Tuesday, 24 April 2012

You wouldn't read about it

One of the most enjoyable things about living in Vietnam is never having any idea what's going on. My eyebrows are permanently knitted at the inexplicability of it all. 

As part of my ongoing quest for answers, I read the Vietnamese news sites, which are undoubtedly another of the most enjoyable things about living in Vietnam. 

Nothing unknits your eyebrows more quickly than headlines like "Your husbands are gays!", or "Rotten tripe source meant for restaurants uncovered" (featuring a villain known as "Tuan Pig's Intestines"), and especially, "Goat penis bacteria adds to food safety scare". 

Care to know more?

"Ho Chi Minh City destroyed nearly 1.5 tons of goat penis contaminated with bacteria Wednesday in the latest chapter of Vietnam's food safety saga, which has seen putrid pork and rotten beef flood local markets. 
On Sunday, district inspectors found NDT Company in Tan Binh District had imported large quantities of the product from Australia. 
The shipments were labeled as inedible and not for human use. 
Nguyen Thi Thu Nga, chief inspector of the HCMC Animal Health Agency, said the products were contaminated with bacteria, including Salmonella and E.Coli, and also failed to meet other food safety criteria. 
However, inspectors said 47 of the 72 boxes imported had been sold as food."

And right there, you have the problem with the Vietnamese news: it raises more questions than it answers. Australia exports goat penis? Seriously, do they really mean 1.5 TONNES of goat penis? And DID I EAT ROTTEN GOAT PENIS FOR LUNCH?

While reading the Vietnamese press is a pursuit which reaps daily rewards ("Illegal sperm trade booming in Vietnam", featuring the choice quote: "If you don’t want to pay for the expense of artificial insemination, I can implant my seeds in some hotel"), there are some stories I've enjoyed following longterm. 

For example, late last year there was a string of reported hypnotism-induced robberies. There was the gold shop - "Owner hands robber $200k, hypnotism suspected" - and there were the "dark-skinned" foreign thieves at the Vietnam Airlines office - "Plane ticket seller hypnotized, taken $350". This article from 2010, which reports a range of other hypnotistastic crimes, suggests that "In reality, hypnotizing people to steal from them is not a new phenomenon. It was first reported in Viet Nam in 1975, according to Khong Nguyen, a kungfu teacher. The trick, originating in the southern provinces and HCMC, has now spread all the way to Ha Noi."

WTF Vietnam. W.T.F.

Another long-running story is the near constant hysterical mass fainting of school girls. According to this article, "mass hysteria is a psychological disorder that can occur among young girls who have a physical or psychological imbalance", cured by drinking hot tea and taking a rest. Another article suggests mass fainting can be fixed by "readjusting seating assignments". This article pins one school's fainting problem on student claims that "a toilet inside their dorm is haunted and they have seen ghosts". 
The haunted toilet block.

But for me, the most compelling running news story is the many versions of the tale which can be summarised as "Vietnamese farmers rush to meet demands of Chinese traders, catastrophe ensues". 

For example: Vietnamese farmers abandon rice to grow sweet potato for Chinese traders, and now have no rice to eat. Or: Vietnamese farmers hack up lychee trees to sell dry leaves to Chinese traders, destroying the productivity of their own orchards. Or: Vietnamese farmers start breeding leeches to meet demands of Chinese traders, and then end up infesting all their fields with leeches.
Leech. Available at discount rate.

All of these articles have the underlying theme of the "enigmatic", "mysterious" and "dubious" purposes for which the products, such as 500 kilograms of leeches (!!), are being bought by China. And, it turns out, their suspicion is well-founded.

Behold, my favourite Vietnamese news story of all time, called "The wicked tricks by Chinese businessmen". 

The article is actually a history of all of the stories of the type "Vietnamese farmers rush to meet demands of Chinese traders, catastrophe ensues". Yellow snails were bred for food, and then ate all the rice; corn silk was suddenly in demand, leading to the destruction of food corn crops. And then: 

"Chinese buy cats, mice destroyed crops 
The biggest “rat pandemic” occurred in 1997 and 1998, when all the cats were sold out to Chinese businessmen. 
At that time, Chinese offered high prices to collect Vietnamese cats. This prompted Vietnamese people to trade cats by collecting cats from Vietnamese families to sell to Chinese businessmen.  
Just after a short time, no cat was seen in the whole northern region. The absence of cats led to the appearance of mice. The harvests were destroyed, while rice at families was eaten by the mice. People wished they had not sold cats and they were burning to kill rats.
Only in 1999, when the first industrial cat farm was established in the north, while people could create new species of cats, did the “rat pandemic” begin easing. 
Chinese collected buffalo’s toenails, a lot of buffaloes were killed 
Chinese businessmen also hunted for buffalo’s toenails, offering high prices for them. Especially, the toenails from four legs of a buffalo could be sold to Chinese businessmen at the prices which were well higher than the value of a buffalo. 
As a result, Vietnamese farmers rushed to cull buffaloes to get toenails, though they had to bargain away buffalo meat. 
No one could count how many buffaloes were killed at that time. However, it was clear that the buffalo massive sale led to the fact that farmers did not have buffalo to plough rice field."

Three words: Industrial. Cat. Farm. Two more: Buffalo. Toenails.

To ask whether this article raises more questions than it answers is like asking whether the Chinese like leeches. I don't even know where to begin. It seems to suggest that the "wicked Chinese businessmen" are inventing a completely false market demand to purposefully destroy the livelihoods of Vietnamese farmers. But this seems so… I don't know… ridiculous? But maybe they are! Sitting up there, rubbing their fingers together, plotting what they can buy next. "What about buffalo toenails! Mwahahahahahaha." 

All I know is that Vietnam has been a very poor country for a very long time. The lure of what are essentially get-rich-quick schemes is obvious. You can just imagine how rumour of one farmer's success with cats or snails or leeches would spread to other farmers as quickly, and as desperately, as a hysterical fainting spell amongst school girls. It's also a country which has only known peace as brief spells between wars. That hardly fosters long-term thinking. 

But apart from that, I know nothing. I return to my state of wonder and flummoxment. And I have news to read. Today's headline: "Vietnam cracks record for world's smallest egg".


  1. Thank you also to Simon, my fellow Vietnamese news junkie, for sharing some of these nuggets with me, the goat penis one in particular. I don't know what it is about Simon and goat penis...

  2. I am laughing so hard. because, seriously, you've got to laugh- much better than crying. whew!

  3. This is my all time favourite - Ca Mau man can...

    wait for it........

    float in water.


    1. What?! WHAAAAAAAAAT?!!!!11!1!!1!


      "Scientists still don't know why some people can lie on water without sinking." YES. It is one of the greatest scientific mysteries of our time. Keep working on it, scientists!

      I am heading to the Thang Loi swimming pool right now to float on my back. I will then wait for the phone calls and camera crews.

      Thank you, Loominpapa. Thank you.

    2. You're welcome.

      There was a prior story about a floating man, hence the headline "one more floating man" but I've been unable to find it.

      This one is great, especially for the picture:


    3. So, they'll keep running stories about various individual floating men until they finally finish with "Turns out pretty much everyone is floating man"?

      The rest of this article is also gold. Vietnam's largest kite featuring a crayfish! Largest shoe! Highest number of international prizes from international scientific creation organisations! Hmm, not so catchy, that one.

  4. As I read this I am currently plotting my next wicked evil plan.

  5. We love Vietnam and this made me literally LOL. Tooooo funny & Sooooo true! Great stuff!

    1. Thanks guys! Glad to keep your love of Vietnam alive.

  6. Family of floating people etc article:

    I wonder if that shop owner in Hoi An is going to receive an award for the most owner of the most paintings made entirely out of chicken feathers?


    1. I thought the exact same thing when I saw that guy with his palm leaves paintings. Chicken feather art is waay better!

  7. Well that explains why I vomited after eating my weekly helping of goat penis last week...

    All of this proves my belief that Vietnam is actually the most capitalist country on the planet. Seriously, they put the U.S. to shame when it comes to causing massive amounts of destruction in order to make a pile of money as quickly as possible.

    Another good recent story: all tourist boats in Ha Long Bay MUST BE PAINTED WHITE. OR ELSE! http://www.tuoitrenews.vn/cmlink/tuoitrenews/lifestyle/non-white-boats-banned-in-ha-long-bay-from-may-1.69783

    1. This Halong Bay boat whitening thing is just bizarre, isn't it. White boats will immediately resolve all concerns about environmental damage to the bay and poor safety standards. Maybe a Chinese white paint trader came to town.

    2. I can see the headlines coming: "Chinese white paint destroys eco life in Halong Bay".

    3. Oh man, so can I!

      Also, I should mention how much I enjoyed reference to the "cockroach-wing colour" of the traditional boats in that article. Charming.

    4. ...and then Halong Bay loses its UNESCO listing. The irony! All part of a wicked Chinese plan.

  8. Hi Tabitha

    I just discovered your blog a couple of days ago and have just finished reading every post! It's absolutely hilarious - I just moved to Saigon 6 months ago so a lot of it rings true! (except for the city rivalry post, clearly Saigon and Melbourne win those contests :P)

    Thanks for all the laughs and I hope you keep blogging right up until you leave! There is a BBQ restaurant here in Saigon that serves 'Steamed goat penis and ball (singular) prepared in Chinese medicinals'. Very interested to hear that this of all things may have been imported from Australia!

    1. Thanks Cara! Really appreciate your comment. And stay away from that goat penis...

  9. This one caught my eye today:
    telekinetic fire-starting girl to be studied by experts... hmm...


    paging stephen king...

    1. Yes I've been loving this story! Apparently Flammable Girl is starting the fires with her excessive creative and artistic forces. Also, she may have too much glucose. She would do well to team up with Non Electrocuted Man:



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