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​Common sense rules at ‘toad market’ in Vietnam

Tuesday, June 05, 2018, 17:10 GMT+7

The local toad market has been the site of some action these past few days because some new drainage is being installed well in advance of the rainy season

You’ll find little neighbourhood markets all over Vietnam - down narrow side streets, in alleyways, wherever there is some unused space.

These markets serve a practical purpose - locals can drop by and buy fresh fish, meat, and produce without having to travel to the large main markets.

They’re called “chợ cóc” - literally “toad market”, with opinions differing on the origin of the name: Some say they’re called toad markets because customers must squat sitting back on their heels to assess the goods for sale placed on plastic sheets on the ground, so they look like toads resting.

Others say the name originates from the temporary nature of the markets because they’re situated on unoccupied land. If the vendors don’t have an agreement with the landlord or city administration they must frequently change location, so the markets hop around like toads.

Either way, the local toad market has been the site of some action these past few days because some new drainage is being installed well in advance of the rainy season.

A small backhoe ripped up the large sidewalk tiles and pipes were installed, plus a one-meter in diameter cylindrical storm drain was put in the ground. The sidewalk tiles were put back in place and the drain pipe remains open a few days later, probably awaiting a cover.

This little local adventure is by no means a big deal, but it did make me laugh to watch the locals work unruffled around this intrusion to their routine.

Not only was the toad market in disarray, but the morning “Bánh Canh Chả Cá” (fish cake noodle soup) Team and their delightful homemade dish were forced to abandon their post. There were a few long faces around as locals experienced withdrawal symptoms over the missing breakfast but we’ll all get over it. I think.

If Vietnam was one of those super organized developed countries where all thinking is done for you (without mentioning any names, Japan and Singapore spring to mind), there would be a two or three meter high fence surrounding the entire area.

That’s just for starters.

Then there would be at least one human security guard on duty plus one of those battery-operated electronic robots waving an orange caution flag some distance down the street to warn oncoming drivers of the obstacle.

On top of that there would be enough flashing lights to fire up a Christmas tree, not to mention several signs depicting men with shovels to really get the point across, so that even the simplest thinker would understand what’s up.

Thank goodness things aren’t done that way here in Vietnam!

I’m thrilled to report that common sense and practical thinking still reign. People don’t make a big fuss out of things, they just make the necessary adjustments and carry on without fanfare and drama.

There are no large government battalions patrolling the city to make sure that everything is picture perfect - there isn’t budget for such luxuries nor are they deemed critical to progress.

Of course all these infrastructural improvements are budgeted, scheduled, and staffed. I’ve seen the crews slowly make their way down this street over the past year doing this retrofit as they go - they know what they’re doing and how best to do it.

That said, the first version of safety around the hole wasn’t entirely convincing:

The sidewalk was fine - tiles firmly back in place with mortar drying- but the hole itself was guarded by one lone stick.

A very skinny, sad stick at that. No leaves, fluorescent flag, no barrier, nothing that would jump out at passers-by.

My neurotic developed country mindset kicked in: “This looks dangerous to me. What will happen when one of the legion of blind lottery vendors passes by? Or, what about the groups of out-of-town tourists who stumble around staring at their smart phones trying to figure out the labyrinth of streets?”

Turned out that the lone stick was just a temporary measure because in no time flat an improved safety scenario was implemented:

A large blue sign was placed on the street plus a plastic banner wrapped around the perimeter of the work area.

The sign depicts workers digging with a brightly-lettered warning visible to all oncoming drivers: “Construction site running a vegetarian car”. If my translation is incorrect as is usually the case, please cut me a bit of slack on this one: There are smudges of black paint in places that may cover up some accents, which I usually get wrong anyway.

My first translation attempt came out as “Construction site driver is a prick” which I knew had to be wrong even though the backhoe driver was busy on the phone a few times and didn’t seem completely enthralled by his tasks.

I suppose the blind lottery vendors memorize every square meter of their daily circuit because they navigate around every obstacle seamlessly. On the other hand the smart phone-wielding, selfie-snapping tourists seem oblivious to everything around them, so there are some real dangers to consider.

And sure enough, no sooner did these thoughts cross my mind and one such blind lottery vendor appeared right at the scene! An observant flower seller hollered out something like:

“Fred, swerve to your right buddy! There’s a big new hole in the ground!”

Must have been what was said, because the lottery guy hung a right around that hole as if it had always been there and he knew it. I’m certain news of this obstacle was then quickly transmitted through the blind lottery vendor`s neighbourhood network in no time flat.

So, you see how it works in this part of the world: No hand-holding, nose-wiping, robots, flags, nor any of the other bells and whistles that you’d see in a lot of places.

If this situation took place in any number of developed countries people would be posting photos of the offending hole on social media, reaching for the phone to scold the local Department of City Works, and Personal Injury Attorneys could be lurking nearby in anticipation of an accident opportunity (known to happen in the USA).

Indeed, that’s how common sense in many countries has deteriorated to the point where people are so coddled that no matter what happens in life, someone else is to blame.

We’ve all read the stories about frivolous lawsuits involving people pouring boiling hot coffee on themselves, then blaming the restaurant for keeping the coffee too hot.

How about this one? People suing because they walked into a ladder while staring at their smart phones.

This one is a doozy too: Supermarkets overseas are forced to display a sign in front of a stand of peanuts stating “This product may contain peanuts” to minimize the risk of those allergic accidentally eating them.

Honestly, I didn’t make these up - all three of the above examples are true and resulted in large payouts to those who raised the suits.

Truly it’s a “tail-wagging-dog” situation where all logic is thrown out the window in favour of protecting the innocent public. I mean, come on - a sign in front of a stand of peanuts stating “this product may contain peanuts”?

“Hooray” we all shouted years ago as increasingly more responsibility for safety has shifted away from the innocent public in developed countries.

But with all that progress fundamental clear thinking has diminished significantly, replaced by armies of lawyers who make a buck by finding someone to blame, together with droves of insurance companies who convince us to insure even the most trivial risks.

Big business and the Almighty Buck run the show abroad.But in the Toad Market pragmatic thinking and common sense prevail, so we see teamwork instead of the wicked finger of blame always pointed at someone else.



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