Monday, November 9, 2009

A Very Ericesque Morning

It's been a while since I've written anything in the blog, which can be attributed to only one of two possible reasons:

1. I'm lazy.

2. Vietnam ceased to have interesting stories to tell.

Since it's definitely not the latter, I am obviously just lazy.

I have a good friend, Eric, who is now making his way up the Vietnamese coast in an ultimate bid for China. He's doing so on an older-style motorbike with our other friend Will. After he completes his mission and waves to some Chinese at the border, or whatever he's going to do once he actually reaches China, Eric will return home to America after about a year of living in Vietnam.

Right up until the trip, every little thing the Vietnamese did bothered Eric: the way they drove, the way they ate, the way the interacted with one another, they way they interacted with him, the way they do business, and the way they thought. So, understandably, he finally had his fill and will be returning soon.

Now, I don't quite hold the same vitriol for the Vietnamese that Eric does. In fact, I generally love their quirkiness and unique personality. However, some of Eric's complaints hold water -- a lot of water. Let me describe a very Ericesque morning I had the other day while out and about.

The day started with an innocent enough trip to the supermarket to buy sunscreen. I was playing softball later in the day and didn't want to make the same mistake of having my legs and neck turn redder than the Vietnamese flag. The parking lot of the supermarket, which is nothing more than a long corridor flooded with motorbikes, was nearly full, so I slowly made my way down the aisle until I saw a lady and her daughter preparing to leave. Understanding that the parking spot was of some value not only to me, I made it VERY clear that my intention was to move into the spot. I turned on my blinker, angled my front tire toward the space, and put myself in position to park immediately once she backed out. Despite my conspicuous actions, an old man barreled through and sneaked ever so quickly into the spot just when I was making my move. Six months ago, I probably would have said, "Screw it," moved on, and found another spot. But now, I am a seasoned Vietnam veteran and I wasn't standing for that crap. I jumped off my bike, repeatedly said, "No, no, no, no, no," and physically backed the man out of the spot -- the old man. Manners be damned.

Once in the supermarket, things didn't improve. I found the sunscreen easily and proceeded to stand in what I determined to be the shortest line. A woman had a full cart of groceries in front of me, so I waited patiently behind her, sunscreen in hand. Meanwhile, another lady with a full grocery cart pulled up behind me and stood in line. Once the lady in front of me had finished paying, the lady behind came to the laughable conclusion that this lady and me were somehow together (an old Vietnamese lady and a young, white foreigner) and started to nudge me forward with her cart. No "excuse me," no attempt at communication whatsoever. I then clearly showed her the sunscreen that I was intending to buy, and she once again nudged me forward with her cart so that she could be checked out. Again, being the seasoned Vietnam vet that I am, I pushed her cart backwards and told her, "No." I tried to give my best "civilized people don't behave like that" face to really convey the message.

And finally, my morning capped itself with a visit to the local sporting good shop looking for a hat. Avoiding sunburn was the common theme of the morning. Inside the shop, I found an old box of slightly worn, dirty hats in the corner. One Nike hat sparked my fancy, an obvious Chinese copy, and I asked in Vietnamese to the lady, "How much?"

"250 000 VND." ($15)

Anyone who has spent a significant amount of time in Asia knows that this price is ludicrous. Despite her efforts to convince me otherwise, the hat was a Chinese copy, and a not very good one. No sporting shop would put real Nike hats in an old box and then treat those them like crap. And second of all, no local sporting goods shop in Vietnam would even carry real merchandise. It's just not profitable.

I did my best to argue with her, in Vietnamese no less, but the woman would not budge from her initial (wrong) assessment that I was a stupid foreigner willing to shell out exorbitant prices for cheap knockoffs. Of course, at this point, she was too invested and her pride got in the way of a sale.

I buggered off and found a hat elsewhere, for much cheaper.

So, Eric, don't die on your trip north and know that while we don't share exact sentiments toward the Vietnamese, I empathize.

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