This post was originally published in AsiaLIFE HCMC
I have written before in these pages about the comedic stylings of the Vietnamese, and their favourite subject (me). Vietnamese people seem to find me quite hilarious when I do pretty much anything (say, for example, some crazy activity like buying bananas from the market! ROFL!), but sometimes I find myself in a position where even I am prepared to admit that I must look totally ludicrous.
For example, while cycling through the city the other afternoon I decided that I absolutely had to have a helium-filled balloon shaped like a zebra with multi-coloured stripes. As I tethered that disco zebra to my handlebars, I looked right into his eyes and said, “Wait till they get a load of you.”
A foreigner, on a bicycle, with a balloon! Surely that’s worth pointing and laughing at, right? God knows, if I took that zebra on a spin through the streets of Sydney we’d get a few laughs.
But did I get so much as a double take? No. As far as everyone around me was concerned, this long-nosed, zebra-toting cyclist was the most normal thing in the world, warranting no special attention whatsoever. I felt strangely miffed. “Laugh at me!!” I wanted to scream. “Why won’t you laugh at me NOW?!!”
Then I realised that for the two years I’ve been living in Vietnam I’ve failed to fully exploit this country’s Embarrassment Exclusion Zone.
I’ve dwelled so much on why it’s apparently so ridiculously hilarious when I try to carry out an everyday task like buying bananas, that I’ve neglected to take advantage of the reverse phenomenon: the ridiculous will actually go unnoticed.
Why on earth aren’t I wearing my pyjamas in the street? Why aren’t I hanging out with the old ladies in the park performing provocative pelvic exercises and slapping myself in the face right now? This is the one time in my life when I can grind my groin into the side of a park bench and not be arrested for indecent behaviour, so why am I still here writing this column?
If you’re a man, you should go, right now, and buy yourself a bright pink motorbike helmet decorated with cartoon unicorns and the words “sweet dreamtime for my special pony”, because this is perfectly acceptable headwear for a man in Vietnam. You can finally express your inner special pony without fear of mockery. This is your time.
If you’re a lady, you should also head to the shops. When you’re there, buy yourself a completely sheer, 100 percent see-through blouse. You won’t have any trouble finding one. And then wear a black bra underneath it, and nothing else. Oh, except for tiny little denim shorts. No-one will bat an eyelid. You could re-enact scenes from “Pretty Woman” with wild abandon and even then no-one would ask you for your hourly rate.
Don’t lift up your transparent blouse to expose your belly though. That’s just for men, silly.
And we should all be singing in public. Loudly. All the time. In taxis, while queuing at the supermarket, in the office, and especially in a café where the waitresses are all singing too. Go on, harmonise with them!
I tested out the Vietnamese indifference to public singing after the zebra incident. I cycled down the street while singing “Rock Lobster” by The B-52’s at the top of my lungs. Nothing. Not a single reaction. Not even when I did the bit about the catfish.
After this you should be fitting right into Vietnam. Locals will praise you for your assimilation and you’ll never be laughed at again. Until you try to buy bananas.