I remember when I was a kid, me and a few mates would occasionally go to a local snooker hall on a Saturday morning. If my memory serves me correctly they had an offer on, where you got your games for half price if you were there before 11am. We’d usually have the place to ourselves, and we’d kill a few happy hours snookering away. It wasn’t great quality, mind. The cues were next to useless, chalk was a rare luxury, and the tables were hardly the vast, glorious green velvet expanses you’d see at the Crucible. If I remember rightly, it was £3.50 an hour. This was what – 1998 or something?
Fast forward fifteen years (God… fifteen years!), and let me tell you about a slightly different experience I had here in Vietnam. Last week me and a few chums went for a game of pool, at a local pool hall. I’d been told its slightly different to what one expects at home, and thus having sated our thirst with a beer, we biked around to a pool hall just off Doi Can, in north west Hanoi.
…Forget crummy tables. Forget chalk being as rare as rocking horse shit. Forget musty smoke filled rooms, forget cues resembling giant emaciated bananas and forget shelling out a ton just for a quick game of billiards. In fact I’d go as far as saying I’ve never seen service like it! Let me tell you why.
We passed several utterly pleasant hours playing some (at times) not entirely horrific pool, on well maintained full sized pool tables. During this time we didn’t actually lift a finger if it wasn’t directly related to drinking beer or hitting a shot. We were waited on hand and foot. As soon as we’d finish a game, no sooner had the 8-ball nestled in the pocket than one of the pool hall girls would come steaming over, retrieve the balls from the pockets and rerack them ahead of your next game. No sooner would your glass be as much as half emptied of beer than one of the kindly chaps behind the bar would wander over and refill it for you. I’m surprised they didn’t actually follow you into the toilets to offer a helping hand.
We had more chalk than Hendry’s Elysium. There were dozens of cues to choose from, good quality cues with actual working tips, straighter than a Sam Allardyce long ball. We were fed plates of prawn crackers, and given ice buckets for our beer.
They even had these strange three fingered velvet gloves, to reduce the friction between the pool cue and your hand. They even had baskets full of talcum powder to serve the same purpose!
And the cost of hiring a table in said pool hall? Between four of us, for a solid three hours and a good few beers, it came to 200,000VND. That’s what, £7 in total, between four of us? The whole evening cost me £1.50.
…So, yeah. If you’re ever wondering why I moved to Vietnam…