ANGELS IN HELL: A Happy Exposure

(Quote Dalai Lama, NTY):
In order to begin the journey of approaching headless statues at Angkor Wat temple in Siam Reap, for interrogating gods, I have to start at “Back Pack Westerners Street”, i.e. I have to be a real back pack westerner (a penniless vagabond) to infiltrate into strange and complicated world right in the heart of Saigon. Once, a merchant of some time said:” It’s a place of different feelings mixed together, joy, anger, love and hate among Westerners and Westerners, and Vietnamese and Westerners; to many people, it’s something never experienced with”. Beside what’s not mentioned here would be attitude among us and us!

“You, lottery ticket seller, must mind your business, don’t try to do prostitute!” That curse was uttered from a woman’s lips, after being engaged in a fierce fight with another woman that set a corner of Pham Ngu Lao block on heat and fire, under the nose of the hotel I was residing. That kind of activity is very often seen on “Westerner Back Pack” street where poor Vietnamese girls always ready to fight each other till possible death in moving up hand some cheap bunch of dollars from Westerners buying carnal pleasure or more professionally to “buy powder and trade flowers”.

Although I’m not much interested in Kieu Poems (for me, it seems to boost a prostitute fate, of course I’m not inclined to despise them but the society that has to produce this lamentable thing) my mind would still be brightened by a verse from Kieu Poems by Nguyen Du “Detriment, a woman fate”.

As a woman, it’s not convenient for me to “infiltrate into realities” of “Blue Ward” (sex premises), anyway it suffices to make a round in narrow streets of the city block to seize the dark side behind the busy commerce in these “special” zones. In “The Quiet American”, Graham Green wrote:

(Quote from Graham Green)
This would fit exactly to the “Penniless Westerner Tourists” area. Likely in most of Westerners’ works on Vietnam, they all darken, look down images of Viet women which ought to be prostitutes if not naïve; another paraphrase in “The Quiet American”:

(Quote from Graham Green)
All talks of Westerner roles in this novel concentrate on sleeping with such and such women and with what price, totally with a serene attitude of English!! In “Penniless Westerner zone” there’re plenty of croning copies of men that despise Viet women like in Graham Green’s novel.

I could take a flight to Cambodia, but I choose a Bus Tour, starting from “Westerners’ zone” and through Moc Bai Port Gate arrived in Capital of Phnom Penh and then Siem Reap.

There’re a lot of tourist tours to Cambodia in this concentration point of Westerners; so nobody could be sure that with nice and gentle appearances they wouldn’t be teen sex practices and merely use Vietnam as stepping stone to arrive at destination in Cambodia and enjoy themselves on bodies of Vietnamese young girls hidden and abused in brothels. In conversation with some temporary local residents of this corner, I was informed of their next destination in Cambodia.

Human trafficking in Vietnam, mostly in woman and girl trade to Cambodia, did not stop increasing in recent years. The number of sold biannual 2006-2007 overpasses 1500 cases, 70% up from 2005. It did not include the year 2008 and up until now. These figures are statistics, reported, official number only, who could figure out hidden or concealed one.

Institutions such as International Labor Organization and NGO like USAID report that yearly there’re up to tens of thousands of new victimized Vietnamese, most part women and girls. With this trip, I would have had realized the whole tragedy of the place I liked to come to and what was across frontier human trafficking.
Saigon provides two favorite areas that Westerners frequent. First is area around Ben Nghe section and second is section of Pham Ngu Lao, in 1st District. In Ben Nghe (at the corner of Nguyen Hue and Tu Do Blvd, from Our Lady Basilica to Ben Nghe river banks) , it’s highly concentrated with hotels, large and high class coffee houses. This place is reserved to “Westerners with Luggage”. Meanwhile nother world belongs to “Back Pack Westerners”, it consists of hotels and restaurants, coffee inns, souvenirs shops, massage and karaoke parlors etc… it includes selling and copying CD disk retailers in low class zone. And 95% clerks in here are female.

“Back Pack Westerners” are tourists poor or adventurous like “Dust of Life” (Bohemians) on strange land, and possibly unemployed, because service prices in here are cheapest in the world, in particular on food.
When Visa expires, they buy tickets to Cambodia for temporary stay and continue to apply visa to return back to Vietnam, to this block, searching for miscellaneous labor works to survive, and then they could make several years… there’s no check on natal origin or background at all.

A director of a local tourism company told me that very often customers start from here into Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand by car; travel tickets seem cheapest of the world.

However, this block is not the only choice to tourists with limited resources, but also to the ones a little bit richer who do like the rare local atmosphere, artists and adventurers in particular like most.

Indiscriminately, this block grows spontaneously by itself; to be exact, living here like participating into a meeting at the United Nations headquarters.

It’s here the cultural trading point and many tourists did ask to be “baluts” (duck’s half hatched egg) on the Vietnam land (foreigner outside, Vietnamese inside). I’ve tried to take a trip to the West of South Vietnam, we could find assorted nationalities right on the bus: Chinese, Indian, Japanese, German, Canadian, and Sweden etc.

It does include everyone from everywhere!

Actually in a day nearly 5000 visitors make a stay here. For every 333 visitors we can decipher 24 nationalities, 17% English, 14% Australian, 13% French, 9% American, the rest are Spanish, South African, New Zealand, Japanese, South Korean… Though classified as “Back Pack Westerners”, this sort of visitors in average have to spend up to 100 US$ a day. If the “Luggage block” of rich visitors is regarded as much noble and expensive, its counterpart, the “Penniless block” is much more plain and popular. The particular trait of culture of a Vietnamese would be the courteous friendliness and hospitality; somehow people should well communicate between them and understand clearly, even a Vietnamese with his or her English of the street or a Westerner with limited Vietnamese of the flea market or in extreme case merely with body and sign language. Other things would not count like troubles and fights from drunkards, delinquent rents… they’re daily happenings in ghettos zone!

In old days, the corner of De Tham-Bui Vien bore another name, International Corner; nowadays, people change, the world change, so in time of change, it is given a new name. The most animated and agitated area in Saigon of today is encircled by 4 big streets, Pham Ngu Lao, De Tham, Bui Vien and Do Quang Dau; this sub-city is embedded in a network of narrow and unrecognizable paths; it is the first location in the whole country of Vietnam to bear an amusing name: “City of Back Pack Westerners”.

In many tour guide books (for foreigners) it is recorded as Foreigner Town, Backpacker area, Backpacker Land, Western Backpackers…

It is known that taxes rose in Pham Ngu Lao administrative section reaches over 100 billions of Vietnamese piaster a year and amount to a much higher number than budget input of a small and sterile province. With 500+ hotels, boarding houses, weekly tens of thousands visitors are lured to this place; it has the national highest place on concentration legend on hotels and houses for rent. The final number doesn’t stop here regarding non-stop development and construction of hotels and mini hotels. Regardless of size, on any winding paths or ways, any house or residence construction could become hotel. “Guest House” sign is usually seen hanged on any house that has 1 or 2 extra vacant rooms and aim at renting out to Westerners; in some case, there’s no private bathroom but a common facility.

In such a complicated block, certainly were turned out a lot of funny anecdotes. Rich one rent his/her own room; otherwise other poor elements must pass night in common sleeping places. And of course, in a place plenty of assorted kind of hotel and boarding houses, sex trade should be guessed as natural service. Because of this, culture and relationship over here seems “permissive” or “laissez faire”.

This Westernized zone has much valuable “culture”; but it’s still not understandable that the state would not have promoted this place to a famous “Culture Block Zone”. Typical as such “Promo Culture”; “papa” or “mama” refers to aged, “bro” or “sis” if young; whenever a car makes a stop, “street sellers” herd to welcome visitors to gain customers for their hotels for commissions. If naïve enough to offend these sellers, the innocent will be punished by mouth or by hand, or exactly by verbal abuse and fists, it depends on case and means to teach “polite manners” or know how to live by. Their residence could fade into labyrinth of paths and into remote corners, but in day time they flock to streets in search of customers. Their commission worth of VN$ 30000; it includes customer and hotel introduction.

One night with a pack on my back, I was looking for a sleeping place in this block. I was introduced by a young girl to rent a place on Bui Vien Street. Curious to know about hotel activities through “commissioner” and after a deal of 10 dollars a night for an air conditioned room, I followed her.

When ushered to see the room and found a non air room but fanned and wondered why, I was told by landlady (or some manager) of “temporarily stay here one night and will be switched to air one the night after”. I thanked her at once and left for good. Why the hell of a society dotted with too many undesirable things? Always plenty of dupes! (Feed on crest, but tell of winds). What on earth this kind of culture belongs to? Is this called “permissive” culture? I had rather try to find that girl and give her some money.

20 years ago, a French reporter arrived to Vietnam and applied for a Visa to… Cambodia! He told that at that time, for him, Vietnam would be merely a transit point and did not mean he had to come back to it every year to update his findings about change in Vietnam to accommodate world tourism.

It must be Olivier Page, a famous editor of the Vietnam Tourist Guide, the best seller one in Europe and America: “Le Guide du Routard (Viet Nam)”.

Like me, he doesn’t believe in fate, but he always bets on what he called a “Happy Exposure” (Hazard Heureux). The discovery of the “Westerners’ Back Pack “ block to introduce it to world tourists and his conversation with Miss Mai Phuong Thuy, for him, are moments of Happy Chance or Happy Exposure. For me, awareness and collaboration with VOICE, dedicated to help children in Cambodia and working toward preventing them from falling into brothels, and colloquiums with Host Thuy Duong on unfortunate daughters are pure happy exposures.

Empowered with hundreds of tourism travel services, nearly one hundred bus shuttles a day, tourist only needs to board one and he or she could arrive at any destination. On the same path as Page’s, I came to this block of city for Visa to Cambodia, but my journey was not a comforting replica of his aiming at introducing interesting points of leisure to foreign tourists.

My intended destination for my steps was “hells on earth” I was and am expecting to be wiped out from this globe.

Chuyên mục:Tác giả, tác phẩm, Thân hữu, Xã hội

1 reply

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