Chaotic Vietnam

‘Balance women’, transporting nearly everything in their thatch baskets with a bamboo stick in between, determine the daily image of Vietnam. ThChaoticey serve as walking market stalls selling anything you can think of, but also as restaurants, children day care, or recycle basket. The thin, but extremely strong women carry their goods from early morning until late evening, continuously moving with their characteristic way of walking; balance determines the rhythm, the cadence. Swarming through the crowds of people, through the chaos of traffic.

Vietnam, I find it a busy and chaotic country. Crossing the street is a matter of ‘don’t think, just go’, everyone tries to avoid bumping into each other which mostly works out pretty well. Cars are a cumbersome exception on the streets where motorcycles rule. The Honda Dream serves as a status symbol, as income generator, as a meeting point, as a place to play cards, as dining table, bed, and as a means of transportation. It’s incredible what they manage to carry on their motorcycles.

Here’s a short list of counted records (per motorcycle):

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2 families (8 persons in total)

12 blocks of ice, 1 meter wide

35 plastic chairs

4 televisions, packed or unpacked

8 double mattresses

6 pigs, alive and screaming

80 chickens, alive and kicking

60 ducks, alive and remarkable silent

500 eggs

40 (motor)cycle tubes

6 tables

8 bags of rice, sand, corn

4 soldiers in army suit

The numberous motorcycles make their way, balancing through the streets. But the normal bicycle hasn’t lost it’s value either.

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The bus is a different means of transportation, which is heavily packed in each Asian country. Balance determines there as well. Everything and everyone is put in place carefully; nobody protests and submissively does what he/she is being told by the bus driver. Prices are always negotiable. When I enter the bus, they start counting and calculating: the amount of the day that is still falling short is the price I have to pay. Money is constantly an issue of controversy (also among locals); different negotiation strategies bring different results. Within an hour the financial balance is made up about five times, the money is carefully counted since we’re talking about millions here (1 million = 50 euros).

Another balance is observed in the division of tasks between men and women. Exceptions left aside, the women work extremely hard and the men watch their thumb- and pinkie nails grow as a sign that they don’t need to get their hand dirty from working. The Vietnamese are a much disciplined nation, with an unexpected tough ‘one-for-itself-culture’; maybe an understandable heritage of the past. There are great differences between ‘city and country side’. The remote villages with their characteristic hill tribes are so much more charming, whereas the cities grow out to be modern 13-in-one-dozen tourist places. A constant factor throughout the country is of course the rice production. Always and everywhere is it, in one way or another, evident (and I was lucky to be travelling through the peak season!). I saw several stages passing by with the time, traveling through a landscape that even geographically symbolises a balance. In the upper and lower ‘basket’ the rice fields, connected through a small (economic) porter the coastal areas.

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Als je over Vietnam schrijft, mag je ‘de oorlog’ niet negeren. Lang voorbij, maar de sporen zijn er nog duidelijk te zien. Zoals de vele -niet alleen letterlijke- littekens (welke zieke idioot is in staat om bommen te ontwerpen die in duizend kleine splinterbommen uiteenspat en mensen doorzeeft; zuur dat tot op de organen doorbrandt?) heeft de oorlog een plaats gekregen en lijkt er zelfs op dat gebied een balans te zijn gevonden.

When writing about Vietnam, one can’t ignore ‘the war’. Long gone, but the traces remain clearly visible. Like the many –not only literally- scars (what kind of sick idiot is capable of creating bombs which explode into thousands of splinter pieces to perforate a humans body; acid that burns the flesh and organs away?) did the war get a place and even in that regard there seems to be a balance in some way.