I recently visited a friend, a native of Tra Vinh, and we went to tour a few provinces in the Mekong delta. Along the way, we ate, drank and sang karaoke with a bunch of her friends, classmates, and business partners. They’re all high rollers in the aquaculture export industry, so we dined at nice restaurants and they ordered tasty hard to find fish for me to try. The question I got asked a lot was: What differences do you see between the Mekong delta and the north or the central coast? I’d mention the landscape and the accents in my reply. The easy things to spot. Lush vegetation, fruits hanging heavy, waterways and bridges and ferries, things that awed me during my first couple of weeks here. Lifestyle is a bit harder to talk about because I just don’t feel comfortable generalizing about millions of people, especially since I’m only a passerby. It indeed feels much more lively, much more festive down here. Even tiny villages have restaurants and cafes, even karaoke bars, and more people sit around ăn nhậu. But I only see from the outside. During this trip, I got to experience first hand for the first time and yes, let me confirm that they know how to party.

All the fun is not just for fun. In the words of T.A. “During work hours, we only think about where we’re gonna go for lunch and dinner. It’s while drinking that we talk business.” These guys meet with clients and business associates 27 days out of the month, and go to 60 to 70 drinking “shifts.” Simply picturing that lifestyle makes me panic. I don’t know how their wives deal with it, and how their bodies put up with the abuse. They agreed that it’s so unhealthy they’d have to pay a steep price in the future, and that they’re actually fed up. But such is business. “People don’t want to talk over coffee. They want to drink. And those that don’t want to drink wants to do other stuff, and that stuff is even worse. So I prefer sticking with drinking.” I was reminded once more how blessed I am with my current life. I choose when to go out, and when to stay home, and my time outside of work hours is entirely mine. I’m gonna go drink some extra water for those guys.