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    Friday, April 07, 2006

    Nosy Viets

    Yesterday was one of those days...sometimes I love the people here in Vietnam and sometimes I hate them. Right now, I feel much more of the latter than the former.

    Yesterday I left the house about three o'clock to pick up the wife from work (Save the Children UK) and biked to the corner of Đỗ Ngọc Thạch and 3 Tháng 2. At the intersection I must turn left onto "3/2" and take that a long ways to District 1. However, the intersection was packed. Gridlock. Absolutely packed. Not uncommon in Vietnam, but never exciting either.

    In great Vietnamese fashion, the light turned green and I took off, jutting into the middle of the intersection, weaving in between bikes, and making it almost to the end when I became lodged in the mass of flesh and steel, shouts and horns. To my right was a group of people standing outside a house and two green-clad policemen with their traffic batons out.

    "Ah hah!" I thought. "The typical police coming to a house and everyone wants to see it mess. Why are people here so nosy?"

    Then I looked closer and saw a man kneeling on the ground, his arm covered in blood as he desperately tried to stop the red geyeser erupting from another man's neck. At that moment I realized the situation was bad. A traffic accident. Dunno why. Dunno how. But I know the results.

    Everything suddenly came into focus: two policemen, trying their hardest to get people to move, but nobody was moving; one man lying on the ground, dying; another man desperately trying to save his life, irregardless of AIDS or other possibilities; and maybe a hundred people on motorbikes disobeying the police, blocking any hope of an ambulance, and gawking.

    At that moment I lost it...I blew up. I compared the scene to America, where people are required by law (and follow it) to help or get out of the way. This just seemed so wrong, so evil. Worse than tò mò (nosy), worse than mất lịch sự (rude), worse than ... worse.

    So I did what I could do--scream. I started yelling at the top of my lungs at everyone around me. The only way for the situation to get better is for people to leave. So I started pushing people to leave.

    "Đi nhé!" I yelled. "Đi mày đi! Mày ngư quá à!"
    ("Go!" I yelled. "Go you moron! You're freaking retarded!")

    My invectives were at anyone I could point a finger at and get eye contact. Slowly, people woke up and some took off, even if only for 20 meters before stopping and watching from afar. The lane opened up for me, and I took it too, doing my part to let a dying man have his peace, his chance for life, and his dignity.

    Later that night, driving home from dinner, I saw six teenagers in a fist fight, two with boards, and some men stopping to try and break it up. I thought to call the cops, but my wife stopped me. "That's not how it's done in Vietnam," she said.

    Well, if this is how it's done, then I'm glad to be headed back to the states in two months.

    6 comments:

    ThinkingVN said...

    "Đi mày đi! Mày ngư quá à!" I can't believe you said that to stranger in Saigon and leave unscathed. That're the most demeaning words to say to a person much less the crowd. People might think you're a mentally ill foreigner. That's why they took off away from you...or they didn't understand the word you said.
    Fist fights are very common with troubled teenagers in Vietnam. Don't you think it is way better than taking guns to school or around the neighborhood shooting people like in "law-abiding" US of A.
    Yeah, welcome back to the States and have a peace of mind in a "civilized nation", which I happen to live in, where crime rate such as rapes, robberies, murders, drug offenses are always top of the list of all nations (nationmaster.com). And road rages on the streets are twice as common as kid fights in Vietnam, in my opion.

    Triet said...

    Well, first let me say, they wouldn't have thought I was a mentally ill foreigner, or not understand me, but I am glad that it didn't come back to bite me.

    Thank you for the humble pie. I will eat it. You're right. This was only the second or third time in my life I've used such language and I'm sure that my mother would not be proud. I was stupid/lucky. I was in the wrong. I will do differently next time.

    Secondly, my post was not about the fist fights. I'm not going to argue murder rates, rapes, etc. That's another post, and I don't think I necessarily disagree anyway. However, here's one question to mull over: If the amount of fighting is the same in both countries, then is it really the guns fault, or is the cause deeper? Like I said, I don't disagree with the stats, just food for thought.

    My point with the article was to highlight the apathy I saw yesterday. Americans are not any more morally superior or decrepit than the next nationality, but in all my years of living there, I never saw traffic come to a stand-still in order to watch a person die. I've seen rubber-necking, and other stupid stuff, but not that (and again, not that it doesn't happen, but I haven't experienced it). And the fight was brought in at the end for my wife's comment--not the fight itself. That'd it be better to let it go than call the police--again the apathy.

    So in summary, yes, I was stupid and wrong to say what I did, but please forgive me for getting caught up in the moment. And I am not trying to put America as a shining beacon of moral superiority (it is not), only to show my experience of apathy yesterday vs. lack of apathy while living in the states.

    VietPundit said...

    Triet, I agree with you in your post, and admire your humility in your reply to TVN. I share your frustrations with some bad aspects of Vietnamese culture. I don't think what you did was "wrong"; maybe imprudent.

    TVN, your stats may be correct, but are they relevant to Triet's original point?

    ThinkingVN said...

    Vietpundit, Thank you pointing out my irrelancy (if that's a word). I'd realized that I was being out of focus but not until after I published the post.
    Triet,
    I apologize for being sarcastic and moron in the previous post. Perhaps the apathy you felt on the street of Saigon can be perceived as sympathy by others. I remember when I was 19 and still living in Saigon. I’d gotten into a terrible accident which smashed my motorbike into pieces and left me with a broken leg. Within a few second of the accidence, people from all directions rushed in to offer helps and ask if I was OK. One guy carried me on his arm and put on the next xich-lo available to take me to the hospital (this event happened in the early 1990s, so there were not a lot of cars around, no cell phone and ambulance being operated by the government can take ages to arrive). The xich-lo driver took me to the hospital without asking for money and he stayed with me for hours until my family arrived. This is just one of many example that how people in Vietnam help out one another in times of need. It is easy for a foreigner to assume that people just standing around watching other people dying. They didn’t know that people stop to look out of sympathy and ready to give a hand if the opportunity comes. Of course in America people can’t just stop their car to walk over the site of accident and watch. If they did that, there are good chances of being victims of a road rage because their car may be blocking other cars behind them that too hurry to go somewhere. Secondly they wouldn’t be able to help the victim while waiting for the ambulance to arrive out of fear that they will get sued if something went wrong. I once took a CPR class a couple years ago and the instructor kept reminding to the whole class that before perform CPR to a victim, make sure to ask his/her permission first or have a witness. If not…can you guess what will happen if something go wrong? Yes, victim and their family can sue the helper.

    Anonymous said...

    Quite a story about the dying man - but I am also very curious about your wife telling you to not call the police for the fistfight.

    Any insights why? Political fear of the police? Social reason?

    Frankly - one of my frustrations that will disappear when I leave is simple - being able to read Blogger.

    Triet said...

    This is what I love about blogging...the discussions that it engenders connecting people from all over the world.

    First, TVN, your apology is accepted, but not needed. I really do feel thankful for you calling me on my words. Sometimes I act (speak) before I think and I can always use the lessons in humility.

    Second, it is great that you shared your story ThinkingVN and that you asked your questions, Anonymous. They go hand in hand.

    Coincidentally, I read ThinkingVN's comment right before I hit the sack last night, and laid in bed talking with my wife about it. ThinkingVN's experience highlights something that IS great about the Vietnamese people--the communal sense of family. Most often, when fights occur in Vietnam like the one I saw the other day, they are stopped not by police but by other, older men with cooler heads who often have no relationship to the fighters.

    That being said, Vietnam in 2006 is drastically different from Vietnam 1990. This is what my wife said last night, and it will address Anonymous's questions as well as ThinkingVN's comment:

    "The reason I said not to call the police is because they won't come. The police will just ask you why you called. So you have to stop it yourself. Also, if they do come, they will more often than not accuse you of being in the fight also and throw you in jail. So nobody calls the police unless they absolutely have to."

    This is also the same with people in bad accidents. I remember growing up how people used to help each other. But I also remember a newspaper story of a man that found a man bleeding and dying in the road. He helped the man into his car (he had a van) and took him to the hospital. The hurt man passed away and the would-be rescuer was wrongfully thrown in jail for years for murder."

    "As I grew up there were so many stories similar to that so that today people don't dare to help. Nobody wants to deal with the police. So they just stop and watch."

    Finally, ThinkingVN, in my CPR cert class they also mentioned lawsuits--but they said you must ask permission if the victim was conscious. If the victim is not able to respond, consent is automatically assumed. That and good samaritan laws protect helpers from lawsuits. I, personally, am more worried about cops in Saigon than lawsuits in the states.