chewing fat: dealing with europeans and cockroaches

Posted: February 28, 2008 in Uncategorized

What’s up team,

I  am now in a town in the central highlands of VN called Dalat. I am tempted to stay here forever, as it is a) unbelievably beautiful (think the Alps, but in VN) b) incredibly temperate and amazingly un-polluted (best air I’ve ever inhaled and basically perpetual spring — no kidding) and c) there is tons to do here. I spent 7 hours yesterday hiking through Tiger Falls park, and there’s a plethora of mountain biking, climbing, canyoning, and anything else you can think of… it’s like heaven for the outdoors. I’m looking for work…

This is a pattern I’ve been running into: staying in places (much) longer than I intended to. This started out as a 5-country trip; it’s quickly becoming a 2.5 country journey. Not that I mind — I’ve already told myself I don’t want to rush through places, spending a quarter of my time on buses and trains, making arrangements, etc — I just want to enjoy each place I visit until I’m ready to move on. I guess what it comes down to is whether you want to see everything, or just see ‘everything’.  Once again, I have magical timing (and horrible time management — but that’s another story).

On to the bane of south-east Asia: The ubiquitous cockroach and the ever-present stream of Europeans. It’s may seem odd that I’d group these together, but there is a reason, my friends: both can be avoided, and managed, despite their ability to creep into every hotel/restaurant/city I’ve managed to make it to. First, the European… while I’m usually not one to make generalizations, it seems most EU citizens truly are at the center of their own universe. I’ve met a plethora of very nice Czechs, Germans, Dutchmen, Danes, English, Swedes, one very nice Serbian and even a polite Frenchman or two, but by the by, they are the rudest, least considerate people I’ve ever met. I’ve seen with my own eyes, on three different occasions, French people rudely arguing down the room rate at various hostels and hotels with trivial amounts of money involved. The first occasion was back in Beijing, when a Frenchman (who was quite rude to me when I tried to strike up earnest conversation — this was afterwards) went into his room (the rooms here were very nice and 50 RMB per night — that’s $6.90 and about 4.67 EUR) and came back to the counter, claiming his bed wasn’t soft enough or some damn thing, and demanded his room to be 45 RMB instead. 5 RMB is .46 EUR. You have to be kidding me… this dude has the most powerful super-currency on earth and he’s bitching about .46 EUR? This has to be a joke…

But then I got to Hanoi, checked into a decent place called “Cafe Real Darling” (it did not live up to its name, unless real darling’s have paint peeling off their skin, flickering eyes and leaky plumbing) and sure enough — the EXACT same thing. The room rate here was 140,000 VND ($9) for a double-double or 70,000 VND for dorm-style hostel action. Again, a group of 4 french folks were arguing –quite rudely– that the double-double room was only worth 110,000 VND per night. 30,000 VND is, in fact, 1.24 EUR. These people must be pumped from their 32 hour work week, because they clearly have no end of energy to complain about the cost of half a baguette in a land where 47% of the GDP is tourism… God forbid 1.24 of your precious currency should wind up in the hands of people who actually fucking work for a living. Argh! This makes me so pissed off… in the words of Monty Burns (whilst offering coffee to his lawyers), “Black, right, to go with your hearts!?! Oh, I hate you all so much!”

This is, of course, not generalized — it’s just a trend I see WAY too often. There are many exceptions, and as I type this, I’m sitting next to a very nice Frenchman named Raoul who I keep running into at cafes and drinking wine with. So… I guess there are just assholes everywhere. Go figure.

These people work for a living. Most work 7 days a week. Of the waitresses that I’ve talked to, the average salary seems to be in the neighborhood of 800,000 VND per month, or about $50. I tip everywhere, but no one else seems to… and this really breaks my heart. The separation of wealth is very real here, and when you order a beer, you can be sure that almost none of that money is going into the pockets of the staff. So… what the hell? I’ve got super-currency too (even though it’s getting less ‘super’ by the day) and I usually tip at least a buck on general principle, sometimes much more if I’m there for a couple of hours. Other tourists get a very confused look on their faces when I do this… “you don’t have to tip here, you know” is generally the verbal response.  “but… I… am….”  It’s what separates us from the animals, I guess…

Speaking of animals, about these cockroaches I’ve been seeing and bunking with: they are plentiful, they are everywhere, and they outnumber us a great deal. Back in Hanoi, Una told me her theory:

“Cockroaches really used to bother me… but then I realized I don’t have to kill them. Now they don’t really bother me anymore…”

Huh. This had never occurred to me. I don’t have to kill them? Really? I chewed on this for a while, but I never really had to deal with many of them until I got to Saigon, where its perpetual summer, and roaches and rats pretty much run the city at night. The rats are comically huge — like the size of a large house cat — but they are quite nimble and the sheer number of them is almost hard to grasp. The cockroaches, in a similar vein, are the biggest, fastest, smartest things I’ve ever seen in my life. One night I awoke to find one in my bed, and sure enough, it was a good 3″ or 4″ long — I mean, I’ve never even seen something like this. I did, in fact, scream like a little girl and leap up onto my feet. I thought about Una’s word for a good half second or so, but believe me — I HAD to kill this thing, there was just no road to a peace accord between us. You have crossed a line, cockroach — specifically, the door to room 208 of 248 D De Tham Street. I have never seen something this large move so fast; it covered 10 feet in 3.5 seconds, no problem. I’m throwing books and bottles of water and anything I can get my hands on, and eventually I nail the fucker with my copy of ‘Mr Nice – the autobiography of Howard Marks’ (which is pretty good, by the way). Sweet victory…

I vaguely recall a running theme in a comic book I used to read ‘Jonny the Homicidal Maniac’, where the main character (he’s a homicidal maniac — duh) is convinced that the cockroach in his house (affectionately named Mr Samsa) keeps coming back to life after he kills it, over and over.

“…like this bug! I keep killing it, and it keeps coming back!”
“Don’t you think there might be more than one cockroach in this house?”
“What? Don’t be silly. I’m sorry, Mr Samsa, but I’m afraid I must kill you again…” [squishes bug]

I’m sorry, Mr Samsa.

More tales soon; gotta go ride some trails now (the bikes actually aren’t that bad here)…



some pics:

a cool statue (everybody has to strike a pose sometimes)

a woman getting stuck in a sniper hole at the Cu Chi tunnels (a huge network that allowed the VC to pass directly underneath all 4 US bases outside of Saigon) and some reactions…

fishing territory in Mui Ne

and a wonderful day hiking outside Dalat


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