Sunday, 15 May 2011

A dose of gross

When our friends Iona and Stew came to visit us in Hanoi recently, Stew opened the door of the taxi outside our house, got out, and put his foot smack-bang into our well-appointed neighbourhood sewerage hole. Literally his first step in Hanoi was into the thick, black poo water:

You’ve got to laugh. Right, Stew? Right?

It was a fairly appropriate Hanoi welcome. It’s not actually that dirty for such a densely-populated city (hellooooo Dhaka), but Hanoi is still a place where Gross Things Happen To Good People. For example, me.

One time, I was eating lunch with a large group of colleagues at a pho joint, enjoying, as I always do, the magic combination of margarine and MSG in my phở xào không thịt. Then, with noodle-laden chopsticks midway between my plate and my pie-hole, the awning above us, which had collected in it a bulging pool of dank, brown, mosquito-infested water, spontaneously disgorged itself on my head. It was a deluge of gushing grossness that left me drenched down to my underwear. The rest of the table who received mere splashback from the cascade that specifically targeted my head alone – jumped back from their seats, while I sat, Pompeii-esque, still holding my chopsticks. The inhabitants of Pompeii would have been grateful they only copped molten lava if they had seen the funky shower I had just taken.

Vietnamese people often laugh when they’re nervous or uncomfortable, but let me tell you, in this instance there was a resounding silence, everyone’s wide-eyed faces clearly saying “Whoah, that Tây got OWNED”. I then had to walk through the neighbourhood and back to the office, wet t-shirt style, so I could cycle home, with fetid drips trailing behind me and bacteria invading my every orifice. Aah, good times.

I then went through a phase of discovering Gross Things in my food. There was the burnt match at the bottom of my iced coffee, and the half of a large cockroach which I found most of the way through a bowl of pasta. “My, where was the other half?” I hear you ask. Yes, well. Then, another time, I ate a mouthful of stir-fried shitake mushrooms that contained a bonus large clump of dirt that burst in my mouth like a little grit explosion. I say it was a clump of dirt because I’m not yet ready to face the truth that it was probably manure of human poo. But I do take solace in the fact that I’m yet to find a baby rat in my chocolate cake, like these Highlands Coffee customers from Ho Chi Minh City.

And then there was the time at a bar with a group of friends when we ordered fried onion rings which turned out to be entirely battered with cat fur. We discovered this when we ate some and were left literally coughing up a fur ball. The little black-and-white hairs were actually matted all throughout the batter as if a cat had fallen into the deep fryer. While this experience did lend itself to jokes about eating pussy, it was still not worth it.

But the Grossest Thing Of All happened to some friends of ours, a husband and wife who lived in - what they believed to be - the safety of a high-rise apartment that towered above the grossness below. One evening, they ate a late-night snack of cheese before hitting the sack. Then during the night, the friend in question felt movement in the bed, which he ignored, assuming it was his wife. After a while, however, our friend was woken by the - no doubt distinctive - sensation of a rat also partaking in a late-night snack… by nibbling cheese… from under his fingernails… in his bed… while he slept.

This, to me, is the almighty pinnacle of Gross Things. As it didn’t happen to me, I find it quite reassuring. Because even if I dive head first into that gutter of poo water, at least a rat didn’t dine on me while I slept. Touch wood. Well, touch anything but cheese.


  1. this post should be preceded by a warning: do not read whilst eating breakfast (or, I imagine, eating anything). eeewww!

  2. I would have laughed, had I not been flying for 18 hours and just paid the taxi driver twice what I should have to drop me off in a sewer.

    Still, Good times!

  3. But kudos to the rat for not actually nibbling off his fingers.

    Really just some sort of fancy manicure that people probably pay good money for in other parts of the world. Surely.

  4. There are a whole family of mice living in the Vietnam Airlines business class lounge. They're quite cute. And possibly the only live and thriving animals I saw in Hanoi, except one time I saw a squirrel scurry down a tree in MARD. I did a double take at seeing that.

  5. Would you still think the rats of Hanoi gross if they all learn to dance while high on ectasy?

  6. Julie-Anne: Naah, I'm helping to toughen you up should you ever visit.

    Stew: And then Iona got to wee in front of that lady washing her hair in the restaurant toilet. What a trip!

    Edyta: You should quit your job and start a rat-icure craze across SE Asia! I can see it now...

    Lani: From the one time I've been in there, I can also report that the Business Class lounge smells like a public toilet. Those miceys must feel right at home.

    Robert: That link doesn't work, but by the sounds of it, I think the little Hanoi rat nightclubs would get shut down by police wielding electrified batons.

  7. It's frikin hilarious!

  8. Having heard the 'Finger Nibbling Rat' storey from the owner of said finger, you should ask him how the rat ended up living in their bathroom for 3 days – and how he even feed the rat out of pity (not a finger though – cheese I think). Unfortunately, I don’t think it ended too well for the poor little chuột.

  9. I have tears in my eyes from laughing but have to laugh silently as Moss is asleep in my lap. Very hard to do. That was so funny! I love your blogs Tabitha, very entertaining. Jade

  10. Well, at least you can say you had a truly colorful trip! I'd buy discount business class tickets just to see that family of mice.

  11. I loved this post from beginning to end. Equal parts delicious and gross, I'd share your post with all my friends if I could! These stories are exactly the reason why I took one of those Alaskan cruises and never came back.

  12. Hi Tabitha, I just discovered your blog and have been reading through the archives - love it. I once bought 3 large sugar cookie at a Hanoi bakery and when I got home discovered the glazed cookies were covered in matted cat hair. :/

  13. Haha! This is a fabulous post. I'll be checking my food very closely from hereon in. I don't want the cockroach surprise!


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