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The Diary of a Bootlegging Baldy

logged out from news desk duties, former Witness photographer, Ian Carbutt, files his first ‘Diary of a Bootlegging Baldy’ from Da Nang in central Vietnam


“In the interest of safety please do not bring any Chinese ladies back to your flat”, the WhatsApp message from my landlady buzzed on the kitchen table. Well that’s just great I thought. By law in Vietnam it’s illegal to bring a local lass back to your room anyway, so now the odds of me getting married under a palm tree and settling down in SE Asia have narrowed to near zero. The corona virus shutdown is going to be worse than I had anticipated. I’m living in Da Nang, a city home to 1,2 million people in central Vietnam. Not unlike Durbs, it’s a coastal city famous for My Khe beach, where American soldiers first landed to start the beginning of the end. It stretches like a palm tree beach picture postcard in front of newly built high- rise hotels and apartments and it’s home to the dreaded expats. Hundreds of them. Mostly young South Africans armed and ready to teach wide eyed children how to say “Ja” and “eish” like a souf efrikin . As the news of Vietnamese students trapped in Wuhan filtered over the border from China, talk on the street has become viral. But unlike South Africans, the Vietnamese are not fuelled by hysteria. There have been rumours that Chinese tourists are being barred from booking into hotels and shops running out of face masks. Generally, masks are everywhere. Piled high on street corners, in the entrance of all shop and hotel foyers and unfortunately many are used and discarded, lying on the streets and piled into refuse bins. A sneeze in the pub is like a bomb going off and friendly Chinese tourists are shunned like the plague. Nobody shakes hands. But other than that life goes on. Lifeguards paint their buoys, lovers walk down the embankment, children play in the sand, street vendors slice up juicy fruits and business people go to work. With face masks. My landlady confronted me as I left the building last night and thrust a surgical mask into my hand. “You must wear this at all times,” she insisted . “Inside and out”. The virus has not only put an end to my nocturnal pursuits but I now have figure out how to drink beer through a face mask. Eish!