Fire breathers and snake swallowers at my local restaurant in Saigon
I’ve mentioned the goat place before, a local restaurant that is a semi-regular haunt of mine. I was introduced to the place by friends and it is a place I quite enjoy visiting. Sometimes I just go for a drink and sometimes for a meal. The food is generally fresh and tasty and, rubbery goat udder aside, is something I generally enjoy.
During the week a friend and I decide to go for a post pub nightcap at the goat place. Actually I was walking into my apartment door when I received the call. I was going to decline, looking forward to a quietish night, but was persuaded by mention of a wedding or similar ceremony going on opposite the goat place which would therefore provide some entertainment for the evening.
I jump on the bike and in a minute or 2 I’m at the goat. I prop myself onto an exceptionally tiny plastic chair as the waiter brings over, unbidden and knowing what I want, a mug full of ice and a Saigon brand beer and places it on the rickety aluminium table. There is indeed a party going on opposite and it comprises a group of slightly inebriated, mostly men, singing along to a what must be popular Vietnamese songs. The songs screech out of one of those ubiquitous, over loud, partially damaged karaoke boxes that dominate Asia. It provides an interesting backdrop to a couple of evening beers but we soon lose interest and move onto other topics. As we do so the regular backdrop of evening vendors and entertainers begins to arrive. The teenage flower seller, the elderly lady selling raffle tickets, the elongated man selling deep fried compounded rice cakes, the rather crabby, crooked backed, old lady who sells more expensive raffle tickets (I still have a few of those tickets, unchecked, lying around the house). The karaoke machine guy doesn’t turn up but perhaps that’s because it’s being used by the party opposite or perhaps he’s already been around earlier in the evening.
After fobbing off a few vendors we see the snake man arrive. I should say snake boys. There are two lads, one barely in his teens and the other in his late teens or early twenties who do the snake and fire act. The older lad is doing all the fire breathing tonight and he spits out and lights his kerosene mixture with amazing gusto this evening. He does a few different variations on this before opening the basket before him and removing the grass snake. Bright, green and wriggling he holds it up for the, mostly disinterested diners, to see. He then proceeds to insert the snake through his nose and out of his mouth. Then, with a motion reminiscent of flossing your teeth, he moves the snake backward and forward. He takes the snake out, has it wrap around his hand a few times and then repeats the nostril swallowing of the snake. Then the act ends as his younger offsider snakes his own way through the diners to collect the paltry few dong they pass his way. A tough gig and a tough way to make money I think as I give the boy some money.
I return back to my drink and conversation. Just another night in Saigon. Just another night at the goat place.