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Mark your calendars: November 19 is the day!

Monday, May 20, 2019, 10:23 GMT+7
Mark your calendars: November 19 is the day!
A street vendor smiles in this file photo taken in Hanoi in 2018. Photo: Ha Thanh / Tuoi Tre

We have finished celebrating the first Women’s Day of the year, so now we have a nice, long lull before starting to talk about the next one, which will take place in October. 

Let’s use the time to broach a closely related topic: Men’s Day!  

Yep, there is a Men’s Day, but most don’t seem to know about it.

I’m among the guilty, having never heard of it until I started researching this update, even though November 19 is officially Men’s Day, recognized in many countries around the world.

Now we just need to celebrate it. In Vietnam, women get two days, we only get one. That’s fine, but at least our one measly little day should be celebrated with gusto. 

A couple of points of protocol to cover before moving on: First, no flowers. Ladies, the truth is most men don’t care about flowers, and we know that you know that we don’t, so let’s get over the flower thing. We’re more focused on things like sports, cars, building things, beer, and good food.

Speaking of food, we want to eat at home, not outside, at least not on our day. We much prefer our sweethearts prepare our favourite dishes in the comfort of home.

With those little details out of the way, let’s look at some of the local men I know that solidify the case for major hoopla on November 19. The sacrifices these fine gents make may seem trivial, but the show cannot go on without them.  

I can especially relate to these guys because they are more vital to their daily operation than I ever was to mine, no question about it. My achievements aren’t exactly monumental in this regard, I admit.

One time I worked on a team that developed systems to manage incoming phone calls - you know the ones: Press 1 for this, 2 for that, 3 for something else, or 0 for help (but usually nobody answers). 

We managed to irritate an entire generation of innocent consumers who were simply calling companies to find out what happened to the toaster they ordered. Most never did find out thanks to people like me.

Not exactly Man of the Year material compared to what these guys do each day:

Take Mr. Thong, he’s our neighbourhood motorbike taxi man. He’s a safe and knowledgeable driver, knows the city like his pocket, and he’s a fair and honest man. Always around when you need him, never around when you don’t. 

He’s also the sidekick of Miss Han, the banh mi lady. She couldn’t get through a morning on the job without him - there’s always something up. Thong replaces the gas canisters without which life would be a disaster because they’re critical to making op la (fried eggs), which as we all know are the key to a smooth start to any day.

 

Thong also performs repairs on the banh mi cart, adds features, fetches anything that runs out, arranges shade for when it’s sunny, shelter when it’s stormy, and offers general moral support for the operation. 

He also does minor repairs to sidewalks and anything else that needs maintenance within his range, all without a word. The other day he scrounged up some concrete from a nearby building site, mixed it up, and put a slick new ramp on the sidewalk. I’m sure nobody asked him to, he just saw a need and went for it, that’s Thong for you.

You could fetch your morning baguette and never know he’s in the picture, but although incognito he’s always there.

Then there’s Mr. Chau, one of the owners of a favourite corner store and beer joint. He’s also practically invisible to most customers, the principal reason being he’s often in the background doing some dirty job nobody else wants to do.

 

Chau is often found in the toilet, not conducting urgent personal business, rather washing all the glasses, ashtrays, and dishes. Hardly high profile work, but you can’t run the place without those things.

One of the fridges died on the job recently, and if you think that’s not critical just try drinking warm beer. Yuck. I’d actually prefer water. Of course those damn fridges have been repaired countless times, but in true Vietnamese spirit Chau just keeps fixing them, and will keep on doing so until the day it becomes absolutely impossible to resurrect them from the dead.

Even then Chau won’t give up completely - the fridges will not be tossed. They’ll be kept in a corner somewhere along with all the other failed implements of that shop just in case a miracle occurs some day and they can be brought back to life.

What about when it’s raining and they run out of goodies to serve the screaming customers? It’s Chau who hops on the bicycle and races down the street to the market to pick up whatever is out of stock. 

That rickety old bicycle is a nightmare on its own, add to that the adventure of flying the wrong way down a one-way street in a tempest just to fetch a few baguettes, and I can tell you that takes courage.

He’s also an excellent cook. Unfortunately, the only thing he can cook is fried rice, but at least he’ll never starve to death.

Truth is you could hit their place, suck back a few beers and kho muc (dried toasted squid) and never even notice Mr. Chau.

He’s transparent for the most part, but he’s there all right!

Finally, my personal neighbourhood champ is Mr. Bao who works at the hotel where I stay. When I first laid eyes on him I had his nickname in two seconds flat: 

“The Butler.” 

Everything is done but nobody knows who did it - the ideal employee and host, just like a perfect butler or waiter in a restaurant.

Waking up at 5:00 am to catch an early airplane? It’s Bao that staggers out half asleep to unlock the front door. Need something repaired? He’ll discreetly wait until the guests have gone out to eat or tour around, then have that broken shower head replaced in a flash.

When I appear with my bag of stinky laundry he reaches over for the phone and in a heartbeat someone arrives to pick it up. Never misses it, not once in all this time.

 

Bao is also “Chief Motorbike Hauler Arounder," truly a thankless, ugly job. He has to know which bike belongs to whom, get them in, put them to sleep in the garage, then get them out. What a pain. And that’s harder than it seems because he’s a slight man and those bikes are a lot of work to haul around.

Cool as a cucumber.

The common theme is these gents do the dirty work without fanfare or recognition, they’re cool as cucumbers.

Behind most successful businesswomen in Vietnam is a reliable man, but you may not have noticed he’s there.

Mark November 19 on your calendars please, ladies!

We’ll be grateful if you remember us - promise!

Just skip the flowers, please!

Rick Ellis / Tuoi Tre News Contributor

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