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The Flip Side of Vietnam

The sound track may be American, but the crowd is mostly Vietnamese. That's a change, locals say, from earlier days, when bars like the G.C. catered mainly to Westerners. "Four years ago the streets were empty after dinner," says expat Justin Wheatcroft. "Vietnamese rarely went out late on weekdays. Now you see them at clubs most nights." It's true: Go to Vortex or Apocalypse Now on a Friday and it's teeming with expats and locals. Go on a Tuesday and you're the only foreigner on a crowded floor.

MAKE MINE A SIDECAR, BOSS

On my final day in town I had the pleasure of being pulled over by the cops. Apparently I'd made an illegal left turn on my motorbike. Apparently I also have blond hair and look bone-gullible, so they chose me out of the 40-odd drivers who made the same turn.

Still, this was kind of exciting to me. For one thing, they pulled up in a motorcycle with an actual sidecar. I tried to remember the last time I saw someone on a bike with a sidecar and decided it was probably Indiana Jones fleeing the Nazis.

In their khakis and epaulets, Vietnamese cops have the quaint look of soldiers in a Tintin comic, and I have to admit I love 'em for it. Plus, I'd read about the bribes.

"I know all about you guys," I said brightly to the sidecar cop. "I'm supposed to bribe you now, right?"

He laughed and beamed some seriously white teeth. His partner laughed. I laughed. We all laughed together.

"You help me, I help you, boss," smiley cop said. "Twenty dollar."

"I can offer you five."

"Ten dollar, boss."

"Eight is my upper limit."

He laughed, his partner laughed, we all laughed. I gave him eight dollars. Smiley cop smiled and hopped back into the sidecar. What a pleasant shakedown, I thought as they honked their way out of sight.

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