Thursday, November 30, 2017

Vietnam: Blind - Caged - Wired

Who knows why I never got around to posting about our Vietnam trip, back in October 2010? A friend is currently travelling there and has inspired me to finally publish these musings ...
You can see the photos from the trip here.

 Blind Girl  (Saigon)

Blind girl, Saigon
At the Institute for the Blind, a blind albino girl leads me through a maze of corridors to a cool, high-ceilinged room; translucent partitions separate high, hard beds. I lie, face-down, feeling relief from the frantic activity of the street below. The traffic is barely a hum as her soft, deft fingers press and caress.

We are silent, those partaking in this hour of therapy, but the blind girls call to each other like birds - cooing, chirruping and chuckling. It doesn't sound like language, more like complicated music, with high and low notes, grunts and hums. I wonder what they are speaking about - do they laugh at us plump white ladies? No - they are teenagers, being as teenagers everywhere, sharing romantic intrigue in their charming, cloistered world.

 Caged  (Dalat)

Skinned, Sa Dec, Mekong Delta

At  Dalat  Market one  can  buy  almost any kind of fresh food - fruit, vegetables, seafood and meat, including all  extremities and entrails. (In Sa Dec a fishmonger is amused when we recoil from the live frogs that she is selling - already skinned.)
The freshest food of all is alive: fish, crabs, lobsters, eels, toads, chickens and ducks. The birds, in cages made of upturned baskets, squirm and squawk and look around, blinking and bewildered.

The stall proprietor, business-like, pulls out a pair of ducks and ties their legs together. Plopped onto the scale they lie compliant - why do they not struggle to escape? Seemingly resigned to their fate, they are snatched up and stuffed into a bag, and hooked onto motorbike handlebars. They still stare around, blinking, as they are hurried home - for chopping block and cooking pot? or to be reprieved as egg layers? I know no more than they know themselves.

In Saigon we visit a pagoda where a cage full of wild birds is strapped to a scooter. The driver indicates by sign that we can purchase and release a bird - for improved Karma? and what of the Karma of those who trapped and imprisoned the birds?

On the road from Dalat to Nha Trang there is a cafe with a chained monkey and many caged birds. The birds hop about, disconsolate, picturesque, silhouetted against the river. Children run wild, playing on the riverbank and in the shallows. In western culture we somehow deplore the caging of birds while caging our children ... my husband says, "we are all caged".


Wires, Saigon
Arriving in Saigon or Hanoi (particularly the former), one of the first things to be noticed is the incredible profusion of electrical cabling that swoops and tangles its way along streets, around trees and poles, and hanging like parasitic bundles of snakes from the walls. It's a miracle that it all works, and that those responsible are not regularly electrocuted - or perhaps they are!

Electricity is everywhere, and so is television - the meanest fisherman's shack is topped by a towering aerial. Some of the poorest people in the world now have access to global communication, which unfortunately seems to translate to force-feeding an endless flow of soft-drink advertisements and propaganda pieces promoting the new, consumption-driven Vietnam.

Perhaps the most empowering technology of all is the mobile phone - it is now hard to imagine a Vietnam that functioned without - as everyone from school child to aged crone has at least one, and often two (one for the family, one for the girlfriend!) During our constant travel, calls buzz to and fro to assist our progress. The driver of the bus to Halong Bay passes me his phone - it's a call from our travel agent in Saigon, about 1200 km away, informing us of the weather outlook for Halong Bay. Out on the bay, many kilometres out into the forest of amazing, ancient karst formations, the phone of the boat's tour guide jangles - it's for me, from our hotel in Hanoi, asking about the train tickets they are booking for us.

When we arrive back at the hotel, the manager is beckons me over to a computer in the lobby - he shows me that he is buying clothes online. 'Why?' I want to ask, 'Hanoi has the cheapest clothes in the world!' But I already know the answer: 'Because I can'.

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