Secondhand News

Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City, January 2002

YOU can take the girl out of the newspaper but you can’t take the newspaper out of the girl.

Just because I’m x-thousand miles from home that doesn’t mean I can break my newspaper habit, so I try to buy at least one every day. Usually it’s the Vietnam News. Foreign newspapers are available, but, of course, they are expensive. Or should be, only thanks to some enterprising locals, that ain’t always necessarily the case…

I’ll be sitting in a café and someone will appear in front of me with an armful of foreign newspapers. They’ll be a little dog-eared, and a day or so old, but they’re a fraction of the price they are in the conventional shops. Seeing as the other day I saw some café staff trying to flog a Vietnam News to one of these vendors, I’m assuming that there’s a whole chain of people picking up newspapers from the airport and posh hotels then passing them on to vendors like the ones I see.

Even though the Vietnam News is state-owned, it’s still an interesting read, especially today. Last night me and this bloke I met in a café, Liam, went clubbing at Apocalypse Now bar. He’s as terrified as me of rats, and he insisted we get a taxi back as it was “safer”. Unfortunately someone had forgotten to inform the driver of this fact; how we got back to the backpacker area alive I have no idea.

Anyway, today the Vietnam News is reporting that in 2001 there were more than 26,800 road traffic accidents (RTAs) in Vietnam. 10,500 people were killed and 30,200 injured. [In 2001, the population of Vietnam was around 79 million. In the UK, which had a population of around 59 million, 3,450 people were killed in RTAs and 37,000 suffered serious injuries. However, according to the Vietnam News, there were 8.98million vehicles on the roads in Vietnam in 2001; in the UK there were more than 24 million. Or to put it bluntly, while in Vietnam there was one fatality for roughly every 850 vehicles on the road, in Britain, it was one fatality for every 7,000 vehicles or so. What’s also interesting is that, also according to the Vietnam News, 2.02 million vehicles were registered in Vietnam in 2001 – 29 per cent up on the previous year – and 1.97 million of these new vehicles were motorbikes.]

The paper also reported that there had been 1,064 RTAs in Saigon in just 10 days, 786 of them caused by motorbikes. In a way I guess me and Liam should consider ourselves lucky to be alive!

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