This restaurant has closed. Green Peppercorn Laos/Thai has now opened at this location since July 2012.

It’s a rainy Thursday night in a suburban hotel in Sydney’s south west.  The Fairfield Hotel is relatively empty but for a table of middle aged Vietnamese.

One couple is singing karaoke, it’s a love song, melodramatic in typical Vietnamese style.  My Vietnamese is not good enough to fully comprehend.  But I sense the raw, barely controlled emotion.  When he hits the high notes his voice gets louder as if to mask his feelings, she responds with a kind, feminine, considered croon.

Another couple are swaying slowly, close to each other, but their minds are somewhere else.  While others watch on… like the Pacific Islander barman with a greying beard.  He’s bemused but he too, senses something tonight.

Even the pre-recorded karaoke track seem to ooze pathos tonight.

I too get caught up in this empty room that is full of emotion and watch on, amazed, wide mouthed.  As the song comes to and end, I’m almost in tears.  Suddenly I’m filled with love for these strangers in a strange land – in their own way, trying to make sense of the unfamiliar, fumbling for happiness.  Tonight I feel close to them as they sing and sway, in solidarity with their fleeting happiness and in sync with their flashes of loneliness.

Then it struck, in two days time, it’s the 36th anniversary of the fall of Vietnam, that moment in time that binds us like an umbilical chord.

Vietnamese music can be nostalgic and sad, aided by string instruments which pluck at your heart, little by little until you surrender.  The video above is a case in point, beauty mixed with pain.

Who’d knew, just half an hour before I was enjoying a deliciously generous pepper steak, with salad and chips covered with chicken salt – all for $9.  88 Steak House is a kitchen on the side of the Fairfield Hotel.  They offer fantastic value steaks and other Aussie pub meals.

But even as I was enjoying my steak, the music drifting in was quietly tugging me to join my fellow country men and women.

88 Steak House
Fairfield Hotel
1 Hamilton Rd, Fairfield
9642 7300