Don Stefanovich's Blog

March 11, 2011

The Admiral’s Bang-Bang Breakfast Club and the brunch of winners

Nightlife in HanoiEuropean-influenced shops, bars and cafes line Bao Khanh Street in the Hoan Kiem district of Hanoi. Photo by Don Stefanovich

Coffee and cigarettes.

“It’s kind of like a breakfast,” Keith says, exhaling, as I shovel scrambled eggs into my face on a Hanoi rooftop. Breakfast of champions? No. Not in our group. More like the brunch of winners.

It was a long night; one to remember – a lager drenched evening of rooftop clubs, polite pubs, creepy hookah lounges and aimless adventures through the French-inspired alleys and lush parks encircling the lake in the center of an alien city.

Last night it began as we sipped Hanoi Beer on the roof of a club overlooking the lake and the bustling streets below. I wondered how I got there. The short answer was that I put one foot in front of another into the onslaught of motorbikes and taxis without the aid of a crosswalk or traffic lights and somehow emerged unscathed.

The long answer wasn’t so clear to me.

My soujourn in the People’s Republic of Vietnam had led me to a dirt-floor shack high on the summit of a mountain in a remote village in the northern provinces near the Laotian border and now here, high on the roof of a building in an electric metropolis.

I should’ve been back in the hotel, writing. But Keith had it right. I can blog when I’m dead.

Somehow, Frank Sinatra and Jim Morrison provided the soundtrack to a night out in the capital of a communist country. Somehow, it fit.

The wind carries the smoke from Keith’s cigarette off into the jumbled skyline. The chorus of jackhammers, roosters and scooter-horns rises up through a jigsaw of tile-roofs, corrugated-canopies, rooftop-gardens and spider-webs of hanging laundry.

We’re halfway around the world. News of a magnitude 8.9 earthquake in Japan and Tsunamis reaching our home on the California coast (among others) filtered through to our group last night. No one’s sure how it will affect our plans for HaLong Bay or Tokyo.

Perhaps more importantly, no one seems to care. We’re ready for anything. The trip has taught us that.

The medical mission is over. The banquet is tonight. Today we are tourists. Already the sea of aging faces, black teeth, hunched backs, crying children and endless sardine-can bus rides is a blur.

Our group has solidified and become a (sometimes) cohesive unit. Classmates. Colleagues. Friends. We are all of these – equal parts Breakfast Club, Bang-Bang Club and maybe, just maybe, even a little Admiral’s Club.