This post first appeared as a column in AsiaLIFE Ho Chi Minh City magazine.I am a naturally slapdash person. I believe if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing quickly and with as little effort as possible.
I apply my “that’ll do” philosophy to all areas of life, including cooking (“Sift the flour? Sounds like a waste of time to me!”), home cleanliness (“The vacuum cleaner sucks up dust and pushes things under the bed!”), and personal grooming (“So long as I don’t raise my arms, there’s no need to shave my armpits!”).
When I arrived in Vietnam I immediately recognised it as my spiritual home, populated with like-minded souls who truly were my people: my slapdash people. Because if there’s one thing the Vietnamese love to cut, it’s corners.
My delight soon turned to concern, however, when I realised that some problems do seem to arise if you have an entire nation of people who are just like me. It’s all very well for me to take a laissez-faire approach to life, because I don’t actually do anything important, but I can assure you that you don’t want me to build any load-bearing structures for you.
Vietnam is where the slapdash chickens have come home to roost. And that chicken house is a little bit shoddy. Like, maybe the door doesn’t quite close properly and the chickens get an electric shock whenever they turn on the light.
But this isn’t a column about Vietnam’s iffy wiring and laidback approach to pernickety details like construction standards. It’s not about living in a country where your landlord sends you a text message when you’re having a house party to warn you against your guests all dancing at the same time because it will cause your building to collapse. Would I besmirch the good name of my slapdash brethren at the first sign of my house collapsing? No!
This is a column about Vietnamese negligenius: that fine line between negligence and genius. And I think you know I’m going to err on the side of genius.
For example, our upstairs neighbour asked the aforementioned landlord to replace her mouldy, disintegrating shower curtain one day while she was out. When she came home, she found a brand spanking new shower curtain hanging up. Unfortunately this one was a good 20 centimetres too short to actually curtain the shower.
She mentioned this small, but fairly important, problem to the landlord and the next day she came home to find… what do you think? No, not a new, longer shower curtain, nor a strip of plastic stapled onto the bottom of the old one (this is what I, in all my slapdash glory would have done).
Instead, the shower rail had been wrenched out of its fittings, and, using a number of probably inappropriate tools, reaffixed into some holes that had been whacked into the tiles 20 centimetres lower down the wall.
Sure, her bathroom now looked like a construction site, but she had a functional shower. That, my friends, is negligenius.
The same landlord, who has now been mentioned so many times that he is basically the star of this column, also once tended to a problem we were having with the light in our bedroom.
He stood on a chair, which he put on top of a desk, played around with the light for a while (with the power on, obviously), declared it broken and then removed the entire fitting, holus bolus, from the ceiling.
I noted to him that when we lay in bed, we would now be gazing up at a gaping hole into our no doubt rat-infested roof. So he reached down to the desk - conveniently located under the chair he was standing on - picked up a document I had printed out for work and then slipped it inside the ceiling so that it lay flat against the hole.
Voila, negligenius: light problem fixed, hole problem totally fixed. Plus the rats now have some bedtime reading material if they want it.
And so Vietnam, I salute you. Your slogan should be “Vietnam: Experience the negligenius” and your logo should be that guy I once saw - negligenius incarnate - who had fashioned himself a motorbike helmet out of a polystyrene box. I realise now that you’re not my slapdash people at all: you are my masters, and I have much to learn.