The Ballad of Stabby Joe

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The Ballad of Stabby Joe: a tragedy.


Everyone gather round, and I’m gonna tell you a little story about my run in with a local legend of Ninh Binh. Now we don’t know what his name is, but we fondly refer to him as Stabby Joe.

Actual photo of me at Monalisa.

Our encounter begins with Chase and me sitting at the trusty Monalisa (run by Bob), and drinking NaDa (the local beer of Ninh Binh). So we’re all talking and having a good time, but Bob’s wife calls him to go home. So Bob goes home, but before he leaves, he makes sure that we’re in the capable hands of his regular bartender.


Chase and I continue the talking and the swigging of beers. All of sudden, a nameless stranger appears before us out of thin air. This apparition of a man sits down at our table. He looks us dead in the eyes with his dead eyes. While we’re trying to get a grasp on what’s happening, he peacefully starts stuffing cutlery into his shirt pockets. We’re both taken aback at first, because we don’t know where this guy came from, what his end-goal might be, or how to handle this situation unraveling in front of our eyes. All we can be sure of is: we’ve been visited by Stabby Joe.

Once the initial shock wears off, Chase goes to tell the bartender, while I make the obvious decision to start recording a video. The bartender goes to the back and fetches another guy we’ve never seen before (and we’ve been at the Monalisa every night for almost a week). This new guy comes out of his house behind the restaurant and yells at Stabby Joe to leave. Joe is far too busy knocking back empty beer and ketchup bottles to pay much attention. It was a cold winter night in Ninh Binh, so Bob had a fire pit blazing to keep the patrons warm (and by patrons, I mean Chase and I at this point). So this new guy from the back, we’ll call him Security Guard, grabs a log out of the fire and winds up like the Great Bambino staring down a Red Sox pitcher. Security Guard lands a heavy blow over Joe’s back with the coal side. Embers erupt through the air around Joe, who doesn’t show much (if any) acknowledgement. Either way, it looks like he got the fiery message, and calmly disappears into the darkness as quickly as he appeared. Pockets empty.

Now despite the previous tone, this is actually a sad story. We told Bob the next day about what happened, so he filled us in on the back story of poor old Joe. Stabby Joe used to be a (somewhat) normal local. The problem is, Joe had sticky fingers, and couldn’t help himself from stealing from anyone at anytime.


In Vietnam, when someone catches you stealing, they don’t waste time calling the police, they just beat the shit out of you. Regardless of the numerous beatings he received, Joe would still fill his pockets any chance he got. One day he endured a particularly brutal beating. This beating sent Joe to the hospital. The injuries were primarily to his head and his brain, so he spent a fair bit of time recovering. When he was finally released, Stabby Joe just wasn’t the same.


Unfortunately, one thing that is still the same is his kleptomania. These days Joe wanders the outskirts of Ninh Binh under the cover of darkness (until he walks into a well-lit restaurant), attempting to steal what he can, when he can; receiving beatings whenever he’s inevitably caught. Despite the tragic circumstances, there’s a lesson to be learned here. If you plan to steal in Vietnam: either don’t get caught, or prepare for a brain-altering beating.


TL;DR - Don’t steal in Vietnam. Seriously. Don’t do it.


- Embry

#TravelSilly #TravelShitty