The large, fat man sat by the pool slurping his glass of beer and chatting up the young Vietnamese waitress. He downed the contents quickly, stood at the water’s edge and launched himself headfirst. He disappeared and I thought that he had had a heart attack and I would have to dive in and rescue him.
Instead, he emerged at the other end, raised his head and shook it like a dog cleaning itself. He then swam back with a half breaststroke, his face partially submerged and his mouth gulping in air sideways. He reminded me of a hippo moving effortlessly through the water searching for food, its ears twitching. He climbed out, pulled his shorts over his sagging belly and moved towards his wife and stood over her.
She lay on the lounger in her polka dot swimsuit, wrinkly and haggard. He looked at her, mouthed something and flopped face down on his own lounger. The wife had red sunglasses and a white band around her head as if she had had brain surgery. She had large round headphones and stared into her I Pad, oblivious to him.
He lay for a while, then sat up and ordered another beer. He downed it in one then stood up and walked once again to the edge of the pool. He did the same manoeuvre as before, belly flopping into the water and spraying water over a young couple engrossed in their books. He rose at the end, gasped a few breaths and adopted the hippo position again, moving slower through the water. This time he did two lengths, scrambled out and stood over his wife again. She looked at him disdainfully, turned onto her stomach and adjusted her headphones. He flopped down once again, sneaking a glance at the young Vietnamese girl standing by the bar.
The ritual continued for an hour. The beer, the wife stare, the short’s adjustment, the belly flop and total submergence.
The Chinese couple sat on the opposite side of the pool. They were in their late twenties/early thirties and he was constantly touching her as if they were newlyweds. He had side-burns and long black hair and wore dark shorts and a denim shirt with some expensive emblem stitched on it. She was slim and somewhat demure with her hair tied up in a bun on top of her head. It was difficult to make out the contours of her face since her sunglasses were large and obscured almost everything. She wore a small, brown top pulled tightly over her breasts.
He had one of those modern cameras with a zoom lens and insisted on taking shots of her from every angle despite her protestations. He stood over her on a marble plinth and took a shot downwards with the zoom focusing on her breasts and her legs dangling in the water. He encouraged her to wriggle around sensuously and moved from side to side smiling. She finally said enough was enough and stood up, her costume clinging to her body and her bottom exposed. He immediately stood behind her and took the shot.
She covered herself in a towel and sat on the lounger, dangling her legs in the water. He pushed up close to her and showed her the shots, nodding his head almost rhythmically. He whispered something to her and she submerged herself once again trying to escape him. She swam to the other end of the pool and sat on the steps. He followed her, climbed above a large ceramic vase that bubbled water and took downward shots, this time focusing on her legs and lower torso under the water.
He was totally oblivious to my presence and persisted with his intrusion until she eventually stormed out and left, dragging her towel behind her. He checked the shots and then pursued her. I caught sight of her face pressed against the third floor window of the hotel, still in her bikini with the tell-tale flash of the camera glistening in the darkness behind her.
The girl in the pink bikini rarely moved from her lounger whilst her boyfriend occasionally dipped into the water, made a few strokes then clambered out and returned to his laptop. She had a very distinctive, pointed nose and a face that lacked any real beauty. He was reasonably handsome but his midriff had sagged and layers of flab hung over his tight-fitting shorts. She had left him for a while and he flopped into the water and moved around ponderously. He looked up, saw her filming him from the balcony on the third floor and pretended to do the crawl. He turned, lay on his back and pushed his legs wide apart laughing.
She returned, took off her shawl and tip toed into the water as he departed. She made a few perfunctory strokes, turned and lay on her back with her breasts protruding above the water. When she looked up, he was there with the camera filming her. She swam towards him, smiling and dived under the water before emerging near his feet. He had a towel pulled tightly around his waist and urged her to go back and do the same manoeuvre again. She retraced her steps, turned and dived deeper as he smiled and focussed the lens on her submerged body.
As she surfaced, he discarded the towel and dived in next to her and clambered on her back. She tried to shrug him off but he put his arm around her neck and pulled her towards him biting her ear. She escaped, swam up the pool and admonished him. He swam after her, dived and swam between her legs lifting her into the air.
She was clearly embarrassed and pushed him away. There then followed a sort of synchronised swimming with the two of them moving in unison through the water and taking turns to ride on each other’s back. They would detach themselves, swim away then come together, gripping each other tightly and sinking under the water in a passionate embrace.
They eventually emerged, returned to their respective loungers, he to his laptop and she to a large pot of sun cream which she smothered on her bright red nose.
The small Japanese boy entered the pool completely covered in protective clothing. He wore a grey hood over his head that almost concealed his eyes, and a tight, black body suit that made him look like a Ninja warrior. He wore rubber gloves and lime green coloured shoes and goggles that filled his face. He made a few splashing movements, attempted to swim but sank beneath the water.
His mother sat by the water’s edge shouting until he was rescued by the father who descended quickly into the water and scooped him up into his arms, holding him tightly. The mother relaxed and the father admonished him for his foolishness. He too was dressed like a Ninja Warrior, all in black except that he had no hood. He was late 30s and quite muscular and handsome.
His wife was the personification of the English rose. She wore a floral Liberty’s dress with shoulder straps and a large, fashionable straw hat held on with pink ribbon. It was difficult to make out her face but she was clearly pretty and had those sharp Oriental features that reminded me of the Tretchikoff picture that we had on our lounge wall in St. Helens when I was a child. She calmed down after the boy’s rescue and aimed her mobile phone at them taking endless photos.
She barked out a series of commands and her husband responded. He picked the boy up, lay him horizontal in front of him and pushed him forward, urging him to kick and spread his arms to his sides. The boy responded, the father let go and the boy sank quickly to the bottom. The mother screamed and barked out another command. The father lifted him once again, placed him on his back and made him kick with his feet and move his hands backwards over his head. This he did, his mother applauded and photographed this achievement until the father once again let go. He quickly sank and was once again snatched into the safety of his fellow Ninja’s arms.
The mother rose, walked to the water’s edge and shouted. Father and son bowed their heads and moved quickly to shallow water and emerged. She took the boy, caressed him and removed his hood and glasses. She stared at the husband disconsolately. He placed the towel over his head ostensibly to dry his hair but in reality to avoid the ignominy and disgrace at failing his son.
The Thai girl was very young and wore tight blue jeans and a short, white top that exposed her skinny waist. She had a small diamond embedded in her belly button, which glistened when the sun reflected off it. She stroked the man’s back gently, caressing his shoulders and whispered something in his ear. He was mid- fifties, probably sixty and wore a sort of Tilley hat with Thailand emblazoned on its front. He had a patch of white hair across his chest, which looked totally out of character with his pink, skinny body that resembled a plucked chicken.
He seemed embarrassed by her attention especially in front of the group of British travellers who had just arrived and had clearly not been exposed to this sort of behaviour before. Most were old and flabby, with the men bald and the women determined to retain their femininity by keeping their hair grey and natural.
He pushed her away gently and she sprinted off with her bottom waggling to the consternation of the ladies of the group clad in khaki as if they were about to embark on a mission into the wilderness. He settled into his Lee Childs’s book and twitched as he read, blinking his eyes continuously. He then rose suddenly, removed his hat and launched himself into the waters of the pool, emerging after a number of strained strokes.
He stood up suddenly and walked around almost like a heron with his head jerking forward as if searching for a fish, constantly peering. He then stopped as if he had detected something, then turned around and started looking up at the balcony windows. I noticed the bald patch on the back of his head, which had been obscured by the hat. He was obviously searching for something and then he spotted her.
She was at the window on the 4th floor, waving at him and encouraging him to join her. She was smiling enticingly. He stayed in the water with the water up to his waist and was about to wave back when he caught sight of the British tourists also staring upwards at the young girl. He sank deeper into the water as their eyes focused on him and swam back to his lounger.
The young girl retreated from the window with a faint wave as he climbed out of the pool, showered and returned to his book as the British moved off to visit yet another defunct monument. He nodded rhythmically as the thoughts of the feast to come overwhelmed him.
The Korean ladies took over the pool this morning, all fully kitted out with tight swim caps, brightly coloured goggles and tight–fitting swimsuits. They occupy all of the right side of the pool and swim up and down in unison, their strokes almost matching perfectly. The breaststroke is their preferred action and they appear as if trained and synchronised. They are all middle-aged and well practiced with slow, methodical strokes.
On the left hand side of the pool, a large teenager attempts to placate her mother by thrashing around in the water without gaining any momentum. Each time she tries to propel herself forward, she sinks quickly and is dragged out by the mother. Her mother wears the compulsory, black ninja suit and lies on her back and kicks herself forward. She waves to the child to follow but the girl makes two strokes and sinks.
The Korean ladies stop swimming and form a circle with their toes touching. They put their arms around each other’s shoulders and move around in a circle, laughing loudly. They break away and return to their breaststroke.
An attractive woman in a black, backless costume walks into the water, poses to have her photograph taken by an elderly lady and marches up and down the pool punching her arms backwards and forwards. Her friend tries the butterfly beside her, making loud, gasping sounds like a stranded whale before crashing down into the water with a loud splash. She makes very little progress and gives up and joins her colleague on her march up and down the pool.
Another tall attractive woman enters with black shorts and a grey top and walks along the side of the pool as if in a fashion parade. She moves her head gently from side to side as if looking for admirers, then moves towards me. She stops suddenly, bends down with her hands cupped and places them under the water. She brings them up quickly, holding something so precious and places the small insect on the pebble stones in front of me. She smiles at me and claps expecting me to respond. I nod disappointingly as she joins the two other ladies in their long march.
I move to the lobby and then to the lift. Just as the doors are about to close, the Korean ladies enter, wet and in white robes like something out of a mental ward. I press the button and they all stare at me with my long hair and my dishevelled look. I nod and smile reassuringly but they bow their heads to avoid my stare.
The lift moves upwards slowly and jolts to a halt. I wait a while as the panic starts to overwhelm me and the thoughts of being trapped with these oversized ninjas spins horrors in my mind. The door opens slowly and I step out sweating profusely and relieved.
Hoi An, Vietnam, 2016