Style: Short take
Location: Dong Hoi, central Vietnam
Tags: Children, Vietnam, Cucumber, Cool as a
General time of day: Late night
Let Vietnamese children be your style incubators. Toss out the done up mannequins in store windows, the finger-sticking seasonal fashion mags, unfollow that Instagram model you believe is the ideal nexus of lifestyle and fashion and cool. Whatever Pinterest board you pin to, scrap it, I’ve got what you need right here in Dong Hoi.
When Leonie and I left our dinner table, patting our bellies like they were overblown balloons, and stood outside, contemplating what we’d do next for the evening, I asked her, “Do you hear music?” Hand curled to ear, I thought I heard a baseline sustaining itself on the humid air.
“I do. I do.”
Unable to separate the melody from the street noise, we walked nearer to the source. We saw spritely neon lights roving in broad circles and flickering from behind brambles.
More curious, we crossed the street to an asphalt lot. Kids on bicycles rode around in malformed figure eight patterns. Half of the bikes were miniature rickshaws with children occupying the passenger seats. Each bike was pimped out with its own sound system, so loitering at lot edge was a bit like witnessing a fast turn through every station on the FM dial: N’Sync played, as did Backstreet Boys, Savage Garden, Ricky Martin, up-beat classical, K-pop, songs sung by Vietnamese children in the style of one of those Raffi jingles that sent your parents closer to breakdown. Dogs heeled to back tires and parents co-mingled with other parents on the outside looking in: the lot was almost entirely the dominion of children.
“What in the actual fuck is going on here?” I asked Leonie. Leonie couldn’t stop laughing.
The bike frames were jazzed up with neon lights. The kids, neither the ones biking nor the ones hanging on as passengers, looked particularly happy. They biked around with about as much cheerfulness as a cynical cop hanging around to collect his pension. The kids without bikes hailed those that had empty passenger seats. When the bike pulled over, the child standing would board with business like aplomb. Whenever I got close to a kid they’d look up as if to say, “What the hell do you think you’re looking at?” Girls wore sandals and dresses. Boys wore khaki shorts and collared shirts. I felt like I was in a Vietnamese Bugsy Malone scene and that never, in all my life, would I exude such effortless cool.
What’s more, no one—not parent, child, nor dog—came up to Leonie or me and sniffed out as to why two overlarge white people were wandering around taking photos of school children. Elsewhere on our trip, Vietnamese children defied your shy-child stereotype and inundated us with smiles, hand waves, and hi how are yous. Curiosity is inherent to them, and whenever we gave them a modicum of attention they returned it but amplified by a hundred.
If they played tag, they incorporated us.
If they were playing shoot the bad guy, they’d aim their imaginary guns at us and we’d mock an overdramatic death for their gleeful celebration.
But in Dong Hoi we discovered the Vietnamese child at their most serious: when play is earnest work and style must be shown off with dignified flair.