Sunday, 11 May 2014

The Vietcong with flip-flops

You head down into the cellars beneath the flicker of prison-issue bulbs. On the wall of a bar/disco hangs a punishing activity schedule for new inmates: Happy Hour, Cops & Robbers, Salsa Night. A gang of young Italian prisoners pass you in Abercrombie uniforms, sipping Cokes, chatting into mobiles. Your footsteps echo behind you. It feels less like a backpacker hostel and more like the headquarters of a faded military dictatorship; the Vietcong with flip-flops.

You pass a room marked “Marketing Chamber”, then another calling itself “Social Area”. You open the door: thirty young people stare silently at their laptops. “Smile,” says a poster, “you’re on CCTV.” It feels like getting a dirty wink from Chairman Mao.
Euro-techno pulses through the complex, machine-guns your ears. It follows you into the cafeteria, where you sit for a while, crunching crisps from the machine. Two French guys near you chat over a formica table. You wonder at what exact point you became too old for this. Somehow, it reminds you of a moment in your early teens: realising with genuine sadness that you’d never play Pass the Parcel again. A security guard wanders around, gently and quietly checking that Everything’s Okay, like an aggressive dad patrolling a birthday party. Overhead strip lights glare into your eyes...

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