Thursday, August 19, 2010

5 Motorbike Behaviors that Shock Foreigners

If Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are the brain and heart respectively of Vietnam, then motorbikes are the blood. They circulate through every nook and cranny of Vietnam, leaving no area untouched. It's nearly impossible to exaggerate their importance to this country. Without motorbikes, Vietnam would literally come to a standstill. And in such sheer numbers, there are bound to be some quirks, and downright bizarre behavior, that foreigners have difficulty grasping. Here are five of them:

The Vietnamese will honk at anything -- or more precisely -- nothing. In the west, a baby's first words or a kindergartner's first day of school are causes for celebration. In Vietnam, a big moment for a child is when he or she first learns how to use the horn. Honking is so ingrained into the psyche of every driver that a moment of silence is quite unnerving. One would think that escape from the incessant "honk! honk! honk!" could be found inside buildings, but even they fall victim to the piercing sounds. Has the light turned green? Honk to make sure everyone in front of you is aware. Will the light turn green in three seconds? Honk to make sure everyone in front of you is aware. Somebody on their cell phone? Honk to annoy them. Running a red light? You better damn sure be honking through that intersection like a madman. Somebody cut you off and you're pissed? Hon...actually, interestingly enough, the Vietnamese never use honking as a form of aggression.

Pregnant Women and Babies
Let's just get this out of the way -- motorbikes are dangerous. I don't mean like hiking alone in the woods dangerous. I mean like crossing the highway on foot dangerous. The west shells pregnant women and babies in protective cocoons and makes sure at all times they are more protected than the rest of society. Ironically enough, the opposite is true here. Babies, because their heads are too small, are not given helmets. They're not given any protective gear of any kind now that I think about it. Their mother, sitting behind the husband, usually holds the baby under the armpits and raises it like Simba -- so that the baby can survey his kingdom I guess. And pregnant women, because of their ever enlarging bellies, cannot sit with one leg on each side of the motorbike. Instead, they must side-saddle it, which leaves them prone to a variety of horrible accidents.

Like this...while driving.

Imagine you've just gone to the supermarket to get some groceries, and now you're backing out of your parking space and BUMP, you run into the car ever so slightly that was waiting to take your space. You curse under your breath, maybe ask why he was so close, or admit fault, and then eventually exchange insurance information and phone numbers, etc. It's all very civil. Vietnam's equivelant of a fender-bender doesn't quite play out this way. After an accident, which almost always results in one or both of the participants being thrown from their bike, they look at each other angrily, pick their bike up off the street, and begrudgingly continue on. When only one person falls off the motorbike, the still upright survivor often just keeps going. You're lucky if he or she gives a cursory glance backward to make sure you're not bleeding to death. Many people here don't even have driver's licenses. The prospect of two Vietnamese people exchanging insurance information is laughable.

They are Cargo Trucks
So you've just ordered a new fridge from Sears. They promised you one-day delivery, so you eagerly wait by your door. Eventually, a large truck with a lot of cargo space pulls up in front of your house, and slowly unloads its contents. In Vietnam, they just throw said fridge onto the back of a motorbike and that's that.

Motorbikes, which aren't confined to an enclosed space, can accommodate unbelievably large things. It's almost like Vietnamse drivers are in constant battle to see who can put the largest and most ridiculous thing on the back of their ride.

There are Literally no Enforced Rules
A traffic system without rules is one where everyone must be stuck in constant logjams and frustrating situations. How could anyone get anywhere if there are no rules -- at least rules that are somewhat enforced. Against all common logic, Vietnam functions quite well in terms getting around, even in its biggest and most populated cities. Perhaps this is precisely because there are no rules. Driving on the sidewalk, speeding, going the wrong way down one-way streets, pulling u-turns whenever and wherever you please, making left turns from the right lane -- well, as they say in Vietnamese, khong sao (no problem). Yes, there are police, and yes they will stop people, but the fine is usually small ($5-10), and as I said in a previous post, it's almost encouraged to try and run from them. 99% of the time they won't try to chase you unless they're feeling especially proactive that day. With no rules in place, everyone operates according to what's in their best interest. That means getting from point A to point B in the shortest time possible without getting into any accidents. Thus, Vietnamese traffic by and large works in a timely and efficient manner.

Well, kinda.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The myth of "no freedom" in Vietnam

Most of the posts on this blog revolve around the quirks and outright lunacy of Vietnam, so I think it's about time we have a post of some substantive value.

America is known as the land of freedom. It's written in our Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, even on the Statue of Liberty. Our national bird, the bald eagle, is symbolic of the individual spirit and free reign we cherish. In school, we're taught that the wars we partake in, and in many cases initiate, are quests for liberation, not conquests for power. We idolize Abraham Lincoln for "freeing" the slaves, George Washington for "freeing" the nation from the "oppressive" British, and the American military for "freeing" the Iraqis, Vietnamese, Koreans, etc.

In contrast, we're taught that Communist and Third World countries such as Vietnam abhor freedom and ensure it remains buried under dictatorial regimes. That the absence of democratic institutions deprives the people of inalienable rights and that we most certainly are happier in America because every four years we can march to the polls and "make a difference."

With employment well over 10% in America, and with many of my university-educated peers working jobs that don't require a degree, I sense a growing disillusionment among my generation. Despite our democracy and freedom of speech, our voices capable of being heard through votes, newspaper columns, and community organizing, it's proven very difficult to change a system that benefits the rich and wedges an ever-increasing gap between the haves and have-nots. If anything, the last decade has exhibited worsening conditions. Our votes and freedom of speech have done very little to counteract the growing trend of the rich getting richer.

Take, for example:

  • The housing bubble of the mid-2000s, which was nothing more than greedy banks trying to get richer at the expense of American families.
  • The recent decision of the Supreme Court to consider corporations "individuals" for purposes of campaign finance.
  • The bailing out of said banks by the federal government (our tax dollars) because of their initial plan to steal billions from American people.
  • The excessive bonuses the CEOs received after royally fucking millions of people.
  • The outsourcing of American manufacturing jobs to Third World countries (such as Vietnam). This greatly benefits those at the top of the organization but serves to hurt the middle class.
  • The increasing tuition at universities and institutions of higher-learning. Attending Harvard Law School, for example, will set one back nearly $200,000 in student loans (federal). All of this and no guarantee of a job.
  • Our society pushes the idea that higher education will lead to a comfortable middle-class life and success. Nowadays, it almost always leads to excessive debt and little to no career opportunities.
  • The Federal Government is more than happy to give nearly $40,000 a year in student loans however.
  • The fact that gambling debts, credit card debt (more difficult recently because of new legislation), and mortgage debt can be discharged in bankruptcy, but student loans cannot be.
  • Nearly half of Congress are millionaires (237 people). Difficult for the "common man" to be heard in such a system.
  • 20% interest rates on credit cards, which bogs down less-savvy consumers to a lifetime of debt.
  • The increasing privatization of the military.
  • The fact that Social Security will likely be unavailable to our generation when we're older.
  • The burgeoning debt of the American Government. China and Japan own us.
  • Financing debt with more debt.

All of these serve to limit our freedom, not enhance it. And again, despite of all of our freedoms in America, everything that is hammered into our brain when we're in middle school, it hasn't really made a lick of difference.

Partially as a result, ex-pats are flocking to countries such as Vietnam because many feel like they have no choice. I initially came here for travel and a new experience, but there is little opportunity in America, so I'm staying. And contrary to what we've been taught, I feel that Vietnam offers more freedom than America does.

It is true that freedom of speech is not available in Vietnam, but I feel like even with our this right in America, little has been accomplished in recent times. The freedom I'm talking about in Vietnam involves everyday activities -- going to the store, to school, work, etc.

In Vietnam, people are not as nearly constrained by a police force. If two people have an accident, they make sure no one needs to go to the hospital, find out who's at fault, exchange some money, and go on their way. If two people get into a fight in thẻ middle of the street, local citizens break it up and everything returns to normal. There are no speed limits, no cops waiting to bust you for a $200 ticket. In fact, it's encouraged to try and run from the police here. In America, you'd get thrown in jail for months. Here, your fine just increases. Bad traffic jam? Drive on the sidewalk. Neighbors having a loud party? Accept that they're probably having a lot of fun and deal with it. Know that when you have a loud party, they won't complain either. Attracted to a girl at work? Hit on her and don't worry about a sexual harassment lawsuit. Hate your job? Get a new one. Your family will support you until you do. Spill hot coffee on your lap while driving? Try to sue and get laughed out of the courthouse and told to quit being a dumbshit.

On foreigner street, smoke a joint without fear of getting tossed in jail. Drink beer when you're 15. Smoke cigarettes when you're 13. Sell food on the side of the street. Open up a business in your house. Stay up late, go out late. Go home during your break from school to eat lunch. There are no hall monitors or truant officers.

The burden of debt in America, perhaps the biggest contributer to the diminishing freedom in America, doesn't exist in Vietnam. To be eligible for a credit card, one must prove they have sufficient funds in the bank. This even goes for rich people. Nearly everyone buys houses in full after saving up for years. Motorbikes and cars are also paid for in full. The culture of debt in America has only grown in recent years, and has not been curtailed at all by our lawmakers. In fact, it's been worsened.

Credit card companies recently championed new legislation that makes it more difficult to get rid of the debt. Education loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. Many from the older generation comment that we should stop being so stupid with our money, financing everything with money we don't have. I agree, but credit card companies come to college campuses and get many of these kids when they're 18. In high school, students are not taught about debt or money-management. Also, our culture encourages higher education financed through debt to "open doors." The recent numbers for law school enrollment have gone up markedy following hte recession. Little do most of these people realize that their career opportunities will be practically zero.

So many of us end up working service jobs, all the while racked with debt.

The everyday freedoms in Vietnam are substantial. You're free to do what you want. The funny thing is most would assume that in a system such as this, crime would be rampant. But it's much safer on the seediest street in Ho Chi Minh City than it is in an American city. Violent crime is nearly non-existent.

Because of this, chaos in many ways thrives. Traffic is chaotic, the streets are dirty, people can be rude. But these are to be expected in a country with a lot of personal freedom. I have no problem with Americans who think they might hate the chaos. Many do, and with good reason. But to describe America as a beacon and model example of freedom I think is off-base. Singapore, one of the wealthiest and cleanest and most well-run countries in the world, is chock full of rules to make sure it stays that way. But no-one would describe Singapore as "free." Hell, you get arrested for spitting out your chewing gum there. But it's not really that different than getting fined in America for littering. Freedom, in many ways, is a fallacy in America.

However, America is a beautiful country and I hope it rebounds from its hard times. I hope that the recession is a hiccup and not the dying gasp of an awesome country. There is one point I cannot argue with, however. I wouldn't even be able to write a blog like this with such pointed criticism toward a country like Vietnam. America still allows our opinions and voices to be expressed, no matter how disgruntled they be.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Stereotyping Vietnamese views/habits through example

On Love:

Girl sleeps with boy.
Girl doesn't love boy.
Girl, feeling a social and moral obligation, chooses to "love" boy and get married.

On Driving:

A man pulls forward of a pack of motorbikes waiting at a red light, hoping to gain a head start when the light soon turns green. He, however, cannot see the traffic light and is oblivious as to when it will turn green. The pack behind him subsequently passes him when the light changes.

On Sports:

Playing basketball makes you taller. To support this claim, many astutely ask, "Well, then, why are basketball players so tall?"

On Geography:

Argentina is next to Mexico.

On the Paranormal:

Ghosts are very much real. God, however, is not.

On Politics:

Teacher: Who is the president of America?
Students: Obama!
Teacher: Who is the president of Vietnam?
Students: ...

On History:

Abraham Lincoln is America's second president.

On Beauty:

Dark = poor, ugly.
White = rich, elegant.

On Maintaining Beauty:

Girls not wanting to tan their skin from the harsh Vietnamese sun opt not to wear sunscreen, but instead cover every inch of exposed skin with winter clothes.

On Manners:

Touching any part of your mouth with your finger is dirty and impolite. Picking your nose is not.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Have you no shame, Vietnam?

This is what it's been reduced to. All of your preaching regarding sexual conservatism, chastity, and the sanctity of marriage is no match for hormones. A quote from 'shitmydadsays' on Twitter is fitting here:

"It's never the right time to have kids, but it's always the right time for screwing. God's not a dumbshit. He knows how it works."

You know how, before the actual movie begins in a theater, commercials and adverts are shown and the lights are turned up a notch so people can find their seats? And you know how easy it is to see everything in this atmosphere and how unromantic it is?

A friend and I entered the theater for Alice and Wonderland tonight and glossed over the the large crowd. Normally, finding seats would have been a bother, but in Vietnam they're assigned (which is absolutely fucking brilliant). Probably the second greatest idea Vietnam has ever come up with behind the bum gun:

Halfway up the stairs to our seats in the last row, we caught something strange in our peripheral vision. Amid the kids running around, people looking for seats, the "excuse mes" and the "I'm sorry, but I think that's my seat," there was a man -- in plain sight of every soul in the building, during a family film, while a commercial for iced tea was on the screen, in a seat adjacent the aisle -- licking his girlfriend's face as if it were an ice cream cone. No, I'm not trying to cleverly describe making out or passionate, wet kissing. THE MAN WAS LICKING THE SIDE OF HER FACE.

I stopped climbing the steps and stared -- flabbergasted. I felt like I was hit with a bag of bricks. I wanted him to see the look of horror on my face in the hope it would teach social etiquette. Or, at the very least, that this was not correct kissing technique.

The licking went on for a solid 20 seconds. Before I describe the insanity of what I saw next, I want to have a quick conversation with the girls. I think I know all of the answers to these questions, but I'll ask anyway.

Is there anything remotely sexy about a man licking your face?

Would you continue sexual activity if a man pulled this maneuver mid-coitus?

Would your revulsion best be illustrated with a strong shove, a look of utter disgust, or a slap to the face?

Assuming you find this action somehow appealing, would you allow this to occur in a crowded movie theater while the lights are on and people are finding their seats?

No, no, probably all three, and no.

My friend continued on, acting as if she hadn't seen anything. Of course she had, but she didn't want to be rude and make a fuss. The notion of not being rude to a couple disgustingly "kissing" (can we even call this kissing?) in front of hundreds of people is lost on me.

So I stood there. Watching the horrific show in front of me. And then I saw.......his hand.

Which was full-on cupping her breast. Not on the outside, or between fabric and bra, but through the cut at the top of her blouse. Skin-to-skin contact had been initiated. Following successful entry, the man was using her breast as his own personal stress ball and going to town.

March 14th, 2010 - The night I went to see a movie and instead got a sex show.

Friday, February 26, 2010

You are somehand!

"Teacher, you are somehand!"



"I don't understand."




*looks to classmate for help* Dep trai...Lam sao noi Tieng Anh?

"Ohhh!!!!! Handsome!!"

*Class laughs hysterically*

"Well, thank you. That's very nice. What's your number phone?"