Bacon Cheeseburger in Paradise

It’s a cool night on the patio at Tam’s Pub and Surf Shop in Da Nang, Vietnam. Tam (the restaurant’s namesake) is seated at my table. I’m her only guest right now, and as I eat the monster of a bacon cheeseburger she has skillfully crafted for me (complete with freshly-cut home fries), she provides the dinner conversation.

Tam’s life story deserves to be on the New York Times bestseller list.  From the countless occasions where she eluded death during the war, to getting to know and befriend US soldiers (she has a special place in her heart for them), to what life was like working to not only raise her own son but a number of babies whose parents died in the conflict, Tam’s tales leaves you hanging on every word.  She has mastered the art of storytelling.  So much so, this is my second visit to her pub during my stay in Da Nang (and I’d go one more time before leaving for Hanoi).

On the menu are hamburgers, surfboards, and stories from a fascinating life.
On the menu are hamburgers, surfboards, and stories from a fascinating life.

As I finish a mouthful of burger and wash it down with a sip of beer, I turn to Tam with the intent of finding out the real story behind one yarn which has circled the Internet.

“Tell me the one about Jimmy Buffett and the surfboards,” I ask, sounding more like a child wanting one more story before bedtime rather than a guest in her restaurant. She smiles, and obliges.

A few years back, the Margaritaville singer was visiting Vietnam. The reason really doesn’t matter, but he was staying at one of the fancier resorts down the highway close to Hoi An.

One day, a vehicle pulled up in front of Tam’s Pub and Surf Shop, and a couple of guys got out. They had heard that Tam rented surfboards, and were hoping to pick one up.

Tam went to the back, got a board, and brought it to the waiting customers.  In exchange for it, they handed her a piece of paper with the name of the hotel they were staying at, the name of the man who was renting her surfboard, and a hotel room number.  The transaction was rather speedy, and before Tam realized she didn’t take a deposit from them, they had already left.  All she had was a piece of paper with what seemed like meaningless information.

Tam waited through the day, but the guys never came back with her surfboard. She never heard from them at all. She took out the piece of paper and looked at it, and wondered who this “Jimmy Buffett” was that had her board. Whoever he was, she was determined to go down to the resort and let him know she wanted her board back!

The next morning, Tam ventured out in search of Jimmy Buffett. When she arrived at the resort’s front desk, they were hesitant about telling her where Buffett was. It was from their body language she could tell he was probably some kind of big deal. Unbothered by any semblance of authority (I love her swagger), Tam made her way out to the beach determined to find her surfboard. And that’s when she met Jimmy Buffett.

Buffett was rather apologetic for keeping the board too long, she said, but he had promised it would be returned. He asked her to stay for lunch with him at the resort after she went through all the trouble of going out to check on her surfboard. She declined though.  She said she had a busy restaurant of her own to run back in Da Nang. Time was wasting. Just so long as she got her surfboard back, she’d be happy.

The next day, Tam was working away in her shop – listening to Buffett’s music, after discovering exactly who he was – when a van pulled up and Buffett emerged with her surfboard. They chatted, he thanked her, and he promised to send along some surfboards to add to her cache.  A man of his word, it wasn’t long before a package arrived on Tam’s doorstep.  Sent from Hong Kong, it contained not one – but four brand new surfboards.

Today, you need to leave your passport behind if you want to ride giants with one of Tam’s boards. If catching a wave isn’t your goal while in Da Nang, Tam’s shop is still a must-visit. You’ll walk away with a homecooked meal in your stomach, and a library’s worth of true stories from a remarkable woman.

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