Sleeping on the Job


Monday, 7 March, 2011

Hue, Vietnam

The whole of Vietnam appears to be an open community. In other words, nothing within this country seems to be done in private. I have already had the pleasure of watching a man have a tooth removed and almost somebody else taking a crap, neither activity was on my must-do list before the visit.

At this point, I’m half expecting to see a woman giving birth on a motorway.

The walls and door of the dental clinic were entirely made of clear glass windows, not to mention, the building was positioned in the middle of an incredibly busy street – the option to watch a dentist interact with their patient was open to anybody. Amazingly, I was the only one captivated.

I timed my arrival to perfection, too. I was looking at one man in a reclining chair, as another man in a mask (let’s hope the dentist and not a psychopath) started sticking needles into his mouth.

It was fascinating. The height of the drama came when the dentist removed the patient’s tooth – credit to the man in the chair, he did not cry. That may have been due to the fact that he could see me staring through the window. Regardless, he held in the pain, and presumably, got a justified lollipop from the dentist for his bravery.

The whole thing was very odd, I guess having a needle inserted into your gums is just something I’ve always associate as a private activity. Although, it is not the most personal routine one would wish to partake in – taking a poo probably trumps it.

I later discovered that having a crap is also apparently an action that is considered to be a team effort in Vietnam. The public toilets have no doors and sit side by side in a circular fashion – basically meaning that no matter where you look, you will see a squatting man and his little danglies.

What happens when you accidentally make eye contact with the bloke directly across from you, his trousers and pants around his ankles, yours the same? It was just not worth the potential hassle. I, therefore, just held it in and took the stomachache.

There is a pretty peculiar approach to work here too, many shops don’t appear to have regular business hours and just seem to open whenever they feel like it – so, if somebody runs out of teabags in Vietnam, they may be left playing a bit of a guessing game.

While other people will open their shop and then take a nap – there must be a lot of faith in the community here. I suppose once you’ve taken a crap with someone, an unbreakable bond and trust will naturally develop – it would surely be extremely immoral to take advantage of a toilet buddy.

We actually had our own personal encounter with a sleeping shop owner. We saw a glass of dead lizards displayed at the entrance, Elaine (Ruby’s mum who is joining us in Vietnam for two weeks) was fascinated by them and decided that she wanted to inspect the store further.

The shop showcased various other weird and wonderful ‘remedies’, such as dried seahorses and bags of starfish. Elaine decided that she wanted to gather up more information on a few of their unusual products – however, we couldn’t seem to find a single staff member.

As we ventured towards the back of the shop, we saw a human head on the ground behind a product stand. Thankfully, a closer inspection allowed us to see that it was just a woman comfortably laid out on a blanket – having to alert an ambulance in a foreign country would have been a bit of a pain in the arse, to be honest.

I understood her position; who hasn’t at some point wanted to just switch off and go to sleep at work? However, we did need her services. Therefore, this arrangement wasn’t really working for us.

After a couple of rounds of hello were unable to gain a response, Elaine gave the woman a light tap on the shoulder.

That move did not create a pleasant reaction. In fact, the reply was simply unrepeatable, mostly because I don’t know Vietnamese, but also because the words were far from kind – presumably. She didn’t appreciate the wakeup call, expressed her annoyance and then dropped straight back to sleep.

Elaine was pretty shocked by her aggressive manner and stated that she would not be giving them any business after the exchange. Although, the lady didn’t really appear to be too bothered about making money anyway, just sleeping – it was all very confusing.

We became too nervous to enter another shop after the dead lizard fiasco. Therefore, we moved our shopping from the buildings to the locals selling collectables alongside street railings. The man whose display we stopped at was awake and seemed pleased to discuss his products, so we were already grateful to him for that.

He explained that everything resting on the wall were both rare and random due to the method he adopts to acquire his products. He goes deep into the mountains with his brother and then will later attempt to sell their findings.

He had some pretty intriguing products laid out on his wall, too. There was a wide range of bullets, potential Stone Age tools, and a mammoth’s tooth, which an expert evaluated to be between two to four thousand years old. All of which, I could not afford.

I did commend his passion and efforts though, so I bought a dirty, old fork. I didn’t really want it, but it was the cheapest thing on display, and I wanted to express my admiration. I reckon I was the first person to ever go there and buy a fork, he seemed very puzzled by the purchase.


While customers are ranked at about 8740th on a Vietnamese list of importance, Buddha is definitely top two, alongside shouting. Various food offerings frequently occupy tables on the street – he never seems that bothered though, I think he must be dieting. His body shape has been known to yo-yo back and forth a bit in the past.

The temples in Vietnam end up looking like a supermarket with food being placed absolutely everywhere. We stupidly decided to make a trip to a temple at three o’clock, on a day that we had skipped lunch. I’ve never drooled so much in my life, much of the food had been freshly cooked as well.

The offerings aren’t exactly always orthodox, either. One person had actually left Buddha the second half of a cigarette. Come on, if you think he’ll like a tab then at least give him a full one.

Most people offer fruit, which is logical I guess, but a bunch of people seem to just offer whatever the kids don’t fancy that week. My personal favourite sighting has to be a big box of Hubba Bubba bubble gum – Buddha is a secret Hubba Bubba junkie, for sure. I bet Saint Nick envies Buddha’s range of choice.

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