Traffic turns attraction


Crunch time in Ho chi Minh City. A nuisance for many yet a photo-op for tourists.

Millions in ponchos, helmets, dust masks, sunglasses fighting for every inch (centimeter here) to get  home in the pouring rain, while tourists leisurely strolled the colonial side walks in shorts, sandals and Sony cameras trying to record their trips. Who is looking at whom?

These skinny people all wrapped up to protect their skin?

Or these fat people are not afraid of getting sun-burn?

Three years ago, I switched role by playing expat in Hanoi, studying among other expats

from US, UK, Canada, Australia and Ireland. I got a glimpse of how the natives were viewed, perceived and more often than not, judged: English school across from a dog-meat stance, ballroom-dancing in the park and to top it all, a 60’s Berkeley-style stripper family on the streets begging for money to cover health care costs (per recent Yahoo news).

One of our lessons for teachers of English as a foreign language that morning happened to be “soliciting money online from friends to cover shopping debt”.

It struck me that the Western girl in the lesson and the lady out there on the street were doing the same, one with wireless, the other voiceless.

Three years have passed since that morning.

A lot of bank bail outs are now behind us.

Bank buildings got renamed, CEO’s booted.

During the upturn,  people drink and smoke their lives away.

During the downturn, people drink and smoke their lives away even faster.

Always a vicious cycle, a race to the bottom. Vietnam spends 38% of its income on food, Mexico 23%, France 13% while the US a mere 7% (subsidized infrastructure).

I found myself in sudden tears at lunch. This was after I had heard that a friend with cancer would have only six months to live.

What would I do in his shoes?

Dzo (down) the Ken (Heineken)? Visit Yellow Stone Park? Eiffel tower?

My grandmother’s grave? (we’ll meet again soon anyway).

What would you do?

Fighting for another inch in traffic?

Every moment is precious especially towards the end .

“There is a pause in between life and death,” said my friend.

I saw it once with the burning monk. The rising flame was both his baptism by fire and his cremation.

To enter that next ring of eternity, he must and did leave all things behind.

To dance to another drummer’s beat.

After two weeks in country, I have learned to cross the streets without the usual reflex which I found counter-productive. And I definitely resist any impulse to take pictures, because someone else’s stress was not going to be my sensation. Not just Vegas, but also Vietnam, where what happened here, stays here. Traffic is to me, a distraction not attraction.

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