So, I've decided to create a blog for more short posts, just general, every day weird stuff I see over in the Wild Wild East. I'm aided in this by one of the world's most entertaining newspapers, the Vietnam News. This is the official English newspaper of Vietnam. EVERYTHING here goes through the censors first, website, newspapers, magazines (if it's an international magazine, and it has something unpleasant about the Worker's Paradise, they will simply have someone black out the text with a sharpie, FOR EVERY SINGLE MAGAZINE THAT ENTERS THE COUNTRY! Seriously, that is a whole department of the government here, guys with Sharpies who cross stuff out of foreign magazines), and art too. All the art galleries must have their exhibits pass the censor's muster before they are allowed to hang anything.
Anyway, the Vietnam news is great. Even with the censor's heavy hand, they have some of the most bizarre stories around. Most of the news is good (they, like media outlets all over the world, are great at lying by omission, they don't make up stories, they just don't tell you the WHOLE story). But also there are these other true articles which mention horrific things happening here. Like the percentage of food found to have e.coli bacteria on it (30%!!!) here. So, without further ado, here are some great headlines from the Vietnam News!
"Shoppers happy to pay for clean meat. July 6 2011"
"Dinh Tu Cau, who resides on Tran Duy Hung Street, decided she had seen enough slaughtered pigs as "pillion passengers" on motorbikes and even dragged along the street without any protection....It's impossible to buy hygienically slaughtered meat in markets, which is the most popular place to shop for food. It can only be found at a small number of supermarkets or food chains scattered around town...Ha Noi's five qualified slaughtering centres can currently only meet about 1 per cent of demand for pork and about 7 per cent for poultry...."
--So, yeah. You wonder why I get sick all the time? Even when I eat at western-style restaurants? That's the reason. If I had a nickel for every street butcher's wares displayed on the sidewalk, inches from the sewage filled gutter, which in turn, is inches from the motorbike filled, exhaust choked streets, I'd be a rich, bacteria-filled, man.
--Speaking of meat, here's some more disturbing news I have first-hand experience in. Keep in mind, most of these animals are endangered.
"Wildlife consumption rampant in HCM City May 25, '11"
"Well educated, middle-aged people and public employees tend to consume wild animal products more frequently than their less educated brethren as well as people of other age groups, a survey has found. Nearly 51 per cent of 4,062 local residents polled said they have used wild animal products, consuming them as food, drink and health supplements, or using them for ornamental purposes. Wild animal health products such as bear bile and tiger bone gelatine were taken by 7.5 per cent of people, while 1.5 per cent had used fashion and ornamental products made from wild animals. Nearly 3 per cent have kept them as pets. Snakes, wild boars, stags, deer, wild chicken, spot-billed duck, lesser coucal, porcupine, bear, civet, weasel, fresh water turtle, python, and monitor lizard are among wild animal species that are most widely consumed.... The consumption of wild animal products is also related to social pressure, curiosity and emerging habits and tastes. Others said they brought business partners as a prestige symbol."
--Yeah, that's the way to impress people here in Asia. The more endangered the better! And by the way, a lot of this stuff is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. I bet they don't teach that at the yoga center TCM classes in Portland. I got to experience a little Taste Of Endangered when my new landlord, a real nice old Vietnamese grandpa who speaks no English, invited me and my friend in for a drink as I was moving in. He comes in waving a severed bear paw (Asian black bear, endangered due to the magical TCM properties of their stomach bile) which had been soaking in a jug of rice liquor. He puts two large teacups full of the stuff in front of us, waves the severed paw (tendons and all) at us, and with the little VNese I understand, I gather him saying that "It makes you strong, good for the man!" Well, I wasn't too excited about this, but to refuse his hospitality, especially on the day I am moving in, I thought would be rude of me. So, we drank the teacup of Bear Paw Booze (with little bits of hair and bear parts floating around, yum).
It wasn't horrible tasting, but a double shot of it was more than enough. Immediately after finishing it, he refilled out cups. Ugh. My buddy gave me "please, help me" look, and I felt obliged, since he was helping me move, so when my landlord wasn't looking, I gulped down my teacup (by this point the 'uniqueness' of the taste had worn off, and it was now plain vile), and quickly dumped his into mine. As for the "makes you strong like bear" part of it, not so much. I still had 3 trips up 4 flights of stairs, and was ready to puke by the second trip. A few days later, my landlord kindly gave me a bottle fillled with the stuff (minus any large bear parts), wishing me much good fortune in the new house. Being a good traveler can be hard on the stomach. That was the second most disgusting thing I have consumed in Asia so far (the first was raw duck blood and guts soup).