29. I stopped, my eyes narrowed-down, glued to the author’s name. Niko Savvas; yes, the same Niko Savvas who penned the blasphemous David Beckham article. I could feel my spirits dropping already. I should leave the coffee shop and dump the Word in the nearest trashcan.
But as I said before, I am persistent. So I inched carefully into this article; a story which involved Facebook. Apparently Savvas had penned something in Facebook that was eating up his conscience. Initially I thought “Great! Let him roast in his own self-pity and regrets.” My spirits started to lift again. However, as Savvas continued with what was basically a soul-baring exposé, something happened inside me. My spirits started dropping again.
“Poor Niko,” I thought. He revealed that the life of a journalist isn’t all TV interviews, free beer and award presentations. It revolved around pleasing his boss, his fickle readers and keeping his journalistic integrity. “Poor Niko,” I thought again. Let’s not dwell on that tear-inducing article.
In less time than it takes to down one cup of coffee, my emotions had gone from ‘very happy’ to ‘crushed’ to ‘praising the God of cricket’ to ‘uncertainty’ to ‘sweet-revenge’ and finally to ‘guilt’, all in the matter of a few pages.
Does this mean I will refuse to read the next issue of Word? Not likely. As always, I will look forward to picking up the next edition. And why not? The editors have their fingers on the pulse of a vibrant country, and their articles uncannily mirror Vietnam. A country, which seems to enjoy taking me or us on an emotional rollercoaster.
A novelist, tour guide and teacher, Paul Rowe has been living in Vung Tau for almost a decade. Apparently his blood line now goes back to Emperor Dinh, but to find out for sure, you can check out both Paul and his wife Sen on besttoursinvungtau.weebly.com