Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Vietnamese Happenings

*Apparently my clothes reek of exhaust fumes by the time I make it into work everyday. Bathing in the noxious byproducts of combustion for hours each day makes this not too surprising. Now, I put my clothes into a plastic bag, knot it tightly shut, and head to work in the official uniform of the white-trash -- jeans and a thin, white t-shirt.

*Speaking of sitting in traffic, today, an old man on a motobike leaned to his side and hocked the biggest loogie the world has ever seen. The thing looked like an exploding water balloon when it hit the street. People in China got hit.

*While we're on the subject of spitting, a funny anecdote. I was driving to work the other day in heavy rain, and a taxi -- or more specifically, what I like to call a "needless honker," -- began honking his horn loudly behind me despite the dense traffic, as if this obnoxious sound was going to part the "red sea" of motobikes and grant him easy traveling. Naturally, I threw up the Vietnamese equivalent of the middle finger -- the index and middle fingers crossed so that it vaguely resembles a vagina. The taxi began honking more loudly. I responded by making vagina fingers again. The two men in the car, now noticeably angered, pulled up along side and brandished the middle finger. So, here we had an American man gesturing the Vietnamese "fuck you" and a Vietnamese man gesturing the American "fuck you." If that's not cultural respect, I don't know what is.

The man proceeded to roll down his window and attempted to spit on me, accompanied of course by the obligatory "fuck you" (in a laughably bad accent). However, joke was on him.

I had my rain coat on.

*The randomness of Dragon continues. The students have a speaking test soon which requires them to debate a topic. The students were given about 15 minutes to come up with said topic, conditional on my approval. The first three proposals by Dragon were all rejected.

1. Should students go to school?

2. Should we have no parents?

3. Should we start WWIII?

Yeah...That's Dragon.

*One of my students, Tommy, a quiet bloke with a soft demeanor, wore an absolutely killer shirt today. It's mostly white with some generic design on the front. The centerpiece, however, and what makes this shirt awesome, is the huge purple collar that stretches the length of his shoulders. He looks like a cross between a 70s porno star and Cuban drug dealer.

*Imagine you're the teacher of an American 11th grade class. You walk into the classroom and tell the students that they will be singing a song in front of the whole school in roughly three days. How badly would that go down? The students' faces would be a combination of "you can't be serious" and "I'm going to kill you." Not at a Vietnamese high school. The 11th graders went ape-shit when I told them they'd be singing, even the boys. The song they chose?

Westlife's Nothing is Going to Change my Love For You.

Check it out here:

Nearly every day, I eat com chien bo (beef fried rice) because it's cheap (about $1) and near the school where I work. The manager who runs the place, aptly named pe de (gay) man, has a fondness for tall foreigners I suppose. He likes to jump on the back of my motobike while I'm waiting for food and hug me tightly. When I'm sitting down and eating at the restaurant, he can't help but give me a shoulder massage or two. The other day, while walking past pe de man, he ever so subtly caressed my crotch. Rather uncomfortable.

I now have my food delivered every day and the place is right next door. The look on the delivery girl's face every time she comes to the school is like, "What the hell is wrong with you?"

If only you knew the truth friend.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Bloody Vietnam

A pretty bizarre thing happened tonight. Wait you say! You're in Vietnam! Something bizarre happens every day!

To which I reply...



But tonight something even more bizarre happened. I was eating dinner at a large outdoor seafood restaurant. We were having a couple of beers, laughing, and enjoying the atypically cool weather. Often, at these large outdoor restaurants where one sits on a cheap little plastic chair (remember plays a crucial later role in the story), a group of boys on a bicycle swing by to "entertain" the patrons. On the back of the bicycle is a giant boombox system, something one might've seen on a basketball court in a rough neighborhood in the early 90s. This thing is absurdly large and has a karaoke system to boot. I guess we could stop the story right there and that'd be bizarre enough, but with this being Vietnam, there's always more to the tale.

The trio of boys operate their business like this:

Boy A grabs the microphone and starts singly (badly) some Vietnamese song to music blaring out of the boombox.

Boy B walks around the restaurant floor, making sure to stop at each and every table, and sells some nasty candy. Boy B often lingers around a table in an attempt to get what I call "Get the hell away from me" money. As the name suggests, this is money you give a beggar/seller to get the hell away from you. (Remember this too).

Boy C stands guard by the bicycle and controls the volume, putting it just loud enough so that no one can hear their friends speak.

So the entire 10 or so minutes this occurs is pure agony, for all involved. It's mostly a civil affair, however, with the restaurant guests biding their time until the bicycle boys move on to the next poor suckers down the road.

Not tonight.

One man -- an obviously inebriated man...the more I think about it, the more I remember just how intoxicated this guy was...he was just hammered -- took exception to the lingering of Boy B and proceeded to grab the nearest weapon at his disposal...

A small, plastic chair.

How Vietnam won the war

Mustering all of the force a drunk man can possibly muster, he swung the plastic chair as hard as he could at Boy B's back and sliced the damn thing open. I say again. He sliced the man's back open. Boy B's white shirt quickly turned a bright crimson red. The thing was absorbing blood like nobody's business.

The fight quickly escalated into an all-out brawl between the bicycle trio and drunk man. After a couple of knock-down, drag-out blows, drunk man began bleeding. Drunk man was so gone that I'm convinced he felt no pain. Hell, we probably could've drank his spilt blood and gotten a buzz off of that. So with drunk man doing his best imitation of the Hulk and bicycle trio teaming up to inflict all kinds of hurt, it turned into quite the sight. Many men tried to break the fight up, but emotions were running high, and it proved quite difficult. Finally, the thing quieted down a bit. Drunk (and now bloody) man went to the back of the restaurant and disappeared from sight. Bicycle trio went on their merry away to the next restaurant.

Except they didn't.

Five minutes later, bicycle trio comes back with what looked like three broom handles.

My friend and I looked at each other and had the exact same thought.

Check please!

Okay, we're taking bets! We've got plastic chair man vs broom handle trio! Broom handle trio has 2-1 odds, but remember gamblers, plastic chair man is absolutely trashed. Never underestimate the pull and power of alcohol in a fight.

Remarkably, amazingly, and thankfully, the crowd was able to discourage bicycle trio from continuing the fight. So, alas, round II with weapons never came to fruition -- at least I didn't see it. Who knows if they scheduled an after-school playground affair for the morrow.

This was even out of the ordinary when compared to regular Vietnamese fighting. Vietnamese fighting usually involves no violence (that is, of course, unless they're at war, in which case, they'll kick your ass). Let me give you the rundown of a typical Vietnamese "fight." Two Vietnamese people, often adjacent shop-owners, get angry at each other for unknown reasons. They then proceed to scream at each other at the top of their lungs on the sidewalk, for all to see and hear. As the fight becomes serious, both hold their hand high in the air with their index finger pointed straight to the heavens. This means business. When they get really mad, they point directly at each other and shout some nonsense. And the final act in this verbal barrage of violence is, well...I'm not even sure if I want to tell you. It's scary stuff.

The two participants grab their motobike helmets and flail them wildly through the air, purposely avoiding contact with the other by a healthy 10 feet. Then they get tired and go home.

There Will be Blood

In America, rats are disgusting, vile creatures. The mere sight of one will leave even the manliest of men running for the hills. However, in Vietnam, rats are part of the collective population, quietly going about their business through the night and not really bothering anyone. That's how another country will change you, will change your psyche. I sometimes have rats crawling about my feet while eating and it's no bother. I bet my mom is reading that part and freaking out.

The same thing occurs with blood and gore.

In America, one sees blood or gore and swears it's the most disgusting and out-of-place thing he or she has ever seen. In Vietnam, it's commonplace. After only a month in Ho Chi Minh City, I drove past the scene of an obviously horrific accident. One of the motobikes was in two pieces and both men were lying on the street in pools of blood. One man was moving and responding to the crowd, but the other was just a lifeless shell of a man. Had to be dead. My friend Eric helped an unconscious, bloody man involved in a motobike accident who was just lying in the middle of the street get out of the way of oncoming traffic. I remember going to a friend's house one time and having to drive through a thick pool of blood - the aftermath of yet another accident. When I was involved in my most serious motobike accident, the lady I ran into had blood dripping down her leg and onto the street.

Anyway, that's enough about blood.

Onto random thoughts. If they put drunk, plastic-chair-wielding man in a cage match with bicycle, broom-handle trio, and then put it on Pay-Per-View, you know you'd pay money to see that.