The Great Stage in East Asia

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As some of you might have heard around the traps, The Great Stage has moved to South East Asia.

In fact, it has moved to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Some of you might be thinking this is a strange move for The Great Stage. A counter-intuitive move. A dangerous move even, given the tendency of the actors, and of management, to screech, snarl, sneer, snipe and generally heap Scheisse on various agents of constituted authority in the place we were previously operating (the Commonwealth of Australia).

One thing is generally acknowledged to be true about politics in today’s world. In these parts of East Asia, heaping Scheisse on any of the major agents of constituted political authority is NOT PERMITTED, whereas heaping Scheisse on them in places like the Commonwealth of Australia is pretty much COMPULSORY.

Which of these states of affair is harder to stomach? Now there’s a philosophical question!

Did the GS of old get caught up at all in this compulsory heaping of Scheisse?

The GS would readily admit there were problematic moments.

How it adapts to its new environment, in which the heaping of Scheisse isn’t seen as valid relaxation or a critical duty, will only become clear over time.

But here, as a curtain-raiser over the next month, are fifteen entries of medium length introducing Vietnam to Great Stagers of old: the fifteen most basic things a Western visitor needs to know about Vietnam.

For the detail, drop by over the next month.

GS notes with sadness that in its new EASTERN INCARNATION it is going to have to talk less about politics than it did in the past, though it promises to continue keeping tabs on hackneyed positivity and overblown waffle in all ways that are compatible with retaining its Vietnamese visa.

Truly,

GS

Fifteen things worth knowing about Vietnam from a Western point of view

1. Large numbers of younger Vietnamese aspire to speak English and will see associating with a native speaker as a significant token of achievement. Many of them have a vastly unrealistic picture of what it takes to learn a language. And some will have had their innate ability to learn English ruined by the Vietnamese school system before they arrive in your class.

2. If you take a Vietnamese girl out on a date she will probably expect to be paid for. If you start actually going out with her, she might expect you to express your affection in the form of anything from roses to Iphones. Vietnamese women demand a degree of male gallantry from (Vietnamese and) Western men which, from a Western point of view, can feel like you’re being taken for a bit of a ride. Meeting a gorgeous Vietnamese girl means learning to differentiate between situations where cultural differences are in play and when you’re being taken for a ride (and when you’re taking yourself for a ride).

3. There are some small-to-medium-sized differences between Southern and Northern Vietnamese and a degree of underlying agro between them. Much of the tension arises from the War. Some Southerners believe that the Northerners used the Northern victory in the War to enrich themselves and generally grind the noses of Southern Vietnamese; some hold that the Northerners are basically arrogant, uptight and no good at enjoying themselves. Some Northerners on the other hand suspect that Southern Vietnamese have never been fully signed up to the communist vision of the nation or think that Southerners ought to be more grateful for the sacrifices Northerners made in uniting the country; a small but significant number of Northerners find the free-wheeling party mentality of Southerners an offence to customary Vietnamese ways.

4. Vietnamese food across the board is cheap, delicious and . . . not for the faint-hearted. Large Vietnamese cities have vast selections of foodstalls and curbside restaurants where Vietnamese people can be seen eating, drinking, yelling and turfing their chicken bones into the street until late into the night.

5. Traffic in Vietnam is a combination of the marvelous and the hairy. It is governed by unspoken conventions rather than written rules, which is why it looks to Westerners like unmitigated chaos. If you’re on foot, step slowly out into the riotous stream of Hondas and watch it part to make way for you. If you’re driving a bike yourself, be ready to make small adjustments to the bikes around you at all times.

6. A big fat Vietnamese wedding is something all Westerner visitors to Vietnam should try to get themselves invited to. A big fat Vietnamese wedding is generally composed of an intimate traditional ceremony in the family homes of the bride and groom in the morning and an ear-splitting semi-Western reception, for 500 guests or more, in the evening.

7. A night at a karaoke bar is one of the most dependable communal joys of contemporary Vietnamese life. Most Vietnamese men think they can sing, even when they are tone-deaf and arrhythmic. Heavy consumption of draught beer has a key role to play in this situation.

8. Vietnamese idealize Westerners in unpredictable ways. Many of them think that the height, fair skin and long noses of Westerners are vastly enviable. Many also fondly imagine that Western societies are comfortable, safe places to live and that Western institutions are efficiently run according to basic principles of Enlightenment and public benevolence.

9. Haggling is a basic fact of everyday economic existence in Vietnam. All Vietnamese accept it and some actually enjoy it. Reacting to it with moral outrage or a special sense of victimhood is counter-productive and culturally naïve.

10. Throughout Asia, and in Vietnam, cool has minor but essential variations. In descending order of popularity, what is cool among Vietnamese 20-somethings are singing, dancing, Korean music, Japanese manga, Western food, Western clothes and, for daring Vietnamese youngsters, tattoos. Sex, drugs and rock n roll, while on their way to becoming cool in some quarters, are still considered uncool by many.

11. “The War” is looked back on by most Vietnamese with vague patriotic pride. But 60% of the Vietnamese alive today are too young to have any first-hand experience of it. The vast majority know little about the historical causes, the course or the wider consequences of The War.

12. The Vietnamese worship ancestors. This goes for Vietnamese of all denominations, including Buddhists, Christians and . . . Communists.

13. The Vietnamese are deeply suspicious of the Chinese. Though no single country has influenced Vietnamese culture or the mentality of Vietnamese people more than China, to suggest that the Vietnamese and the Chinese are basically the same is one of the biggest faux pas you can make while in VN.

14. By Western standards, Vietnamese men are quite blokey. This expresses itself in some obnoxious behaviour (ordering women around, being grossly offensive to waitresses when drunk). It also expresses itself in old-fashioned gallantry and in extravagant generosity towards friends and foreign guests. If, as a bloke, you want to get on friendly terms with a Vietnamese bloke, then going drinking or fishing or watching soccer together are the best ways of breaking the ice. When socializing with Vietnamese men, be prepared to field a range of questions: How well do you hold your liquor? How much money do you make per month? And vitally “How do Vietnamese girls make you feel?” (Translation: Do you think Vietnamese girls are pretty?)

15. The Vietnamese like to live out of doors, within eyeshot of the rest of the world.

(This piece originally appeared at The Great Stage: www.cshingleton.com)