Follow my Existential Exile. . .

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

hassles of the hustler!

My girl kiki mentioned a travel blog with a post describing how the traveler will NEVER return to Vietnam, this is my response to her question, "What is your experience?"

. . . well, as I've mentioned in my blog, if you're American, and for most part any other nationality you do not just wake up one day and say "hey I love Vietnam lets go!" Usually it's a common stop on the "Southeast Asian" tour. Most people, including myself would be more apt to say "I like Thailand", or Malaysia, Indonesia, or Singapore. In my opinion these countries/cultures were the first on my mind when I considered living in Southeast Asia.

I wonder if the author of the blog is American. Most Americans have a sour taste in their mouth when you speak of Vietnam. We all think of a war that was over 30 years ago. The reaction I received from some family and friends: "Why would you move to war-stricken Vietnam??" We forget that real thriving, money motivated people do live in Asia too, and it is possible for other countries to bounce back after being "war- stricken" by their neighbors. The only nationalities that come to Vietnam (because they want to) that I have noticed are:
Young French students or young adult workers
Filipinos, a lot of them are English teachers, and I was surprised to know they make more money here than in the Philippines.

YES, You will get hassled to the core if you are a foreigner here, but wouldn't any country with a large poor population do that? One thing that really gets on my nerves is how much they stare. Native Vietnamese STARE like it's going out of style. They are so "hill-billy country" in that regard. They do not "get out much" leave their country, travel a bit, (but most can not afford to do this, not even travel to the neighboring countries) so anything that looks remotely different from them is a total outcast. It is general curiosity though, especially from the younger generation. However, I have heard from several dark skin people of African decent from France and some from Africa that they were treated so poorly they had to leave, they couldn't stand it. They couldn't take the stares, the touching of the skin and hair, people pointing and laughing. Native Vietnamese are a bit uncouth in this regard, just ill-mannered, they have no concept of what is "rude". In the States we are taught it is rude to point and stair, here they do not care. They do not give warm friendly smiles like their neighbors in Cambodia. Even my Viet Kieu friends (viet kieu: term for Vietnamese who were raised outside of Vietnam) say that Vietnamese are very blunt and too the point, especially when describing how their mothers talk to them.

In terms of the blog author's philosophy on how Western backpackers are treated. . . I'm not a backpacker, so I really don't know. I don't hang out on Bui Vien St and Pham Ngu Lau St., the "back-packers district". Well. . . I take that back, when I first got here I did get into it with a Xe om driver (motorbike taxi) he proceeded to cuss me out because I did not give him what he wanted. I forget to make clear how much money I wanted to give him for the ride.  A Xe om ride should not be more than 20 or 30 thousand dong, he wanted 50, yeah right. What do I look like, Ms money bags? Since the Xe om was making such a scene, this Vietnamese lady came up and I thought she would help, me, instead she proceeds to argue and yell at me. "Where are you from??" umm America why? "Ohhhh America!" And gave me an ugly stare. I stated, "And your point is. . . " And I walked away, after I gave the man 20 thousand dong, lol. Even when I returned to Saigon from Malaysia, the cab driver from the airport thought I said 200,000 dong for my ride, no, I said less than 200,000 dong, and since he was sneaky, with no working meter in his car, he got whatever I decided to give him! not what he wanted! . . . . and I walked away.

A similar situation happened with some traveling friends of friends. They wanted to get into a shady looking cab, which I could sense was trouble. When the driver stopped at De Tham Street, after driving around the corner from Ben Thanh Market, we realized his meter wasn't working, the man wanted 90 000 dong! I said "Get out of the car now!" So we got out and walked away. Of course he chased us, I said, here take it or leave it, and threw 30,000 dong on the street for him to pick up. ----- So as you can see, I don't take no mess from the Vietnamese :-)

The blog author does have a point. Cash rules everything in Vietnam. For this to be a "communist" country they sure love capitalism! I've said many times when I get frustrated with this place, they are "greedy sons of Buddha." But if you learn a little Vietnamese and ask "Bao nhieu tien?" Instead of "How much is this?", then repeat the numbers they said, and maybe ask for a lower price in Vietnamese, you will get a lower price.

I personally think my skin tone and look has helped to prevent being robbed, or motorbike-jacked. I'm not obviously white with blonde hair and pale skin, like the European and American travelers. Most people think I am from South Africa or Filipino (i.e. I am not wealthy, or as wealthy as a "White" foreigner), and I got New Zealand the other day, lol. When I ride my bike I have a helmet and face mask, so I "look" Vietnamese.

But, will my experiences in Vietnam keep me from coming back to the country? Not exactly. There are many beautiful aspects of the culture, great food, beautiful textiles, and a tropical flair that can only be experienced while basking under the Saigon sun.

Be Ab-Original cont'd

I had an earlier post about my interest in the Aborigine culture, and meeting an orginal Aboriginal.
I think I had a close encounter with one, one night on my motorbike, I passed the movie theater and he was crossing the street. But like most of my interesting finds, they go as quick as they come while I whiz by on my two-wheeler. 

Well, I was able to get a slight taste of Aboriginal culture through the show "Living Black" on the Australian network. Like most disadvantaged indigenous cultures, Aborigines are suffering from alcoholism, low employment rate and second rate education. The show also touched on the gang violence that arose recently. In Chicago Puerto Ricans and Mexicans got beef, in Darwin Aboriginal boys don't like African young boys. . . Can't we all just get along!?

On a positive note, Aborigines do excel in sports and dance. . .  sound familiar? Ben Barba is doing well on the national rugby team, and Damian Smith has received acclaim as one of the world's premier ballet dancers. The Aboriginal culture is also great at artistry creating beautiful paintings and crafts. But it seems to me that little effort has been made over hundreds of years to incorporate this indigenous culture into modern Australian society. 'Course it may be hard with the language barrier, and stark cultural differences. To stay up to date on what's going on with Black folk "down under" check out: Living Black. And keep checking into the blog as I continue my search for an original Aboriginal.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

its a rainin' men, hallelujah, its a rainin' men. . .

I wish! It is raining like cats and dogs though.
I don't understand how a perfectly beautiful day, clear blue skies, not a cloud to be seen for miles can turn into this horrible mess of ugly gray mass. I've gone through 2 ponchos in the six months I've been here, ruined shoes and soiled the end of jean from this rainy season. I need a super heavy industrial automatic rain cover to hover over me while I'm driving.

And don't let there be a traffic jam. I don't know what's worse, being stuck in a traffic jam from O'Hare to downtown in the middle of winter with 4 feet of snow around me, or riding in the rain on a motorbike drenched, wind and rain in my eyes, dirty water spraying up in my face from the bike in front of me, going 1 cm every 20 minutes.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What up niggah!

I would like to discuss a word, I have heard, in use since I have been on the other side of the world. Yes, I know, I know. I've been asking my self the same question. Why would Vietnamese have use for a phrase like, "nigga please."

Well, they don't, and, they won't, unless they are reciting somebody's lyrics. It has been my Français amis, who used this 'dis. My suspicion tells me French African rappers frequent the "n" word in their music, I don't listen so I do not know for sure. What is true indeed is the use of the word from American rappers and the effect it has on those across the globe who "love" hip hop culture. I hung out with my French friends the other day. We were sitting in Tuan's apartment when Bobby walks through the door and greets Tuan with, "What up niggah!" matter of factly.

Of course we all laugh. And though I was slightly disturbed that this French-born Vietnamese knew the use of such a word would bring about humor, I said nothing. It was later in the evening when I became more disturbed.
Would I get the same response if I walked through the door addressing my girl Linh with,
"Whaddup chink!",
 Maybe, if my name was Dave Chapelle.
Hmmm, what do you think?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Saturday, September 11, 2010

speaking of cats. . .

Mèo, mèo, mèo, mèo, mèo!!
After coming home from having a delicious French dinner with my friends from work, I open the front door of the house so I can put my bike away. As I start to move my bike forward, one of the many cats in heat in my alley decides to run into the the car port. Though, this one was just a kitten so probably not too hot just yet.

Mèo, mèo, mèo! . . .  mèo, mèo, mèo!!! The Vietnamese lady across the street decides to tell me what I already see. And may I add it is 12 AM. WHY are you on a balcony at 12 AM washing clothes???

Well, sometimes nosy neighbors really do come in handy. I'm sure she will inform my host family about her exciting night.

Friday, September 10, 2010

"curiosity killed the cat"

It was a rainy evening in Saigon, last night. I was tired from teaching these non-designing designers how to design, and still getting over a cold. All I wanted to do was sleep. But my girl had invited me out to dance at the "studio" she attends weekly to practice her hip hop moves. Sounds like great exercise, I thought. So after my nap, and the thunder storms calmed down I took a cab to the dance hall.

The cab started to slow down, and pulled into the drive way of this large shopping complex, and in the middle was a dance hall full of Vietnamese doing the tango. Behind the building were open fields for soccer, but at this time of night, the Karate kids were out practicing, actually they were probably doing Vietnamese Martial Arts called "Vo Vi Nam." On the second floor up the stair case, was ball room dancing, and down the hall from that right above the tango session was the room designated for hip hoppers. I assumed I was going to a dance lesson, or at list a freestyle session of some sort, but in a real dance studio with mirrors. I would watch my friend's moves, and practice in the mirror just like I did at Dance 411 in ATL. It was a long day of teaching, so I was looking forward to the work out. I was assuming the role of the student, not teacher, performer, or Black spokesperson. . .

Poppers, Breakers, and Hip Hoppers
Upon entering the room I was stunned by the blaring of the Gap Band, or maybe it was Cameo, no, it was Roger and Zapp, by the dance instructor, while a perfectly aligned row of Vietnamese youth practice their "popping" moves. It was a sea of robots coming to life by remote control, actually a bit scary. Wow, they have to practice popping? Cold calculated moves from left to right, rigid short staccato jerks of the neck and limbs. Quite the scene.

Moving further into the dance hall, (which by the way was more like an old high school auditorium, not a real dance studio) were the breakers. They were off to the left side of the space, twisting and turning on these blue mats that they brought from who knows where. Keep in mind none of this is a formal paid lesson. These kids just want to have fun.

Lastly were the hip hoppers practicing their choreographed moves. My friend introduced me to one of the young girls who comes to the dance session regularly.

"So what kind of dance do you do?"
My friend, "She knows Beyonce's dance."

Ummm, correction, I do not know Beyonce's dance moves. I learned them once while taking my Go Go Stiletto dance class, but without her music playing, or the "single ladies" video in front of me, I could not tell you anything. I don't dance on que. I am not a robot.

"Sorry without the music I can't teach you much."
"Can you show me some of your moves?"

*Sigh* Look kid, this isn't beat street, and/or "Save the Last Dance", I didn't come here to teach you anything, I came to exercise.

"How long have you been dancing?"

At this point I'm highly annoyed that I'm not in a formal dance studio, but mostly that I'm being pushed into this "teach your culture" session. So here's your Black history lesson of the day. Most Black folks don't have to study dance moves, or practice calculated steps, we just listen to music and feel it. Besides, I couldn't dance in the studio space if I wanted to, because all 3 groups had their own music blaring soo loud on cheap speakers, it was a cacophony of mess. As far as how long? I've been dancing to the beat of life. Music is always played in my household. I can't remember a time when we didn't listen to music, dance at parties, or sit around the TV with popcorn waiting for the "world premiere" of the new Micheal Jackson video to begin.

Though I appreciate the pure curiosity of the Vietnamese youth, I will admit I am a person who gets a bit offended when I'm put in the spotlight to "perform". "It's all positive, all coming from positive vibes," my friend assures. Yes, yes I know, but for one day can I not be reminded of how foreign I am?

Anyways, check out the little rascals practice their moves, notice, nobody is dancing with the beat. . .