The Squeaky Robot

A Meddling Robot in a Human's World

Posts tagged “vietnam

Tale of Two Cities, or Good Bye Viet Nam

Posted on July 25, 2015

My last sights of Vietnam are from the humming nadirs of Saigon’s scraped skies, gazing up at this city in marvel with that flat smoky jungle Hanoi forever the backdrop of my mind. How different these cities are. There are even cutesy illustrations about how Vietnam’s pair of beating hearts differ in their consumption of pho, preferred altar fruits, work relationships with superiors and general communication patterns (the rough translation: Saigon’s talk is straightforward and efficient, Hanoi’s calls for finesse and indirectness). I ask young locals here about their perceptions of Hanoi. Most answers implicate backwardness and a lack of excitement in Vietnam’s capital city, half the size of Saigon at around seven million people. “I wouldn’t be able to live in Hanoi,” says…

In My Hands, Beneath My Feet

Posted on July 16, 2015

The place was at once in my hands and beneath my feet. My map indicated the road between Buon Ma Thuot and Dalat was a major artery, it had that bolded yellow quality that typically signifies cartographical importance. But the spot where my motorbike – an old semi-auto with the words ‘Splendid Cruiser’ stuck to its side – was then rumbling, eager to dash forward, looked abandoned. It actually reminded me of the roads in Chernobyl town – domed and cracking, overgrown, the bush quietly reclaiming the land stolen from it in the pouring of hot tar. Stark evidence of mudslides also burdened this highway. At times you could only pass with two feet or so of pavement width, the rest covered in lumpy piles…

Land of a Million Elephants

Posted on May 9, 2015

While in the small city of Pakse, a man named Akamu told me a story. We sat in a noodle shop at lunchtime draining our hot bowls of their contents. Every ten seconds a rotating fan found our table, blowing our dirty napkins away. “It’s a story about a giant jar in the sky. How Lao people came to the earth.” He said how a ‘big evil’ grew from the land, and at its end hung a jar that blocked the sun, casting darkness unto everything. “The gods came to cut the big evil, to give the world light.” Only when the big evil was vanquished and the jar fell, presumably, could humans emerge from the jar. Then came the animals, the “rocks like…

Black Hmong & Red Dao

Posted on November 4, 2014

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Even a short three-day trek reveals the diversity of the Tonkinese Alps. There are five ethnic groups in Northern Vietnam and they all have boundless subdivisions, each with its own culture, dress and dialect. The way to say “hello” in one village would not pass in the next!

If you find yourself wandering to the region, consider a trip with Sapa O’Chau. It’s an amazing community development project that gives work and education to local youth.*

The Spring of Magical Thinking

Posted on October 28, 2014

I began with translations. My friend Phuong and I would sit in the Manager’s office discussing the nuances of our ancient text and which English words would be the best to communicate them. “Around the mountain of Hong Linh, silver clouds disperse. The Lam River is formed by two flowing branches, one transparent, one opaque. Night falls on the river, lie and listen to the sloshing of the waves.” The scripts were replete with such prose, heavy on folkloric scenery and the most noble occasions in Vietnamese history – battles won, maidens saved, lands conquered. Always a lotus in a distant mist, forever a drum ringing through still mountains. Consuming these banal narratives for hours on end, it was not difficult to see why…

Conversations with an 8-Year-Old Hanoian

Posted on October 14, 2014

“I like to read about histories and dinosaurs and the universe!” she says wide-eyed. “Teacher, remember the video we watch? The universe is getting bigger and bigger as we talk!” Her arms stretch high over her head as she illustrates the vastness of the cosmos. Then she collapses into her chair, exhausted by the mysteries of our existence. “There could even be aliens,” she exhales. I see Hang three times a week, Saturday through Monday. I tutor her privately and in a group lesson. She’s also my Teacher’s Assistant for a raucous bunch of six-year-olds. Although she’s only one or two years their senior, she speaks and reads like a proper fifth-grader. Sometimes she takes her role as a TA very seriously, marching around…

Bamboo to Heaven

Posted on October 5, 2014

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As part of a larger project I’m pursuing, about Soviet-style tenements in Hanoi, I got the chance to explore one of these buildings with the help of Linh and Nga, a couple of guys from the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights. The organization works all over Asia, but here in Northern Vietnam, many people still don’t have the formal rights to housing that they’ve purchased and lived in for twenty-five years.

The case of Hanoi architecture and living space is a complicated one, but a general trend seems to be that, beyond the “rules”, there are no rules.

Here we are scaling a splintering bamboo ladder to access the illegal roof garden. As we walked up the six flights of stairs, all the residents already heard about what we were doing. “Be careful,” they laughed, “it’s an old ladder.”

Crowds & People

Posted on September 9, 2014

Hang Ma

There are three types of people at festivals: those who work, those who play, and those who people watch.

Star

A woman douses her festival fruits with sugar, chili and salt.

Uncle Ho

The kitsch needed to celebrate Mid-Autumn: masks, lanterns, noise-makers, drums, moon stars and Uncle Ho.

Vendor

Food vendors must compete for attention.

Snake

Children wear masks and growl like tigers to frighten Ra Hu so he will not gobble up the entire moon.

lights

The Old Quarter delights and suffocates.

Child

Look up! A deep blue sky fades into a pink dusk. Radiant lanterns float in the trees. Bubbles whirl through the flow of the streets. People chant under a large red moon. These hypnotic whimsies distract from more important things on the ground.

Lanterns

A crowd inches along Hang Ma, Lantern Street, like oozing lava.

Bo Bia

Bo Bia is a thin pancake with honeycomb, coconut fibers and sesame seeds. Buy one to try it, of course, and also because these women work incredibly hard.

Bubbles

Chaos itself looks at Hanoi and says, “No, thank you.”

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