The Captain!

by James Murtaugh, May 8, 2005 | Destinations: Vietnam / Ho Chi Minh City

It is May 2003.

As always Saigon (HCMC) is a very hot place to be. A cold drink is needed and vietnamese ice coffee is the way to go. My wife and I stop at a cafe around the corner from our hotel. We sit and order our ice coffee. The cafe is L shaped with one end facing the street and the other end facing an alley.

In the corner (behind us) of the L sits the owner. From the place she is sitting, she can watch everything that goes on in her cafe including the kitchen. She is quick to settle any problem with a guest or employee. She takes care of the record book and receives the customers money. She is very tough looking and she reminds me of a ship's captain.

When we finish our coffee, I decide to bypass the waitress and make payment to the "Captain". As I walk back to her I can see she is past 50 years old. Playing the dumb tourist part, I try to hand her a 100 Dong note for a 20 thousand Dong bill. She is not fooled and she gives me a deep laugh. I then pay her the correct amount. In the following days I will try to haggle over the price of our drinks and would fail to get the price reduced each time. I like her alot!

Two years later, April 2005, my wife and I check into our Saigon Hotel. Our first duty is to return to the "Captain"'s cafe for ice coffee. But things have changed! The first thing I notice is how hot it is inside. The wall fans are gone and the wires stick out of the wall. There are not many customers. We sit down and order our coffee. I look back for my friend the "Captain". She is there but something is wrong. She is sleeping in a lounge chair. I notice the waitress has to wake her up to make payment and make change.

I called the waitress over and asked what was wrong with the owner? She told me that her husband had died. This news made me very sad for her.

My wife and I continued to stop in at the cafe each day. The waitress starts calling me "father" and I call her "daughter". Still,the owner sleeps. On our last day in the city we stopped in the cafe for the last time. This time the "Captain" is awake and she looks better. She is tough again! Just before we leave, I received a nice smile from her. It is her gift to me and now I can hope she will get over her great loss.

Jim Murtaugh

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