The Belly of the Dragon
The wheels of the bike wobble as they struggle down the straight path out of the city. The bike makes a sound like an old man stretching, his bones cracking and popping as he moves. A motorbike speeds past, three geese gently dangle by their legs as they crane their necks away from the gravelly road.The little girl holding the geese’ legs smiles and then waves to us with her free hand. Small barber shops, restaurants, and bungalows line the path that leads to the beach. “Hello, how are you? Where you from?” Owners try to hail us as we drive by, even the bicycles we ride on don’t deter them from their industrious nature. By the time we get to the beach, over twenty different shop owners have called out to us. The beach crashes gently upon the shore as we sip cold smoothies from our lounge chairs. Vendors approach us every other minute, each with a fiery, unrelenting approach to salesmanship:
“You want massage?”
“No, thank you.”
“Sunglasses? Very cheap.”
“I’m wearing sunglasses.”
“I have a drink in my hand.”
“You want a book?”
I’m running out of excuses…
Back in Hoi An, the deep orange of the sun sinks into the river, setting the river aflame. The Vietnamese have a legend that a giant dragon stretches out across Asia: Japan is the dragon’s head, China the tail, and Vietnam is the body. Whenever the head or tail shakes, the stomach will have problems. I can only wonder how often the head and tail must uneasily shake. And what does that make the USA? The orange of the river fades with the sun, but instead of transforming into the black water of a post-twilight evening, the water takes on a multi-colored glow. Lanterns hang above the “Vietnamese Tailored Suits” signs in shop windows, they hang across the balconies of restaurants filled by patrons looking out over the water, and they hang from the small dragon boats that line the river’s edge. The river is full of the soft, distorted glows of red, blue, green, yellow, orange, and purple. The dragon scales of Hoi An shimmer in rainbow colors under the bright, full-moon light. Women and children sell small candle-lit lanterns in red boxes to float down the river. Small candle-lit lotuses bloom one at a time with each purchase.
As the restaurants die down, the bar life comes ablaze. Flashes of light spasm in the full spectrum of colors as a hit pop song rattles the corner amplifiers. With each strobe of varied color, I see glimpses of people living absentmindedly of the cost tomorrow might bring. Tonight they are young. Tonight they are fueled by fire. Tomorrow they will burn. Tomorrow is hundreds of years away. An overhead light spreads small red pin dots out through the crowd. The dots converge, twist, and then diverge again. Hundreds of sniper rifles trained on the hopeful hearts of entranced dancers. One by one they are picked off and the club dies down to a few survivors. People shuffle back onto the empty streets in search of their hostels to sleep into the afternoon.
The dragon takes the fire, churns it through his stomach until it forms into a perfectly round orb, and then it spits one large fire back into the Eastern sky to rise back over the world once again.