Tag Archives: living in hanoi

Hidden Dangers of Cycling in Hanoi

8 Nov

The following incident took place a few weeks ago. I am only just recovering from the humiliation and so, it has taken me this long to post the story that I wrote some time ago. Enjoy.

Standard bicycle scene in Hanoi...

Standard bicycle scene in Hanoi… Taken from the back of our motorbike

Living in Hanoi teaching English, it is considered something of a crime not to drive a motorbike. A failing almost. Everyone has one. Seriously, everyone. It is just part of essential everyday life here, with the public transport system being practically non-existent and very difficult to figure out for non-Vietnamese. Truthfully, I’m too scared (don’t judge me). I will happily ride around as a passenger on the back of John’s Yamaha and have actually given it a try myself but I really don’t feel great about driving a motorbike with no insurance in the crazy traffic. I have resolutely stuck to my bicycle since I arrived here, stubbornly denying claims that it is too hot to cycle to work in the heat of Hanoi’s summer. The sweltering temperatures, combined with the fact that I generally have to wear smart black trousers, means that I consistently arrive to work clad in a suit of sweat. Lovely. Attempting to try and aid the airflow a little, I wore a loose, long flowing maxi-dress to work the other day. While aware that it wasn’t really appropriate cycling attire, I decided that minimizing my intolerable sweat situation was more important.

Mistake number one.

I was soon to find out that bicycles can, in fact, be even more dangerous than motorbikes.

As I cycled home from work that day, I was enjoying an unusual breeze as my dress floated around my legs in the light wind. Just as I thought to myself what a welcome respite this was from the usual stifling heat of my smart trousers, I heard a huge ripping sound and my bike began to skid to a stop. My dress had become caught in the back wheel of my bike. It felt like slow motion but in an instant my dress ripped right off from the waist down, causing me to topple off of my bike, on to the ground with only my underwear protecting my modesty. Kneeling at the side of the road, practically half naked, trying to untangle my dress from the wheel, a Vietnamese man stopped to help me.

Although touched by his kindness, I was far too embarrassed and over-exposed to want any help so I attempted to wave him away politely. He persisted in untangling the remains of my dress and, politeness prevailing, I let him.

Mistake number two.

Obviously encouraged by me allowing him to assist with the situation, he started rubbing my arm and gesturing wildly at me. Confused, it took me a moment to grasp what he was trying to say but I was soon able to work out what he was asking me. Wait for it…

He was asking if I would perform oral sex on him – FOR MONEY- all conveyed through the power of sign language.

Wow.

What was he thinking? He saw me topple off my bike. He saw the dress rip and so was aware that I was not just hanging around the street in my pants, waiting for business. What was it about the incident that made him think it would be an appropriate time to suggest I gave him a blow job?! Seriously. At least he offered to pay, I guess.

Anyway, after using some ‘sign language’ of my own, I made it very clear that this would NOT be happening. EVER. I then set off home with my underwear on display and my dignity (and dress) in tatters. Cycling home through Hanoi, I attracted a lot of unwanted attention and just as I was confident that the journey couldn’t get any worse, one of the very few people I actually know in this new city pulled up beside me at the traffic lights (on a motorbike of course, dammit). Noticing the horror on his face, I proceeded to make polite conversation while he awkwardly attempted to divert his eyes, speeding off before I had a chance to explain the situation.

I had no choice but to wave him goodbye and continue the journey home in my underwear. Despite being one of the most embarrassing journeys of my life, I did see the funny side and cycled home with tears of laughter streaming down my face!

I still haven’t graduated to my own motorbike yet but I have learned my lesson – maxi dresses and bicycles DO NOT mix.

Here is picture evidence from that fateful day. I can’t quite believe I am posting a picture of myself with my ass out on the internet but I feel it tops off the story nicely.

The grand unveiling...

The grand unveiling…

Advertisements

How Much is that Doggy in the Window?

12 Aug

dog meat

As a Westerner moving to Vietnam, I was very apprehensive about arriving to the country and being confronted with caged dogs on every street corner, awaiting slaughter. I also had a fear of being served dog meat by mistake or, even worse, as a cruel substitute to whichever meat I thought I was eating. While it remains popular, it is not as prevalent in day to day life as I had envisaged before arriving here. And there is certainly no chance of being served the meat ‘by accident’ or eating it unknowingly, as it is arguably the most expensive meat in Vietnam, with one kilo costing at least $10.

It isn’t illegal to eat dog in Vietnam and, actually, traditionally it is believed to bring good luck and virility to men if eaten at the end of the lunar month. In order to live in a different culture, it is imperative to accept alternative traditions and beliefs. I do understand that.

What is difficult to comprehend is the popularity of dogs as pets here in Hanoi. Throughout the city there are vast amounts of families with healthy, well looked after dogs. A popular choice is the Chihuahua – they are everywhere and can often be spotted perched proudly on the back of a speeding Honda Win. It is extremely unnerving when restaurants selling ‘Thit cho’ have three little pink-collared Chihuahuas running around on site.

dog

As a Westerner, it feels morally wrong to mix your pets with your dinner and I can’t help but shudder every time I pass a restaurant displaying barbequed dog carcass, with teeth and features still intact. However, while I won’t personally be chowing down on hind leg of dog any time soon, it is something that I must learn to co-exist alongside while living in a different culture.

That said, there is unfortunately a more pressing issue than my personal beliefs that dogs are ‘mans best friend’ – the supposedly booming trade in illegal dog smuggling, coming across the border from Thailand into Vietnam. Animal rights activists say as many as 200,000 live dogs are smuggled per year, each destined to end up on a plate in a Vietnamese restaurant.

caged dogs

Reportedly the dogs are held in inhumane conditions with up to 1,000 at a time squeezed on to the backs of lorries. Even more horrifically, a common belief suggests that fear stimulates a hormone in the dogs which improves the taste of their meat, meaning they are often intentionally held in stress cages with restricted movement. Often the dogs are bludgeoned to death and even skinned alive.

This news makes me feel significantly more justified in my feelings of physical repulsion every time I see a dead doggy for sale. It is no longer about my sheltered Western beliefs and whether it is wrong or right to eat dog meat. This is a brutal and illegal trade worth millions of dollars per year and something must be done to stop it.

Sources:
CNN World News
Soi Dog Foundation
Aljazeera News