After something like 2.75 years in Vietnam, I'm taking the low road back to civilisation.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

#9 "Experiencing Vietnamese culture" aka Ridiculous Vietnamese behaviour.

The Vietnamese work ethic. I had the privilege to see the Bitexco tower as the helipad was nearly finished, and at almost every turn Fraser, Ollie and I were faced with half a dozen workers springing up onto their feet to make a very half -arsed attempt at looking busy. Looking busy consisted of little more than being on their feet and smiling... this is part of a larger epidemic where a significant amount of locals somehow feel entitled after one month in the job to switch off almost completely, stop trying to produce quality work and instead concentrate on the infinitely more productive output of complaining about their income/company/managers and taking inordinate amount of sick days due to family reasons.

Personal space hypocrisy. The best examples I will provide of this was when playing a friendly/friendlies against a Vietnamese team/s up at Thu Duc Sports University. Whether the two incidents I am about to quote took place in the same game, I can’t quite remember. Anyway during the game one of my teammates tried to apologise for a tackle and when the guy refused a handshake or helping hand back up onto his feet because he was so badly hurt from the tackle, my teammate ruffled his hair. Anyone who isn’t familiar with Asian culture should be informed that touching the top of an Asian’s head thing is a no-no. OK fine. But at the end of another friendly (and also once at a Bia Hoi) I went for a hand shake and the Vietnamese guy instead tried to grab my dick. Anyone who isn’t familiar with my culture should know that if you do that to a Brit on the football pitch (I say Brit since there are probably some European nations which like that sort of thing) you stand a good chance of leaving with some teeth in your hand.

Complaints ie. "You're not ___ enough to be my teacher" - Ultimately, if their teacher was a closet 47 year old male paedophile who had secretly spent the last 5 years serenading around Cambodia, Thailand and the Philippines as an English language instructor, spending his student’s money on sex for schoolkids they would be happier. That's an extreme example but unfortunately it holds true for their psyche (For the Vietnamese ignorance is too often bliss). An awful male teacher with expensive possessions or who just rocks up and teaches directly from the book is held in so much more esteem than a quality female teacher who prepares lessons and has a clue what she is doing…

Vietnamese standards of decency.
Some examples will suffice here.
1. People debagging, crouching and shitting in a very visibly alley in the city centre in the middle of the day.
2. Poor punctuality. Dismissed with an insulting laugh. And repeated offences.
3. Cheating. Dismissed with a laugh. And repeated offences.
4. Acceptable noise levels. It seems anything goes so long as the sun is up. That includes next door neighbours drilling holes every Sunday morning from 8am for weeks or months on end. Or next door neighbours building a rabbit hutch in a darkened enclave which is actually on YOUR property, and sticking a confused cockerel in there who crowed for 15 minute spells every hour from 5am up to 5pm. In their culture, you are expected to grin and bear it, fine - as long as they don’t throw childish fits when you are watching a CCR DVD at 9.30pm. Or starting your motorbike outside your house. Or when your cat walks around at night.
5. Animal treatment. In Vietnam the old style rat trap is used, where the creature is lured into a cage, which has a trapdoor held on a latch. When activated the door is released behind them and traps them in the cage. One Saturday morning when I was waiting at the side of Nguyen Thi Minh Khai for a taxi to work during my crutches phase, I saw a woman put the cage in the gutter, then bring out a kettle and slowly pour a litre of boiling water over the thrashing rodent until it had stopped bouncing off the sides of the cage. Well, job done.

After nearly 3 years I eventually succumbed to the Saigon Zoo which gave me two additional examples of the lack of respect for animals that some Vietnamese men, children and women hold.
Incident one, “The taunting of the lion”. When approaching the lion cage there was a group of around 6 people watching a man who was holding his briefcase just out of the Lioness’s paws reach, encouraging it to swipe at the bag. A moment of inspiration came to me as Hana and I looked at each other in disgust and as the man prepared to taunt the big cat once again, I readied myself and waited for the lioness to strike, simultaneously grabbing the guy from behind and roaring in his ear. It achieved the desired effect of scaring the piss out of the guy, but my Vietnamese was insufficient to explain to the guy if he continued I would try to feed him to the animal.
Incident two, “The Crocodile ashtray”. A guy with his young daughter in his arm and a cigarette in the other flicked his burning cigarette over the fence at the Crocodile which opened its jaws and snapped up the butt. I would have liked to have seen him try to stub out that fag in the Croc’s mouth, and see how he was going to smoke and carry his toddler at the same time ever again.

People are told to be sensitive to Vietnamese culture and adapt. I agree to a point, my former flatmate Ryan was very short tempered and overly hostile towards the locals. But the country and its people are supposed to be developing, and I didn’t see any signs of it in my time there. Now that I’m away from Vietnam I say without reservation that the majority of Vietnamese people need to grow the fuck up. Not that I particularly held my tongue when I was there. But they can’t do it by themselves, and as teachers we can only help them reverse some of these behaviours, assuming their family unit is not simultaneously encouraging the opposite.


  1. Wow, you hate VietNam. Why did you stay here for so long if you have nothing but negatives to say about its population? The level of hypocrisy and illegitimacy of this post makes me dislike you a little bit. Who are you to define what 'developing' means let alone use it as a word that an ENTIRE country of humans is 'supposed' to be doing? I'm sorry, but this is the prime example of the jaded expat who's over stayed his posh, well-paid, cushy, and apparently undeserved visit. Wow.

    Just to make this comment seem like I don't hate you (which I don't <3), I've grabbed your hang dang (same same penis) plenty o times and I still have a full, bright smile.

  2. When I wrote this post, I tried to remain as factual as possible while still being faithful to my first draft. I considered toning town how harsh I came across in my original outpouring, but refrained purely because these are my experiences. This post is particularly pertinent to the overall theme of my blog. People are predicting I will be back in Vietnam within months. Well, once they read this, they will be closer to the truth.

    It's valid that I overstayed my visit, yeah. Have I not repeatedly admitted that? If I had confined myself to holidays within Vietnam and refrained from using HCMC as a base to explore what I could of SE Asia, I would have become more accustomed to the Vietnamese psyche. However, I had the good fortune to spend the majority of my holidays outside Vietnam, forging genuine, interesting connections with other SE Asians. This leads to increased frustration when in HCMC as I prefer originality and creative thinking (a genuine conversation) to infantile slapstick banter. I contained my frustration, unlike the majority of jaded expats who abused the locals on a day to day basis. And when you bottle up emotions, what happens? An explosion at some stage. Well here is my explosion, a single entry on my blog, several weeks after leaving. Not a bad place to have it.

  3. This is the most generalized attack on an ENTIRE country maybe ever written. You talk about a couple mild incidences you experienced (and yes I know you can't list all of the examples you might have had) but then correlate that complaint with a country.

    Personal space hypocrisy: attributed to a population of 86,000,000 because you had a couple bad soccer games. If anything, I'd complain about the people here being to timid to invade my personal space.

    Work Ethic: You got paid roughly 10-20 times more than the average Vietnamese person to 'teach' English in a plush school. The construction workers here are some of the harder working people I've ever seen. And you contradict yourself when you claim Vietnamese people have poor work ethic, yet you also mention they start constructing at 8am (earlier, around 7am at my house). How can you honestly complain about 'acceptable noise level's' because you were unlucky enough to have something being built near your house where you could hear everything? How in any way is that their fault? They're doing their job (and working hard at it). If you didn't want to live in a crowded busy neighborhood because it ruins your nights sleep you princess, you should have moved to fucking Phu My Hung, Q.7 with all of the other overpaid foreign assholes.

    Animal Treatment: you can talk about this justly when you are a vegan (fucking hypocrite).

  4. "as teachers we can only help them reverse some of these behaviours" : where do you get off thinking that it's your duty to change the way a country breathes because it bothered you? I can think of a handful of events in history where people thought it was their duty to change a country because they didn't like how that country was doing it...maybe you should consider some of those? Or here's an idea: never come back here and regret that you even stayed for as long as you did and then you'll never have to be bothered by all your problems with VN.

    You have not repeatedly admitted that you overstayed your visit to me (ever). You mentioned that you were very excited to leave. Regardless, that is no excuse for staying so long. You don't deserve to live in such a wonderful country with some of the more genuinely nice and generous people I've ever met. And frankly, although I of course enjoyed your company here, I say good fucking riddance. With a horrible attitude and outlook on Vietnam, you should have left abruptly after you decided that every Vietnamese person needs to 'grow the fuck up.' What kind of ridiculous sentence is that? I question how much interest you put into to forging friendships while you were here. In ten months, I've met loads of interesting Vietnamese people that I do hang out with often who have wider personalities than your bitter self.

    You say while traveling to different countries you forged 'genuine, interesting connections with other SE Asians.' Well in case you didn't know, there are loads of teaching opportunities in those other SE Asian's a shame you had to spend your 2.75 years in a country full of childs.

    Also, how can you claim that you had the opportunities to have 'genuine conversations' here when the majority of people don't speak English and throughout your 2.75 years of living here, you learned less Vietnamese than I did in about 6 months. Way to put in the effort.

    I'm sorry, but I'm completely appalled by this and now that I know your absurd outlook on 86,000,000 Vietnamese people, I say the country's better off without you, you bitter egotistical old man. Get off your fucking high horse. To reduce 'Vietnamese Culture' to some silly complaints from a bitter foreigner is absurd and complete bullshit.

  5. I'm not going to go into an extended analysis of these points, for a couple of reasons. The main reason is because I have made peace with my gripes with the Vietnamese. It didn't take much, writing this entry was enough to cleanse me of what I needed to say. It may come across as bitter, but I'm not, I'm just blunt and critical. However, revisiting this issue by debating it with a wide-eyed young mountain boy who seemingly adored everything in his short spell here is in itself an attempt to resurrect any remaining ill-feeling, so after this, I'm locking the thread. If I can do that.

    Having said that you have asked me direct questions which I will answer. And made strong statements which I am compelled to address. There are several people who I know agree with me and several people who I guarantee will not. I think it's safe to assume you are towards the extreme end of those who do not. I'm glad you have articulated what you were trying to express clearly this time, because your initial post was to me largely knee-jerk and without substance. However you have made serious of personal attacks here which may be a result of not reading the context properly, not allowing yourself to respond calmly, or just trying to wind me up.

    "But this list is about expatriate life within the inner city." (Me 18/7/10)

    The inner city is certainly not 86 million people. As I said earlier, I refrained from editing entry number 9. If I had, I would have de-generalised the phrasing of my post.

    As for me contradicting myself, well you should re-read my comments as well as your own comments and maybe hold your tongue next time. "..and yes I know you can't list all of the examples you might have had.." and then go on "Personal space hypocrisy: attributed to a population of 86,000,000 because you had a couple bad soccer games." I do have several more examples of this, and you're right I can't (and won't) list them all.

  6. I have had a lot more experience with Vietnamese staff than you may realise, and if you want to believe construction workers are diligent employees then you go on and believe that. Starting work at 7 or 8am is not a sign of a strong work ethic Casey, you should know that. Taking responsibility, showing initiative and working hard while you are there do, however.

    I'm not complaining about acceptable noise levels. Re-read my post! I was complaining about the hypocrisy when comparing the noise they make and the noise I make. If you speak to my NTMK landlord she will have nothing but praise for me. I complained once in 2 years about the rooster being built practically on our doorstep (in fact no I didn't even complain, I simply asked if they were going to eat it at some stage) but my tolerance evaporates when it comes to double-standards. And THAT was my gripe.

    Animal treatment. I can complain about this when I become Vegan? Fuck right off. You can comment when you have done as much for the conservation of animals as I have. Animal cruelty is to slaughterhouses what torture is to execution.

    I get off thinking it's my duty to help Vietnam develop when students come to me ASKING FOR MY HELP in this area. I'm getting tired of this. As I read your comments I continue to spot inaccuracies, assumptions and personal opinions you are stating as fact. I have been guilty of that too in the past. I'm not going to lock this, as I spent more time addressing your post than I had intended, and if you or anyone else wants to keep this going, then so be it.

    Most of what has been said here has been harsh. I'm going to take something back, something that re-reading my post I no longer agree with. "I say without reservation that the majority of Vietnamese people need to grow the fuck up." I clearly don't know the majority of VNese people. They don't need to grow up. As long as the people who are living in Vietnam are appreciating the friendliness, the generosity and the opportunities the country has to offer, then that's all that matters.