One of the best things about living in HCMC is that I can actually afford to have my very own driver (or xe ôm in the native lingo). Since meeting the man in question around 6 months ago, we have developed quite the lovely relationship, so it shames me to say that I’m still totally unaware of his name. However, in my mind, he’s ‘Billy’; doesn’t this name just bring with it wonderful connotations of a young & naive cockney lad, fresh out of high school, with his flat cap and rhyming slang, driving around members of high society London? Granted, I am not a member of the elite nor is my chauffeur a young teenage boy (although, his broken English could be mistaken for the cockney accent at times) but the adventures we have could easily be taken from an episode of Downton Abbey…
I met Billy on the corner of a small intersection about 100 yards from my school on one of my numerous dismal trawls around the city, trying to find a lift home from work. As I approached him, he seemed engrossed in a game of cards with a fellow driver and almost jumped into an oncoming bus when I addressed him over his shoulder (no doubt due to the fact that gambling is strictly illegal here). Anyway, after a very swift price negotiation, we were on our way to my apartment.
It was during this journey that I first realised Billy could actually speak English, which came about after a rather hilarious incident involving two Vietnamese women. The two of them were wearing what can only be described as the outfit worn by Mercutio, at the Capulet party, in Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. Not only this, but one of them was carrying an old school tape-player on the back of her bike which was blaring out music. Unsurprisingly, as they crossed the road together, they were totally unaware of Billy and I approaching and as a result nearly caused a collision. However, due to Billy’s nerves of steel and impeccable driving expertise, any incidents were avoided. But as we drove on past the pair, Billy said to me ‘man’, naturally I asked him to repeat and he responded, ‘2 man’ and pointed behind us. As l I turned around and saw the faces of the 2 women for the first time, it became very clear that they were actually 2 Vietnamese transvestites!
After such an ice breaker, it was inevitable that Billy and I would form a strong bond; he now knows my work schedule inside out and is often a little worried if I break from the routine. He’s also got into the habit of mocking my tardiness after class. As he drops me off for work, he elicits what time I wish to be picked up, say 9pm, and rather than politely agree and be on his way, he’ll respond instead, ‘OK, 9.10pm’. Cheeky swine.
Like all great friendships though, we have had a few altercations. The first was when he arrived to pick me up from work 15 minutes late, by which point it had started to rain and my hair had started to frizz. However, all was forgiven when, instead of apologising for being late, he apologised that it had started to rain – how very British of him. The second argument was actually of my own doing. He texted me one evening with the following: ‘what time I pick you up? I take you to my house.’ Naturally I assumed the ‘my’ was just bad English, but as he drove straight on past my apartment block later that night, I caused all hell of confusion by asking what he was doing. He quickly turned around and stopped outside my block and explained that his uncle had just returned from 2 years living in France and he wanted me to meet him. He then showed me the text and highlighted that he had indeed said ‘my house’. I know, I was a little creeped out by this situation too, but I’m pretty sure his intentions were all innocent. Nonetheless, I declined his very polite offer.
In all seriousness, my life has been made so much easier having a chauffeur. I tried driving a motorbike when I first moved out here and immediately regretted the decision. And, while taxis are, comparatively cheap to the UK, there’s just something great about the fact that with a chauffeur, I can pay him 30p and he’ll get me home with no hassle or negotiation. Plus, what fun would I have in a taxi driving past 2 Vietnamese transvestites? I’d never have been able to identify them through tinted windows.