There is a bar way atop the Caravel Hotel in Saigon, and this is where a 22 year old son looks down at his 22 year old father.
“The Hotel Continental used to be so famous and beautiful, and all the politicians and- sort of- elite people used to stay there” my father said.
All I could do was stare into the endless vacuum of time, and watch the ephemeral glare of all the time that has passed, and all that will pass without my father, and all that will pass without me. The Hotel Continental had wilted into an old woman, diminished in its stature by the magnitude of the Sofitel or the New World, and it was now obscured by the loss of its unique charm, which was stolen by the other small hotels like the Rex. Nobody important talked to her anymore, and the plastic luster of the bigger hotels now attracted the rich more than the aristocratic engagement of tradition, witty verbiage and regality, which the Hotel Continental once offered. So now the white people did not all stay in one place anymore, and neither did the rich, a white person or a rich one might feel alone in Vietnam now. All the foreigners eventually felt alone in Vietnam. The French lost Vietnam, won it back, and then lost their souls in the jungle, buried in the valley of a mountain they were too foreign to know was the valley of a mountain, and they were trapped and killed down there like fish in a barrel. The Japanese took Vietnam, and they lost her because they lost the war. The Americans subjugated Vietnam, but by that point Vietnam had been fending off too many foreigners for it to care about two million deaths or even two million bombs. It did not even care about the Napalm, and it could have been two million acres before the country would have said: “Now I will rest.” All you can feel looking down at The Hotel Continental is the threatening feeling of transience and death, and the changing nature of existence that is inevitable and impossible to know until it changes you.
“And there used to be a veranda with a café across the second floor of the Hotel, and I used to go there and have coffee.”
“Isn’t it something. You sat down there when you were my exact age, and now your 22 year old son is looking down at the same place you sat at that age. Did you ever have any idea that you would be looking down at The Hotel Continental forty years later, with a son of your exact age?”
“No.” This was not an emphatic “no,” rather a slow, pensive release with a bewildered shake of his head from left to right, a cosmic wonder warranted by the irony and serendipity of life. This is the situation that lets you know there is no control over the world or history, or even your own life. So you chug down the rest of your beer because it all becomes too overwhelming, and you cannot even muster the self destruction to have one more before you to go to sleep. Sleep is where you can remove yourself from the disaster, uncertainty, and the wind that throws you around life like you are a tumbleweed drifting around the cold, nighttime desert. You sink into your decadent bed at the Sofitel, and you sleep because that is the only thing you have left to do.