Instinctual lawlessness?

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I was once taken aside by a Vietnamese attorney who intimated to me, "It's all fine that law students study the existing law and memorize its content, but, in actual practice, we never follow the law."

In a recent article ("Litterbug Central", Vietweek July 20-26) a local psychologist stated, ""¦if there are not clear regulations and norms, people tend to behave by their instincts "¦" So, let me share some examples of behavior and you be the judge if people were acting by instinct or by regulations.

This past weekend my family and those in the surrounding city block were subjected to blaring disco music from a nearby haunt called "Sin". Nobody was able to sleep and my wife became physically ill from the constant Boom"¦Boom"¦Boom. I went to "Sin" and clearly explained the noise problem and asked that they turn down the music. The hostess said she would ask the DJ to turn it down. She returned and I waited for several minutes. Nothing had changed. I asked the hostess how long it would take to turn the music down? She replied, "Well, we are going to close in twenty minutes - that was at 12:30 a.m. At 1:00 a.m., I called the police. At about 1:45 a.m., the police showed up and walked over to the "hostess" and spoke to her for no more than 10 seconds. The officer said he gave her a warning and left. If the officer had a few spare minutes and opened the door of the club he may have seen a slew of "working girls," the idle rich intoxicated and driving off in their luxury cars, and might have had a taste of the mind-numbing, ear-deafening music. Is there a "noise ordinance"? Or was this instinctual behavior?

Many expatriates have written to Vietweek concurring that despite the problems they face in Vietnam, it is simply not acceptable that people direct their anger and slurs at all Vietnamese. This forum, "Your two cents", opens the floor for you, the expats, to hold forth on the changes you see in Vietnam: what disappoints, what pleases and what you would like to see happen. Email your thoughts to

I had a similar experience with my next-door neighbor who was allowed to open a tavern in a residential area. Despite repeated personal requests the noise never died down. Several calls to the police and complaints by the neighbors over several months finally convinced them to turn down the music and close at midnight instead of 2:00 a.m. Isn't there a law against building taverns in a residential area? My instincts tell me the law was ignored. I wonder how this might have happened? Perhaps an oversight by local officials.

I was prompted to write after hearing about a fracas in An Phu at a supermarket which was discussed on blogs. Apparently, a middle-aged Vietnamese woman slammed into the shopping cart of a French man. The man made some comment about her behavior and a verbal onslaught ensued. When the man exited the supermarket, there were several Vietnamese men waiting to assault him. I suppose the woman was overcome by her instinctual response to a foreigner.

The idea that there are no clear social norms or regulations regarding these kinds of behavior is (expletive) clear. I have seen many people who are aggressive and self-centered. They do it because they can and there will be no repercussions nobody will ever know. They are anonymous in the big city.

I am constantly told that Vietnam is a collectivist society and all actions and behaviors happen on the basis of what is good for the group, or the whole. But I have seen plenty of evidence to the contrary.

By Roy Little
The writer is an American expat who lives and teaches English in Ho Chi Minh City

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