Sunday in the Mekong: Cycling into fresh air
Sunday morning. Phu My Hung, District 7, Ho Chi Minh City.
Text and photos by Lucy Harrison
A day off work! An English teacher in Ho Chi Minh City with 184 “Persausive” essays to mark. We have a program at work called Mark Master which inserts computer generated comments on essays. This is supposed to make things easier, but somehow the papers still come home and stare at me. Pleading. I remarked yesterday, at work, that Mark Master was a very sexist programme and was well suited to linguistic imperialism of which, of course, and I am the first to admit it, I am a part. An oscillating part without a subject which puts me in the typically colonial position of resenting that which I am. Still, semantics never helps when it is Sunday and one is looking at 180 essays. Hmm. An alternative is in the making.
I have wheels! True. I make them go round with my own muscles. Quads. I am saving the earth’s resources. My bicycle comes from China and cost a whopping $100. So, if one considers that a policeman earns $150 a month in Ho Chi Minh City, one can appreciate that a bicycle is quite a valuable asset. Hence I have two locks.
More valuable than its cost is the little bit of freedom it has given me. For the last two weeks I have practiced the art of going left. After leaving the underground parking lot I turn right, go over two bridges and then turn left. I go on for about 10 miles and turn left again. I keep turning left until I find myself back on the main road. I don’t have a map as turning left always returns me to the place from which I departed. Next time I will try going right, it will end the same way. Isn’t this how they discovered the world was round?
Turning left leads me in to the Mekong. Here I find ponds without a single plastic bag, styrofoam lunch box, remains of numerous meals or animals or every indescribable ghastly thing one every imagines that Hitchcock could put in a movie to tap into my vulnerable and never-to-recover from “Psycho” psyche. I wouldn’t like to fall into one of these ponds though as I can’t see the bottom. It is, after all, only relatively clean. I imagine lots of soldiers wading through this and know that for me I would not have survived one day in THAT war.
I pass men fishing, lots of men fishing, fishing for crabs, some kind of fish, fish that thrive in suspect environs. I pass one room houses and am enshrined by a mask of incense and imagine all the relatives hovering above the metal roofs that have now replaced the thatch. Past a whole lot of garbage and straight in to a concert of Karaoke. I am invited in. And I go. This is what I did in Oman, and how much more or less dangerous could my dropping in for tea be in this country than the other?
Although there is an enormous amount of Tiger beer everywhere I am given iced Jasmine tea. Who are we fooling? Where are you from? I am asked by what could easily be a Pot Pol disciple but is probably a village policeman former interrogator former teacher, one can imagine so many things after seeing the likes of the 4th of July or Platoon, or, or, or. Canada I say. And I sing Oh Canada into the microphone and the Mekong and I am only on my first glass of jasmine tea.
It is always safe to say one is Canadian. Except in the UAE as Canadians have fallen out of grace—and Afghanistan of course. And.
Four hours later I have come full circle and am back on the two lane congested polluted incredibly noisy frenetic frantic mad, mad, mad, road back to Saigon (HCMC). Unlike last weekend, I have 6 bottles of water including one which says REVIVE and includes electrolytes. As a result, a phrase I teach my English for Academic Purposes Students, I am not so completely knocked out by exercise and relatively clean air as I was last weekend. In fact, I make it back to my apartment pretty much in one piece.
I remember that there weren’t any happy screamers playing “war” this morning under my window. Why? Oh yeah, it is Easter. Ham’ dillil’ah.