Threats & Staying Sober in North Vietnam
From Fear to Love & Joy Part 3
In 1993, newly divorced and suffering from depression, I had just over a year of sobriety after trying for four years to quit drinking once more. So, taking off to North Vietnam to work as a consultant at a remote jungle location was not a smart decision.
Although the company main offices were in Hanoi, I was based at a tourism development to the north, on the peninsula of a very large lake. To reach the place, the Vietnamese workforce, as well as our clients, had to take a small boat from the shore to the site. The management took a motor launch from the tiny island on which we had leased a villa from the Vietnamese Army. The company President turned out to be a large, intense man from North America. I discovered that Stuart (not his real name) had recently fired the previous consultant, as well as the marketing manager.
Within four weeks of my arrival Stuart had threatened to toss a Vietnamese fisherman into the lake, fired and then physically threatened to stick a knife in the site’s construction manager. The fisherman was seeking compensation for a net that had been damaged by one of our boats, and the construction manager had refused to sign a resignation letter. I was ordered to immediately put the manager on a flight back home to England to stop him gossiping in Hanoi.
My own fragile emotional and mental state made dealing with this kind of behaviour very difficult. I developed a passive-aggressive attitude towards Stuart and before long he fired me. But rather than leave the country, as he wanted, I took a hotel room in Hanoi; I wanted hang out, to write and to explore the places like the market town of Sa Pa in the province of Lao Cai in the northwest of the country close to the Chinese border.
Sa Pa, lies in the Hoàng Liên Son Mountains. It was established by the French as a hill station during their colonization of the country. Until a few months before I arrived it was still a militarized zone. The hill tribes, such as the Hmong, Tay and Dao, that make up much of the local population had seen few tourists. I knew I was in the vanguard of a tourist invasion that would change their lives dramatically. It had for the hill tribes in Northern Thailand that I had visited four years earlier; feeling somewhat embarrassed for what I thought was the exploitation of their culture.
Sa Pas had indeed become a popular tourist destination and it is easily accessible. In 1993 it was less so.
To reach it, I rented an old military jeep along with two young Israeli men and an English woman. They turned out to be dope-heads, telling me it was easy to acquire here. Although I had experimented with it in the past, the weed does nothing for me. One time in Calgary I shared an opium pipe with two Iranians. They brought the pipe along with stacks of money to invest in real estate. Needless to say, the investment disappeared with the smoke of the pipe, at least that’s what my envious thoughts preferred to think.
But the trip to Sa Pa had made me realize how fragile was my emotional, mental and spiritual sobriety. Although I was not tempted by the drugs and the drinking, I nevertheless found myself envying the free-wheeling mood around me. Feeling tempted and indulging myself would be the next stage. Something had to change.
CONTINUED IN PART 4: Grenade Threat on HaLong Bay, Vietnam