Fifty Shades of Expat: The Tanktop Romeo

Who is the Tanktop Romeo?

He’s a man of the world, and he’s seen it all. He’s been “in the tubing” in Laos. He’s sipped formaldehyde-laced rum buckets under azure skies and sampled the finest fried insects from here to Chiang Mai. The ladies find his tales of adventure, and hearty application of AXE body spray, irresistibly alluring. He is a rebel, a risk taker, a man who wears neon short-shorts in public.


The Tanktop Romeo is not merely a chiseled block of KFC-fed granite, nay… he is also a man of intellect and charm. Thanks to his near-photographic memory he can recall the location of every ladies’ night special in Vietnam, as well as the aforementioned ladies’ receptiveness to impromptu body shots.


Some may scoff at the Tanktop Romeo’s apparent lack of social delicacy, but rest assured that he really doesn’t give a damn what you think, brah.



I gave Vietnamese people 'happy' cookies. It was for a birthday party potluck sort of thing, but everything was coming together late as usual. My girlfriend’s Vietnamese coworkers came before any of her expat friends, who were supplying the food. The cookies were the first thing out.


Everyone was warned, but maybe not enough. The cookies were gone super fast, one guy even had two of them. And then the food came, everything was normal, and I thought it would be okay.


An hour in, people started passing out. A girl said to me that she felt tired, so tired, so I told her to lie down. But then her friends started trying to wake her up, and when they couldn’t wake her up they started panicking. Others were walking around like zombies, stumbling into things. We had to lock the balcony door, because we were afraid of what one girl would do. It was not a fun time.


Our neighbours broke down our gate. Happily ensconced in my latest Tinderella one night, I became aware of a commotion in my alley. Nothing unusual, I thought at first — I shared a typical Vietnamese ‘skinny-rise’ with seven other teachers, calmness had nothing to do with this place.


As the intensity of the distraction rose however, it became clear that this had something to do with us — then I walked onto the balcony and saw our neighbours brandishing a large pole at the front gate! I ran to the rooftop, where people typically hung out.


It turns out the neighbours and my housemate had been engaged in a back-and-forth: they throw a bottle at our place, my housemate pisses off the roof. Down below, they looked like they’d lost their patience with this game — and bang, they were inside.


“Holy s*** they’re in the house!”


“What are they going to do?”


Unsure whether to stand our ground or confront them, we decided to s*** our pants and do nothing. Expecting them to come tearing up the stairs at any moment, the cavalry never arrived. Heart attack over, our neighbours had proved their point — “we can get in foreigners, don’t f*** with us”.


I drank with some guys on the street. My bike had run out of gas, and I walked up to the gas station with an empty water bottle to get some more. On the way back, I noticed three Vietnamese guys drinking in the middle of one of those small triangular traffic medians in the middle of the street, next to the stood-up tyres that showed they fixed flats.


“Yo white with the gas” is basically what they said in Vietnamese. And we just sat on the median drinking moonshine, traffic passing us on all sides.


I got scarred in a bike crash. It’s a typical story. I left my bike at home for a heavy night, but got on the back of my friend’s bike because it was cheaper than a taxi. There was no-one on the road at 1am, and we cut down the street at 70km/h. When another biker sped out of a cross-alley without looking, we went flying. And I landed on my face.


A couple of days later, I was feeling well enough to leave the room on my own. But everywhere I went, people stared at me. One guy pointed me out to his friend while I was walking past. Another guy, his arm over his girlfriend’s shoulder, turned his head when I walked behind them. He kept his head turned, still walking, until I yelled, “WHAT?”


But that wasn’t the worst part. People would stop me in bars on the way to my friends’ table: “What happened to you?” I would watch my friends chat up girls and tell them about their travels or tattoos; all my conversations would lead to accident stories. When I got my stitches out, the doctor asked me if I’d considered plastic surgery.


This s*** lasted for about a month. Then my eyebrow grew back in, the scar got less obscene and I met a girl. Now it looks kind of cool.


I partied at a convenience store. Three months into my travel, my visa was running out and I was leaving a whole crew of people behind. I decided to have a party. In my typical style back then, I couldn’t stand the thought of going to a real bar, and my guesthouse’s lobby couldn’t hold all the people I figured would show up.


We decided to pack the Shop & Go near Bui Vien, the one that had a small counter toward the back and is now some kind of pharmacy. We called it ‘Shop & Stay’. At 8.30pm sharp all the people on the Facebook page were supposed to arrive, as my singer-songwriter friend played a short set in front of the beer fridges. Of course, everyone was late. But a half-hour later the place was packed.


People were drinking in the aisles and out front. We made sure that everyone paid for their drinks, although the counter workers were still plenty nervous. One extra worker came from somewhere to join his coworkers behind the counter (this was the same Shop & Go where I’d seen a sleeping employee emerge from a closed storage cabinet). We smiled at them and took pictures. They smiled at us, and sold us more beer.


A little while later we left the most unique party I’ve been to out here. The lesson as always: white people can get away with anything!

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