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Flawless imperfection in Vietnam

Flawless imperfection in Vietnam

Sunday, September 25, 2022, 12:48 GMT+7

Wobbling out of the building in which I live, I’m bombarded by the habitual cacophony and commotion, all shapes and sizes of humanity and motorbikes flying in all directions.

Every outing, bar absolutely none, is some sort of adventure – the unanticipated always lies in waiting, manifesting itself in a different form each time.

The chummy, omnipresent security dude was at his post, guarding nothing as usual, flanked by his sidekick and the bắp xào (fried corn) vendor, both smiling like donkeys eating thistles, as if they owned the whole world, and all is laid out at their feet.

In a way, they do, just depending on the perspective taken.

There is a motorbike rigged out to be a portable lamination machine, the likes of which I’ve seen hundreds of times, but they always blow me away.

I am astonished each time I see one of those contraptions, my mind flashing back to the parody of a corporate copy center in my country, manned by a bunch of bored, pimply, college kids with name tags on their light blue shirts.

Who in their right mind would want a corporate lamination job when you could get your ID card and documents skillfully engineered by this delightful apparatus?  

Lamination motorbike

Lamination motorbike

Whoever is running all those space stations we have floating around in space these days should look up the inventor of that rig and sign him up to design something, anything.  

It’ll work, no doubt.

The operator emerged from the adjacent shop and, seeing how I was in awe of it all, demonstrated its features, even opening his wooden tool box to display his wrenches and screwdrivers, clearly proud of the whole operation.

He’s not a stud entrepreneur, didn’t even ask me if I needed to laminate a document or card, and just launched unsolicited into a demo of how it all works.

Although the amateur lamination device looks like it was built by a bunch of guys after a few cases of beer, I think there may be a big conglomerate behind it because those bikes are parked at various intersections around the city.

I then made my way through the mess of the intersection to which I affectionately refer as ‘running the gauntlet,’ arriving at the entrance to my latest headquarters for a coffee.

The joint is multi-story and has all the bells and whistles – fine furniture, an Italian espresso machine, and a gaggle of attentive staff, the whole deal. 

The downfall is that an Olympic class triple jump is required to safely enter the place.

The Sidewalk (Footpath) Team recently spearheaded a humungous neighbourhood construction project including super spiffy new sidewalk tiling. 

Something went awry with the underground water pipes, so the Water Team, facing a waterless café, came along and ripped up the sidewalk, quickly saving the situation.

Water flowed into the café again and with it the coffee, but the Water Team forgot to engage the Sidewalk Team to replace some tiles and clean the whole mess up.

Olympic-grade triple jump

Olympic-grade triple jump

Months rolled by, and we café patrons were in top physical condition after all the triple jumps. Rain became more frequent, and as the puddle in front of the entrance grew, the triple jump became one great big-ass long jump.

Meanwhile, the Taj Mahal of coffee shops was in all its splendor, towering majestically above all the gizzards, guts, and nozzles of the water system protruding from the ground, with puddles periodically appearing and disappearing.

The other angle to this saga is the 10 bajillion meters of cable that used to be suspended all around the junction was neatly stowed underground as part of the Electric Team’s project.

It’s a double-edged sword because those bunches of sagging, drooping cables did add character to the intersection. Every now and then a section of them suddenly sagged, then fell down with a huge boom.

Just a stone’s throw away from the Taj Mahal coffee joint is the site of the biggest party the neighbourhood has ever hosted, brought on by a runaway beer truck that rolled down the slope before unceremoniously crashing and rolling over on its side, beer flying in all directions.

People scrambled out of homes and it was like Manna from heaven!

A couple of months after that, a monstrous tree limb suddenly came crashing down on the street, cables and wires with it. 

We were treated to a classic ‘This is Vietnam’ moment as the drivers – all in a hurry as usual – glanced at the limb, saw there were no injuries, and, without skipping a single beat, whizzed right around it and kept on going.

Don’t forget to look skyward!

Don’t forget to look skyward!

In another country, throngs would have gathered, every activity stopped on a dime, cops interrogating witnesses while the scene was surveyed and discussed at length.

The Tree Team came in a jiffy, sawed the whole thing up, handed out logs to those whoever wanted them, and everything was back to normal in no time flat.

The city’s work is clearly cut out, as, without doubt, there is a need to wire up the Water, Sidewalk, Tree, and Electric Teams in anticipation of the next improvement or disaster.

You’d have thought that was enough excitement for one small promenade around the neighbourhood, but hell no, this is Vietnam.

I didn’t even make it 100 meters up the street before the next adventure appeared. Two Electric Team guys were positioned at a twisted mess of power cables drooping precariously down, almost buckling under its own weight.

One of the duo, a small, wiry type, was suspended about four meters off the ground, sandwiched between bunches of cables strung between poles, twisted like a pretzel.

The other guy, short and stocky, was on the ground with a bunch of steel rings in his hand, reminiscent of a juggler in a circus or a ring toss game. 

He flashed his eyebrows up and down quickly at me, either as a gesture of recognition (possible), or sensing instinctively that I was up to something (more likely) and flashed a smile.  

Of course, I was all over the situation like flies on a cow, asking if I could take some photos, which they graciously approved, perhaps thinking it was finally time for fame and fortune.

The wiry guy scooched and slithered along the bunches of cables, stopping at strategic intervals, at which points hi partner would toss up a ring and wiry guy closed it like a bracelet, screwed it shut, and scooched along further.

A future in the circus

A future in the circus

The wiry guy – get this – actually had a safety belt, thus catapulting Vietnam into the top tier of the most safety-conscious countries in the world in one fell swoop.  

Every time he scooched and slithered, he undid the belt and positioned it for his next move.

Clearly they’ve been doing this for a while; the wiry guy is a top shelf scoocher and contortionist, while the stocky guy tossed every ring perfectly so it arrived like a first baseman receiving a bullet from short stop without having to move his glove a single twitch.

We all know the value of transferable skills in this world of constant churn, and those two guys have the future well in hand. 

Should - hypothetically-speaking of course - all the cables in the entire city be buried one fine day, their gig on the Electric Team would be deemed redundant, and those two skilled pros with it.

The obvious solution would be to join a circus, with the wiry guy suspended among cables far above the action and the stocky guy juggling rings and tossing them up at intervals.

I remind myself each time I embark on ventures of this nature:

No two such outings are ever alike, never happened once, probably never will happen.

Rick Ellis / Tuoi Tre News Contributor


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