A vendor sells snail noodle at her open air street shop in downtown Hanoi. In Vietnam, many sidewalks are gobbled up by cafés, eateries, and motorbikes. Photo: AFP
Never mind what people say - in my opinion, Vietnam has the most freedom in the world.
My neighbor died recently. For a whole week they played drums and gongs all the time except occasionally when dozens of women gathered to pray to Amitabha loudly chanting a single word for three hours straight.
Also in my neighborhood, when someone builds a house, they dump bricks, sand, and cement right on the road, killing any plants that may be there.
My friend in Germany told me that he would have to complete a number of formalities if he wants to cut down trees in his own garden if they are more than three meters tall. He has to explain to authorities why he is cutting his trees and guarantee that he will plant at least the same number of trees he cuts.
People can only cut down a tree after the replacement grows.
In Vietnam, we don’t bother with such niceties. If there is a full-grown tree by the roadside blocking an eatery, we cut it down without hesitation. We drive some long nails into it and pour chemicals on its roots. Getting rid of a troublesome old tree is simple.
Some hammer nails into trees to hang advertisements and even bird cages. Won’t the bird defecate on the heads of passers-by below?
Never mind! A little bit of nature in the city makes things more romantic.
People leave chickens under trees to forage for food, bringing them fond memories of the countryside. Eateries wash their dishes right nearby.
It is intolerable inside the house when people use coal to cook. So women bring their stoves to the sidewalk outside and cook freely with the smoke billowing around.
People let babies pee wherever they are on the street. The mothers are fast and deft, cooking with one hand and holding the peeing baby with the other.
As for men, they stroll around in underpants and sit nearby as their wives cook to eat hot food. Sometimes, a stray dog drops by to defecate.
What a beautiful and peaceful picture of a typical Vietnamese family, with humans and animals getting along well!
When the cooking and eating are done, they just find a nearby manhole to dump the waste. Those who live near canals bring along garbage to chuck into the water when they go out to do their early morning exercises. Then, after returning home, they probably hold their noses and pray for a faster flowing canal to take away the bad odor.
In the early morning, we can go out in our pajamas and jog to maintain good health. We do not have to run in parks; instead, we can simply use the sidewalks. At the same time, we can buy vegetables, fish, meat, clothes.
They also sell bags, shoes, used clothes, antiques, cell phones, and books and repair locks.
In fact, you can find everything on the sidewalks except space to walk.
Never mind! In many places, people convert sidewalks into roads by driving on them.
After dinner, it is time for a walk. Just stick a toothpick in your mouth, wear underpants and an undershirt, and go.
This risky activity hones your reactions as you have to remain on your toes to cope with what comes your way: maybe a dead rat in your path, a handsome guy on an expensive scooter spitting straight at you, a bag of ice or a box emptied of its sticky rice thrown out of a window.
It doesn’t require one to spend money to visit Phong Nha or Son Doong caves to climb mountains and trek inside caves to keep mentally and physically fit: It is possible to do so right in our cities.
Buses’ drivers also have freedom. They can choose to drive sensibly or find some traffic cop to run over; they can choose to use a public toilet or a sidewalk; they can stop or run red lights.
If a container truck approaches, just remember their freedom is greater than ours.
Freedom is not just for humans but also for all other species.
We can enjoy a dish of broken rice at night in Tan Dinh [Market in Ho Chi Minh City] and listen to rats partying in the sewer.
We can buy food at a market where cockroaches freely walk around on garbage carts nearby.
This unfettered freedom exists not just in daily activities but also in the media.
We can read about a woman who gave birth to a huge leech, a man unable to pull out of his daughter-in-law after having sex, a beauty who had sex 30 times in two days with a taxi driver.
We have especial freedom and creativity in making foods. We have dried melon seeds with industrial coloring, rice vermicelli bleached with toxic chemicals, green vegetables grown with used engine oil and chemicals.
We have chicken pumped up with water, water melon made super-sweet with chemicals, fish preserved with chemicals and industrial methanol.
I cannot list all the freedoms we have in Vietnam.
I remember a profound slogan used by Vietnam tourism, which said we are the “Destination for the New Millennium.”
Quick, queue up and book your tickets to see the rarest of rare things in the world!