The U.S. Coast Guard would be appalled, but drinking while adrift is a daily scene off the coast of Nha Trang, Vietnam. The “floating bar” is part of a popular all-day boat trip to outlying islands and it works like this: Shortly after lunch, a crewmember swims maybe 100 feet away from the boat with several bottles of (very cheap) Vietnamese wine. He is followed by a small horde of travelers, all of whom are hungry for this novel mix of alcohol and the sea. Within a matter of minutes the bottles run dry, plastic cups are gathered, and everyone hauls themselves back onto the boat so that we might chug toward the next spot on the itinerary (I think it was snorkeling). While the floating bar says little about Vietnamese culture, it says a lot about Vietnamese entrepreneurial skills.
There are at least as many reasons why people drink as there are nationalities in the above picture. In “Pray Without Ceasing,” a short story in Wendell Berry’s book Fidelity: Five Stories, one character “stood, letting the whisky seek its level in him, and felt himself slowly come into purpose; now he had his anger full and clear.” Another character, this one in C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces, explains: “But now I discovered the wonderful power of wine. I understood why men become drunkards. For the way it worked on me was — not at all that it blotted out these sorrows — but that it made them seem glorious and noble, like sad music, and I somehow great and reverend for feeling them.”
As for the people off the coast of Nha Trang this day, who leapt from their boat into the sea in order to swim to the Vietnamese sailor with spirits — well, I don’t think anyone was doing it with the intent of being great and reverend, or to feel their anger full and clear. Maybe the young Vietnamese guy in the very top of the above photo said it best. Swimming back to the core of the group for a refill, he saw me still on the boat and yelled, “Joel jump, it’s so fun!”
And so, tucking my camera away, I jumped.