Under a westering sun, dozens of fishing boats bob in the waves. I swim towards them. Now a good 100 yards from shore, it is just me and the snacking, napping crews whose vessels dot the horizon.
As I am spotted, a rotund, tattooed fellow stands on deck and waves his arms like a man in desperate need of rescue. All eleven men on the boat are shirtless and bronzed like church bells and rub hairless pot bellies with supreme self satisfaction.
The boat’s hull heaves up and down, crashing with the waves. As it dips low I grab hold of the deck rail and am lifted up and out by the next wave.
I’m dripping sea foam on the aft deck and the crew gawks at me like I just jumped out of cake.
A soggy space is made for me in the tight lunch circle. A tall jolly man who is minus one eye is slap-knee belly-laughing and has been since they saw me in the waves. Rice and fish dribbles out of his mouth and down his chest to collect on his belly.
A yellow two liter fuel container is passed forward and clear fluid is poured into a mug that is polished with a grimy shirt.
The one-eyed laughing man sees the fuel jug and doubles over, turning red. A few ample swallows of rice wine sloshes in the mug.
A fuel jug is apt storage for this evil brew, it burns the gullet like propane.
Grimacing theatrically, pounding my chest and shouting Oh my God! in Vietnamese, I slam the mug down like a satisfied cowboy and they chatter and grin and elbow each other.
A much more ambitious portion of hooch finds its way quickly into my mug and the game is now how much of this nasty juice will the gleefully aquatic American drink. I sniff the mug theatrically and look up in mock worry. They guffaw and rice cascades out of their mouths.
I chant, Mot, Hai, Ba, YO!! (1,2,3,cheers!), and fresh gales of laughter follow. Already feeling the notorious effects of the rice liquor, I pat my belly like Santa Claus and stride to the end of the deck.
Instead of getting too drunk to swim back to shore I want my exit to be as sudden and dramatic as my entrance.
They turn in unison, grinning, bewildered and thrilled at my sudden appearance and exit.
I dive back into the sea as a wave lifts us up and up.
A sour burp stings my nose and my stomach clenches into a fist. Turning back to see the crew all crowding to watch me go I wave and wonder if I should have stayed for one more drink.
I spent 6 months in Saigon teaching English and so can you.
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