You have less than 24 hours to a find salon or an individual to give you a bikini wax (preferably with hard wax, because we all know what a disaster crappy Sally Hansen wax can be).
“It’s too easy!” you say. “There’s a place right down the street!” you say.
I wasn’t finished yet.
Not only do you desperately (desperately) need a bikini wax: you also happen to be on a remote island off the coast of Vietnam.
How remote, you ask? Well, there’s WiFi. There’s cell reception. But there are no computer repair shops, there’s nowhere to buy a cell phone charger should yours break, and there are no English-speaking women (none that you’re personally acquainted with, anyway.)
On your mark. Get set. Go!
12:32pm: Enemy Challenge
Truong: “Would you like to go to the beach with me tomorrow?”
That depends, cute Vietnamese guy I’m dating, is this the kind of beach where wild, hairy Alpacas are welcome to roam at will? Because after 4 months without seeing the inside of a salon, that’s exactly what I resemble.
12:34pm: Mission Identified
Me: “Sure. Um. Is Anh around, btw?”
Anh is my best bet – after all, she’s the one who gave me my awesome Vietnamese makeover, she’s the one who yells at me when I braid my wet hair, she’s the one who gives me free pedicures in the middle of her restaurant when there aren’t any customers around, and she’s the one who used to own a salon.
Problem: Anh speaks as much English as I do Vietnamese.
In the nearby capital city of Hanoi, all of the young students I’ve met speak English beautifully. If I had to generalize I’d say that the girls tend to have a better command of the language than the boys.
But here in small town Cat Ba, it is the men who tend to speak English, their wives nodding and smiling in the background.
I can’t tell if it’s because the women just don’t care to learn, or they want to learn but their husbands don’t let them, or they’re way too busy running the family business and raising the children while the men sit around smoking cigarettes and watching cricket (I sort of think it’s the last one).
This saddens me both from an empowerment standpoint and from a bikini wax standpoint.
Back home, I wouldn’t think twice about talking to a male friend about this kind of thing, but in Vietnam, it’s different, especially in Cat Ba.
Here you can’t even hug someone of the opposite sex in public. And you most certainly can’t discuss an intimate, personal matter like waxing with a man who’s not your husband.
Heck, the best I can get from my sweetie is a kiss on the cheek – and that’s only if it’s dark out and no one’s looking. So I can’t imagine bringing up the subject of waxing with one of my English-speaking male friends – I might seriously cause some instances of cardiac arrest.
1:17pm: Location Surveillance
I go to the restaurant. Anh is there, smiling her placid smile, but everyone else is there too. Her husband, his brother, and half a dozen (male) staff under the age of 25.
I hem and haw and order a coffee, and then I remember the powerful tool I have in my pocket – my Google translate app!
1:31pm: Brush Contact
“Where can I get a bikini wax?”
I type the question into Google translate, hoping for the best. The translation includes the English word “bikini” but everything else is magically transformed to Vietnamese. Looks good!
“Anh! Pssssst, Anh!”
I wave her over and covertly show her my phone’s screen. She reads the question, doesn’t bat an eyelash, and nods her head without looking at me.
Stealthy! Anh clearly knows how to be discreet, and she also must know exactly where to go to get the weed whacking done.
1:34pm: Covert Operation
She disappears into the back of the restaurant and magically reappears with two motorbike helmets.
Anh says something to her husband in Vietnamese, and he looks at me and giggles.
Oh, no! Anh! I thought we had an understanding!
“You go with Anh, you go shopping now” he says.
Ohhhh, I see what she did there. Good thinking, Anh.
“Yes!” I say. “We go shopping!”
I wink at Anh and she winks back and smiles at me. This was so much easier than I thought it would be, especially since I haven’t seen waxing offered as an option on any of the salon signs in town.
Anh probably has a friend who’ll do it in her back room. Or maybe Anh herself can do it – I sort of don’t want her poking around down there, what with us being as close as two people could be without speaking the same language, but oh well. I’m on a mission, after all. Some sacrificial awkwardness is to be expected.
1:47pm: In the Field
Anh’s motorbike races down the main drag, past restaurants and hotels, and makes a sharp right towards the local market.
For some reason we stop here and park. Fruit sellers and baskets of vegetables and electronic stands and shoe stalls are packed on top of one another, creating a loud, smelly, vibrant city within a city.
There are plastic shoes for sale, and fish sauce, dried pork, sweating fruit, leafy greens, duck eggs and knock off designer clothing. So it stands to reason there could also be a woman somewhere in the bowels of the market just waiting to pour hot wax on my hoo ha.
1:49pm: Gloria the Mole
I follow Anh through the market, my flip flopped feet stepping carefully around mysterious puddles of stank liquid.
She stops at a vegetable seller squatting in front of huge baskets of garlic. They exchange a few words, and I imagine she’s asking “Hey Gloria, does Debbie still do waxing, and is she still in the same location?”
1:51pm: Secret Lair
Anh thanks Gloria for what must have been an affirmative answer and we continue on, swimming from the primarily food section of the market to an outdoor mall of covered tents packed with clothing.
We step into an enormous closet. I feel like Alice after she’s gone through the lookinglass – rack upon rack stacked 20 feet high, pants and blouses and dresses leering at me from every angle.
Anh smiles brightly and rifles through the nearest rack until she finds what she’s looking for – a top in XL. She holds it up to me and says “Big! Big for you!”
One of the favorite topics of my friends here in Cat Ba is how large I am, especially compared with the tiny man I am dating.
Dear reader, I am 5’6” on a good day, and about 135lbs. And to them, I am the epitome of obesity. They are very concerned about my health, and everyday demand that I wake up at 5am to exercise with them (this has yet to happen).
2:07pm: The Drop Point
I pay the cashier 1 million dong – about $50 – and emerge from the closet with a new dress, and several Anh-approved (XL) outfits. Anh is very happy because the tunic top she’s chosen for me hides my stomach.
Fine. Good. We had been meaning to go shopping for a while, so I’m glad that’s out of the way. Now we’re going for my wax, right?
2:15pm: Anh’s tries a Starbust Maneuver
Anh straddles the motorbike and hangs her many plastic bags onto the bike’s convenient hooks. We’ve been to the pharmacist, to buy shoes for her husband, and to buy tank tops for my sweetie to wear while cooking in the steamy kitchen.
Is it possible that Anh…..didn’t understand what I meant when I wrote “bikini wax”?
“I need bikini wax” I say again, gesturing vaguely to my nether regions.
Anh smiles and nods, gesturing for me to get on the scooter already.
Ok, phew. I’m probably being really annoying. Clearly we just needed to run a few errands, and now we’ll go get waxed.
2:32pm: Back at Camp Swampy
Back at the restaurant. Anh just wanted to drop off everything we’d bought. We give the guys their gifts, Anh puts the vegetables in the fridge, I stand up to leave again and she….sits down. And pours herself some tea.
My sweetie emerges from the kitchen just long enough to smile at me and say “beach tomorrow!”
I muster up as much enthusiasm as possible and smile at him, nodding.
As soon as he leaves, all decorum goes out the window. This is now officially an emergency.
2:33pm: Canary Trap
“Mr. Twin? I need….I need wax.”
Mr. Twin, Anh’s English-speaking husband, stares at me blankly. Anh just smiles and nods.
In this moment I realize that Anh smiling and nodding does not, in fact, mean “Yes, I understand” but instead means “I don’t have a clue what you’re saying but I like you and want to be polite.”
How the hell did Google translate “I need a bikini wax” into “Let’s go shopping for XL clothing right now”?!
“Mr. Twin, please. I need….”
I gesture ripping hair off my arm.
He’s not getting it.
“Much hair, Mr. Twin. I need off. No hair for me, please. Where can I go?”
His eyes suddenly light up in recognition, and for a second I think I’m in.
“You want hair gone?”
“Yes! Please! Where can I go to get hair gone?”
“I can do” says Mr. Twin, which is his answer for everything from cooking to teaching English to his daughter to hunting wild birds to online marketing. (and in most of those cases, he really actually can do.)
I blush, hoping Truong can’t hear our conversation.
“No, no, you don’t understand.”
“I can do!” Mr. Twin insists. “Many women come to me and I do. I do like this.”
He mimes the action of threading eyebrows.
“Not there” I say, gesturing again to other areas of my body without going for the gold. Meanwhile, Anh is happily sipping her tea, engrossed in her phone.
“I do anywhere!” says Mr. Twin. “The chin, the lip, hair gone anywhere.”
Last chance: give up or go for the jugular?
I think of Truong, hairless Truong with woven silk skin the color of caramel, lounging in the sand and surf like a Vietnamese Adonis.
And me on the beach next to him in long pants.
“Mr. Twin, I need no hair..for swimsuit.”
And then it happens. I, a grown woman, standing in the middle of a restaurant, speaking to my friend’s husband right in front of her, point to my vagina.
Mr. Twin dies laughing.
“Noooooooo!!!!” he roars. “I cannot do there!”
And then “Truong! Come here!”
No no no no no don’t call Truong, pleeeeeease.
“I cannot do for you there, but maybe Mr. Truong must do for you!!!”
“But Mr. Twin, please, can someone do? Someone on Cat Ba can do for me?”
He says something to Anh in Vietnamese, who suddenly looks very surprised, and shakes her head ‘no.’
“No one” says Mr. Twin.
“Cannot do” says Mr. Twin.
I give up, defeated.
Maybe I can suggest a hike instead of the beach? Or a boat ride? Or anything where the entire lower half of my sasquatchian body can remain covered?
2:41pm: Mission Impossible
OPERATION BIKINI WAX: 100% FAIL
Here’s what I’m dying to know – what the hell did Anh read when she looked at my phone? What had I accidentally written in Vietnamese?!
And worse, what on earth did she think when I asked again in the market and gestured to the area below my waist?!!!
And finally, the fact that there is no waxing available on Cat Ba does not mean that Vietnamese women just let themselves go – I’ve never met a group of ladies so pleasantly obsessed with beauty, so pulled together, so fashionable, so diligent about straightening their hair and making sure each painted nail is perfectly glossed at all times – even if – no, especially if – they spend their days peeling garlic and washes dishes and shelling crab underneath the hot sun.
Which leads me to believe that they don’t NEED bikini waxing, because just like my hairless honey, they are blessed with this smooth, silken, velvety skin – sort of like human versions of hypoallergenic cats.
I wish I was a hypoallergenic cat. Or, at the very least, I wish I had a hypoallergenic va jay jay.
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1. You may not get a bikini wax on Cat Ba Island in Vietnam - best take care of your business in Hanoi before you come.
2. Google Translate is not only FLAT OUT WRONG, the translations it comes up with are specific and absurd!
3. There is no way to communicate "bikini wax" without pointing to your hoo ha. If you find a way to do so please let me know.
4. If you are an esthetician of some sort, you could make a killing on Cat Ba because you will have zero competition and hordes of hairy tourists in need of your services.
Want to dig deeper? Go for it!