Bui Vien Street in Ho Chi Minh City's Pham Ngu Lao Ward (AKA The White People Place) was the scene of Lord Radcliffe's latest ride. Photo by Calvin Godfrey
Three years ago Lord Thaddeus Radcliffe* secured a special place in the pantheon of the wild whites of Southeast Asia when he ploughed a Minsk into a noodle cart in the countryside, cutting his neck to the quick. Paramedics pronounced him dead at the scene but stitched him up anyhow.
When I first met Radcliffe, his scars had faded to a thin party joke and he was merrily making his way back to the Delta to reimburse the owner of the noodle cart (utterly destroyed) and pay a meager fine to recover his Minsk (never quite drove straight again).
I'd guess quite a few of you have a picture of the Lord as an outsized bruiser whose sheer mass draws him into trouble.
In fact, he's about the size and shape of a comic book hero's mild-mannered alter ego.
Rather than boast about his exploits, he recounts them with a shrug and a self-effacing giggle, as though they had been performed by someone else entirely.
A casual observer might attribute all his daredevilling and headrushing to drink"”and that would be a mistake. Because, while the Lord does drink, he remains bolder still without it.
He was stone sober (for instance) when he dared a crooked mobile phone shop owner to stab him with a knife he'd brandished over a matter of US$25"”or principle, as Radcliffe would have it.
Radcliffe never catches the writing on the wall because he's too busy reading some hidden treatise on Justice writ somewhere in the neon that hangs over this city.
Which brings us to a couple of months ago, when he headed off to Bui Vien to say goodbye to a bar on its last night in business.
For those unfamiliar with Ho Chi Minh City, Bui Vien is a street known for its apparent lawlessness"”a place where appetites for all sorts of unsavory things are readily attended to by an omnipresent syndicate.
Soon after stepping out of a taxi on De Tham Street, Radcliffe caught sight of a few lusty young women pawing at passing motorists.
When he noticed the ladies slipping their thin hands in and out of pants pockets, he stepped forward to put an end to it all.
"I know what you're doing,""ˆhe said. "Stop it."
To this, the women gave up the ruse and directed their attention toward Radcliffe. What business was it of his? What was he trying to say about Vietnamese womanhood? Why was he bothering them?
As he answered each of these questions, in turn, a troll-like man appeared and menaced him.
Radcliffe turned on his heels and headed toward the bottleneck of beer drinkers that stops traffic at Bui Vien's center"”satisfied that he'd put an end to the ruse.
A moment later, he heard a distant shriek. Then he heard it again. Closer it grew until one of the virtuous young women cut through the crowd on a motorbike dragging a Korean tourist behind her on his knees.
Radcliffe initiated a traffic stop, drawing a crowd and more screaming.
Still clutching the rear of the motorbike, the tourist demanded that the driver return his wallet.
Just then, the troll reappeared and threatened to strike the out-of-towner.
Radcliffe again stepped in, at which point, the pimp ran off to grab a pair of floor tiles.
"What was he going to do?" Radcliffe asked a few weeks later. "Throw the tiles at me?" I reminded him that he could well have done just that. Or hit him with the tiles. Or smashed the tiles and stabbed him with one of the shards.
Radcliffe rubbed his mouth pensively, as if considering the possibility for the first time.
At the moment in question, however, he dared the troll to make his move.
When the police pushed their way to the center of the scene, Radcliffe raised a finger at his adversary prompting him to drop his weapons and scurry off. The Korean held his returned wallet aloft. And Radcliffe retired to the bar, where he was welcomed as a hero.
"You just made the guy who runs Pham Ngu Lao look like a little"¦," and here the barman used a word that I cannot print.
Radcliffe says he briefly considered the possible repercussions of making a local don lose face in front of everyone he knew. He'd never tussled with organized crime before. This worry, like all others, quickly faded into an evening of carousing.
Hours later, he hardly noticed two toughs creeping up on a motorbike as he scanned the road for a taxi.
The pair had waited all night for their chance.
By the time Radcliffe recognized them as friends of his vanquished foe, his glasses had gone wet with a mysterious liquid.
He staggered back, clutching his eyes as his friends gathered round.
Had he been splashed with acid? Or something far more nefarious?
He burst out laughing. They'd gotten him all right. With a dose of mắm tôm"”the delicious purple shrimp paste.
Radcliffe would ride again.
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* Note: Radcliffe's name has been changed to protect his identity and overall employability