Tuesday, July 10, 2007


On Thursday nights, a group of us goes to Finnegan’s for a good time. It’s a two story Irish bar, patronized exclusively by “wankers”, young obnoxious British people. At least that’s what we call them collectively. In reality they’re friendly people from all over the Commonwealth, most often from Australia.

We first came across Finnegan’s walking back from Lexi’s birthday dinner. It was crowded with people lounging on soft benches and we had to go in. We sat down upstairs and since we were in an Irish bar, we all knew exactly what to get. The waitress dutifully brought us seven Irish Carbombs—Warm shots of Bailey’s dropped into glasses of Guinness Stout spiked with Irish Whiskey. They tasted like warm chocolate milk and another round was duly brought out. And then another. And another. I stopped at three, sensing danger ahead, but a few in the group broke the double digits.

Against this background of extreme drunkenness on the part of half our group, we entered a quiz competition. Every night, Finnegan’s invites teams to compete in their trivia game, which is broadcast through speakers around the bar. We had seven Princeton students, a Vietnamese local student and a career diplomat, so we thought we had a fighting chance at the $300 prize. We entered the competition and the first category was geography, which turned out to be my main contribution. But we floundered on the most northerly national capital. Reykjavik. Not Helsinki. Obviously!

During the break between rounds, the announcer invited each team to tell a joke. Having just finished his sixth Carbomb, Elias eagerly volunteered. The rest of us listened as Anglo accents recited relatively innocent sexual jokes. Then we heard Elias’ voice. “Why couldn’t the baby fit through the revolving door?” Oh no, not a dead baby joke. “Because of the javelin through its head.” Silence…Not a sound. Finally the announcer broke the silence by calling up another group.

We’d gotten nine on the geography round and were really confident of victory. One person claimed that he could order as many Carbombs as he wanted because the prize money would cover it. The four-part answer category was next and we did ok until they asked what four words comprised ‘Goodbye’. We were all stumped, exchanging blank glances. Out of nowhere, Dzung, one of the Vietnamese students in our class, announces that he knew the answer. You’re kidding me, we all thought, aware that his English was good but not perfect. We hovered over him as he calmly wrote “God be with you” on the line, as if it were commonly taught in intermediate English. That astounding victory brought another round of Carbombs.

We were doing well, but the situation was deteriorating. The last question of the round asked for the four American states that begin with North or South. We were competing with several other “wanker” teams in the room and Elias and Adam got the notion that they could fool the other players by yelling out false answers. “North Virginia!...South Jerseeeeyyyy!!...EAST YORK!!” I think the other teams still got the question, though.

We fell apart in the third round, which was about musicals. With difficulty, we identified the Chicago themes song, but the round was not happening. The fourth round sounded more promising because it was sports, but it was equally disastrous. We had a few jocks in the group, so I was really hopeful, but they were too busy walking around with their shorts off or looking across the balcony to see if they could make a quick getaway when the bill arrived. The other problem was that the questions were about “wanker” sports, like darts or snookers, things we had no clue about. “This is AMERICA!” Tim yelled. “We don’t play darts!”

We all huddled downstairs to watch the scores get tallied. We all sensed from the last two rounds that we were doomed, but when the scores came in we acted horrified, as if we’d been cheated by the “wankers”. Then the bill came. I stared in disbelief at a tally of 45 Carbombs, among other things. The total was even more astounding—no less than 3,375,000 dong. To put it in perspective, the eight of us could have eaten a nice dinner at a high end Hanoi restaurant for under one million dong. This was an absolutely sickening bar tab, and I felt glad that I wasn’t liable for much of it. It took 20 minutes to pay and we swore we’d be back to redeem ourselves and recoup our losses.

Last Thursday, we were indeed back, and we avoided Carbombs like they were cancer. Only four of us started out the competition because the other taxi was taking the other group on a wild detour to the outskirts of Hanoi. The frightened occupants swore they were on their way to get their way to “Rape Village”, and their mini taxi adventure has become part of the trip lore. Nonetheless, we made quick work of the first section, history, which we’d selected as our double-point category.

The others arrived just in time for the joke break, which we’d plotted all week. It was decided that it would be funny to somehow insult the audience, who were almost all from the British Commonwealth. So Adam went downstairs and his loud Long Island accent came through the speaker. “Ok, our joke is as follows…..Canada.”. Our table erupted and we heard lots of amused commotion downstairs, although it would have been much better if there were other American groups in the bar. Still, it was deemed one of the top three jokes of the round.

After we aced a category on movie quotations, we were way ahead of most of the groups, but one group of two was ahead of us by one point. That was unacceptable. We were not going to loose this time. The next section was album titles and we cringed when a question stumped the group. We arranged to bribe one of the waitresses to give fill in one of our blanks. Ten minutes later she came back with the right answer.

We did fine on the fourth category and went downstairs, earnestly expecting victory, especially when we saw that we had 47 points out of a possible 50. But the other couple had 48. The announcer congratulated the two, and it sounded as if he knew them well. We cursed our luck. This whole thing had probably been a massive scam, we thought. Two people could never have gotten more than us. They must be in cahoots with the bar owners. What filthy “wanker” cheaters!