The Sign: Saigon, Vietnam

It is evening under Saigon’s pinkish skies. Motorcycles course through the crowded streets like white blood cells rushing along veins to fight infection. For a constant angry swarm that threatens to tear you into ugly chunks at any moment, the two-wheeled traffic has a remarkable sense of Zen about it. A deep breath must be taken before surrendering yourself to the throng, stepping slowly but confidently out into the chaos and not stopping even for an instant until you reach the other side.

On this particular evening, what waits on the other side is the seafood restaurant on the corner of Cu Bac. It is a local place, a Vietnamese place. The menu is entirely in Vietnamese, in fact all of the writing visible from my plastic chair is in Vietnamese – not even an illuminated EXIT or handwritten ‘Sim Card’ poster breaks the spell.

Everyone crowded around the plastic tables, both on the pavement and inside the restaurant, are speaking Vietnamese. The waiters shout busily at each other in Vietnamese and any questions I ask are met with an indecipherable stream of Vietnamese. This is not unusual, I am in Vietnam after all, but it does make what I discover in the toilet all the more gloriously absurd.

After some squid and a couple of cold beers, I feel the need to urinate. I crudely mime my way to the toilet, much to the amusement of my fellow diners, pushing my way through the air, greasy with unknown linguistic flurries. Inside the toilet, secured above the metal urinal, is a chute. A strange contraption, the sides of which are plastered with vomit that drips unpleasantly to the trough of piss below. Above the chute is a sign that states proudly in bold English letters – ‘GAME OVER’.

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Tom Spooner

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