I’m playing tennis again, which is a very good thing. On a somewhat related note, I think I’ve tasted the world’s coldest beer.
A few weeks ago, I was in New York and luckily found myself on a clay court on the west side of Prospect Park. At that point, I had experienced the longest tennis hiatus of my life (13 months) since age 6. A few rallies in, I remembered that, hey, I really like to play. Thankfully, the thousands of hours I’d spent in lessons and being taxied around the Midwest to junior tournaments were not for null, and I retained a least a semblance of my old consistency and loopy topspin .When it came time to fly back to Saigon, I hastily shoved a couple of rackets in a giant checked bag and set my sights on hitting the courts of Viet Nam.
I sent some Facebook messages and, in no time, strapped my rackets to the back of my motorbike en route to a set of two run-down courts in the middle of the city. The modest pro shop was overshadowed by hanging palm trees and doubled as a parking garage for the bar next door. My hitting partner for the day was running late, so I used the time to coat every inch of exposed skin with sunscreen and warmed up a few serves. He arrived, and, five minutes into our warm-up I looked like I’d just taken a swim; in my excitement, I’d neglected to consider the fact that we were playing in the heat of the afternoon. Nevertheless, spirits were high. Squinting through the October sun, sweat dripping down my nose, I started to remember why I loved playing in the first place. As the day went on, errant forehands bound for Australia became fewer and further between, and I relished in that extra effort to dig up a low-and-flat crosscourt slap whizzing over the net.
All in all, I was beyond satisfied with my first South Asian tennis outing. Little did I know, however, that the best was yet to come.
The tennis culture of Vietnam appears to be one carrying great whimsy. I’ve played in my fair share of men’s leagues, both formal and unsanctioned, over the years. Perhaps because I was always the young guy, intent on not intruding on other players’ time-honored traditions, these leagues, despite being overwhelmingly pleasant, seemed a little stuffy. This, too, may have also been the result of me being too young to partake in the after-match festivities. Now, however, I’m older, wiser, and carry a responsible craving for adult refreshments. It would seem I’m in luck; my first experiences, at two different Saigonese tennis clubs, included the expectation of not only a post-session beer, but one enjoyed on the very court dotted with my sweat. On day two, one court over, a group of four 50-something men finished up their set, rid themselves of shirts, and gave a loud cheers (Moc, Hai, Bai!) after cracking open a few Tigers.
They invited me to a cold one, and cold it was. In fact, it was probably the coldest beer I’ve ever had. There are few words to describe how cold this very beer was in this very moment. Cheers to old hobbies.