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Greetings From Vietnam 3

  • Written by Grumpy
  • July 14th, 2006
  • 9 min read


“Your smile never “went away” , its below your nose, you just forgot it was there” – Anonymous

Sums up my feelings exactly about finding myself washed ashore in this amazing land

The Vietnamese are Highly Intelligent

One of my much loved students recently played the piano for me so beautifully that it reduced me to tears. Apparently she had picked up some piano pieces five years ago, purloined a piano & taught herself

The piece that she was playing ? None other than “Fur Elise” by Ludwig Van Beethoven, to me, a quite astonishing feat. In my native England it couldn’t be done, for her entire community would throw rocks at her for being so stupid as to try

Such feats are common place in this “go go go, move move move” land, all conducted in a quiet, good natured, fun loving way, in keeping with their Buddhist traditions

Your correspondent is still reeling by the level of questions emanating from a Saigon University “What do you think of Martin Luther King ?” “Will you accept Prince Charles as your future King ?” “What will you do when the Chinese dominate the future ?” , not to mention the shock administered to me when finding out that my first student in Dalat was a Nuclear Physicist !

Every hotel receptionist has a college degree, a mind as sharp as a razor. Very necessary as the language barrier is formidable, reputed to be one the most difficult of them all to master. They work like Trojans, especially the women, at least 12 hours a day, seven days a week. When I tell them that in the UK we have a 50 hour week maximum they throw up their hands in horror. “How you make money?”

Their level of competence is scary.

In Chiang Mai, my very practical fold up spectacles shed a small screw. Repair cost 400 baht. No thanks. In Saigon a street vendor fixed it in two seconds “no charge sir.”

In Chiang Mai my beloved suede sandals shed a strap, important to me as Viet shoes don’t fit. Again, 400 baht. No thanks. In Dalat, one thong, tied & clipped in 5 seconds. No charge sir.

In Dalat I met up with a Swiss Maid, distraught that her aging Pentax Camera, had collapsed & died. In China the repair quote was $50. I took her to a student friend, a camera repair man. New battery fitted. Bingo ! it worked. No charge for “Teacher”.

Not acts of charity these, your correspondent will use them ‘till the end of time, as they well knew.

Central Palace, Saigon Street Vendor, Saigon

The Vietnamese Sense of Community

The Vietnamese have a very strong sense of community, which takes precedence over family, even though they are every bit a “Confucian” society . They call it “Phi” This can be good, or sometimes bad, as explained later.

In Saigon for three weeks, it became apparent to the locals that I wasn’t a tourist The locals duly took note Walking inoffensively down the street one day, an old lady with a conical hat rounded on me “You !” pointing her finger at a stool “Sit down !” ‘Twas an order not a request. In uncharted waters, your correspondent submitted in spirit of humility. Other locals gathered around.

Conical Hat “Where you ‘Fom ?”

Me Hanoi !

Locals Grins

Conical Hat “Wife you ?”

Me “Two index fingers waved apart, broken marriage, Philippines”

Conical hat “How old you ?’

Me “Old “you” fine, how you ?”

Conical hat “grrr” “how old you ?”

Me “98, signaled with fingers”

Me “No smoking, no drinking, no women !!! Pointing at them”

Locals Roar with laughter

Conical hat “Chillen you ?”

Me “No” “”sad” rubbing eyes

Conical hat “what you do? “

Me “retired, pension” show them Viet crib sheet, essential for survival in these parts

Conical hat “Vietnamese girls booful, you like?”

Me Of course

Conical hat “Want wife you?’

Me “gulp” Point at ring finger

Still married, separated not divorced got me out of trouble time after time, this one !

Saigon Students Dalat City Centre

At this the inquisition let me go, smiling & laughing. One hundred meters (Yards ! I still can’t get used to this unwanted metric system) I was accosted again, similar locals, same same questions. Then, before I got to the end of the street yet another “interview”

When I got back to my hotel they were roaring with laughter. “It’s ok, you’re one of us !” “Welcome to Vietnam” Indeed I was, with a much needed, and grandiloquent, bowing & scraping (causing much hilarity), I still am

Formidably intelligent, industrious & with a strong sense of community, definitely not to be underestimated. They threw the French out (Superior Civilization) with sticks & stones & then, amazingly, repeated the feat with Uncle Sam. Admittedly the US of A was completely off its trolley but even so it was a heroic achievement. The official death toll was 3 million but methinks it was many more, given the paucity of people of my age in ‘Nam. Apparently the Americans put “people sensors” all along the Ho Chi Minh trail at one time, linked to their command & control centers. In Response the Viet Cong put barrels of pig shit all along the same & the B52’s blasted these barrels to kingdom come for months on end

As a side note the British Empire ruled the world for centuries by a policy of “Divide & Rule” so why do the yanks keep uniting their foes by rolling them into a common enemy ? “Global communism” my eye. Why then did Cambodia Vietnam & China go to war with each other ? It’ll be a long time before China pushes the boat out again for the I’m given to understand that the Viets gave them a (very) bloody nose. The yanks won’t beat Islam either, it has to sort it’s own problems out

Where was I ? Oh yes

Villa at Lang Biang Mountain, Dalat Beautiful Oil Painting


All Roads Lead To Marriage

The Viets firmly believe that man & woman belong together. When I tried to explain to my erstwhile Saigon Landlady that I wish to be “alone” due to being an “oldie with a weak heart” she swiftly retorted “Maybe if you had a girl you would be younger & your heart better” Still stops me in my tracks, that one

I am not cognizant with their “Dating Rules” & as advised by Uncle Frank Visakay therefore don’t indulge. But I’m told that she won’t “play ball” with you until engaged, not even on your birthday !

They play this game “You like Vietnamese girl ?” if you say no you cause offence so the answer is always yes. Then they’ve got you. May I introduce ? The separated but not divorced bit always gets ‘em

Happens at least once a week, young and old, fat & thin, short & tall. Sometimes there’s a direct attack “I be your girlfriend” Can’t ever remember being so aggressive with girls when I was young

All along the lines of “I wonder if he’ll be the one to take me out of poverty ?” of course. Your correspondent is not so foolish as to believe that it’s “love”

Often I’m given a phone number. She can’t speak English and I can’t speak Vietnamese, doesn’t stop them getting mad at me when I don’t call though. Occasionally I’m placed in an embarrassing situation. One very hospitable landlady invited me to dinner & was due to “introduce” me to her sister later on. When the sister appeared, dressed in a beautiful Ao Dai, the company melted away leaving me alone with a lady who didn’t speak a word of English. What was I suppose to do ? Jump the poor girl?

But if I were ever to say “yes” then the real trouble would start, for you can marry them but not date them ! With the community spirit comes an epic level of gossip & she would be called every name under the sun. In Saigon one time I was even turned away from an internet café when trying to bring in two young students for an English lesson. “too young for you !” “My Students ! “To young, not use !” “out !’

I had a young pretty friend in Saigon who befriended me, entirely platonic on both sides. When we were seen together the locals hounded her so mercilessly that we were forced to retreat to my room to chat, always leaving the door wide open. Fortunately, by then, my landlady knew me well enough to know that nothing untoward was going on

My shop girl friends were always delighted to see me but careful to screen me from the street for fear of the flak that would fly

In Dalat, I seem to be able to get away with my pals being called “Con Gai” (daughter) a ruse that they invented

Having a strong sense of community, they want you to do things their way. I’ve lost count of the times they’ve insisted that I park like a sardine, rather than in an open space.. Same same in internet cafes, pack us in like sardines rather than spread us out

Enough !

Amazing place, Vietnam. Hell bent on overtaking Singapore by 2020. Do it well before then, I should think. But why ? Who wants to live in a shopping mall?

To be continued……

By Grumpy

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