Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Are these items metaphors for power in today's Vietnam??
I'm out and about in downtown Saigon, and I stop at an ATM at the Go 2 Bar in Pham Ngu Lao. To one side of the ATM, there were old propaganda posters on the wall left over from the war years. Printed in the old cold war style, they featured armed soldiers, and the communist hammer and sickle. To the other side of the ATM, was a small Buddhist shrine. It was complete with a statue, incense, a few offerings, and some flashing red lights for a touch of modernity.

I looked at these three diverse, contradictory things lined up next to each other in a row, and came to the realization that right here was the Vietnamese triad of power. These represented the three most powerful forces in Vietnam today. The ATM is business, the posters are the communist government, and the shrine is the Buddhist religion. Today all three of these are distinctly Vietnamese in nature. Even the ATM was from a Vietnamese bank, indicating that foreigners don’t control Vietnamese commerce. Without question, it’s the Vietnamese who control the purse strings in this country nowadays.

As it gets later, I decide to head back to my hotel, since I have plenty to do tomorrow. Since it’s only a few blocks walk, and the neighborhood is fairly safe, I walk back alone. I’m almost back to my destination, when suddenly a motorbike pulls up next to me. A man is driving, with a young lady sitting on the back. Through the darkness a husky voice asks me, “Where you go? You want lady? You want lady?”

“No, no, no,” I reply firmly, very annoyed. I continue walking, and they pull the motorbike further ahead stopping right in front of me, blocking my way.

I try to sidestep around them, but they won’t take no for an answer. The little lady hops off the motorbike, grabs my arm, and I hear that same husky voice ask, “You want I go with you?”

YOW! That little lady was no lady at all. I yank my arm away forcefully, since the next thing he may try is to pick my pocket. Since my earlier rebuffs were being ignored, I find a few choice expletives that finally convince the two men that I’m not interested in a prostitute of any kind.

I escape to the safety and quiet of my hotel room. Next time I’ll take a taxi.

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