Unexpected hazards

I wanted to end my last travelogue from Vietnam with a few random thoughts that haven’t really fitted anywhere else.

Vietnam is full of hazards, some more expected than others. Conical hats, for example. Yes, people do still wear them, although less so in Saigon than elsewhere. But, well, you try walking through the narrow aisles of a market with a number of people wearing conical hats, especially if they’re Vietnamese height and you’re European height – you’re lucky to escape with your face intact.

Then there are the men like the one that jumped out at me babbling in Vietnamese while I walked down the street just a little distance from the backpacker area. I kept telling him I didn’t understand, but he kept babbling, and wouldn’t let go of my hand as I walked down the street. I wasn’t happy about him holding my hand, and I was even less happy that he was holding my hand so close to his groin. Anyway, then he did some kind of smoking gesture and mumbled something about “one dollar”. I think I sussed what he was on about, so I grabbed my hand back and left. The two men I encountered the other day had no such qualms. There they were, sitting on the pavement outside a hotel on one of the main streets of the backpacker area, smoking two of the strongest joints I have ever encountered. Even people who were just walking past were stoned.

Then there are the massive metal nails and part pipes sunk in the pavements. In the UK, these would be an open invitation to sue for a hazard on the pavement. In Vietnam, they’re what the café holders anchor their awnings to when they set up business for the night, and if you should trip over them, well more fool you.

Then there’s a mobile phone mast every couple of miles or so. No fears about the health risks here. Apparently, the government is sinking a lot of money into encouraging the development of a mobile phone network, as it’ll work out a lot cheaper than installing phone lines all over everywhere. So there they are, in the middle of every community, massive mobile phone masts, often modelled on the Eiffel Tower, and decorated with fairy lights for Tet.

Vietnam boasts an impressive number of dropped kerbs. Sure, because of the war, the country must have (far) more than its fair share of mobility-impaired people, but wheelchair users don’t tend to be such a high priority in developing countries, so I was extremely impressed. Then I realised: the dropped kerbs are less about helping wheelchair users and more about making it easier to get around by motorbike; people go everywhere by motorbike, and the dropped kerbs are awfully useful when you’re trying to wheel your bike into the front room of your shophouse.

February 2002

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