Thursday, March 29, 2012

Come, Muse, let us sing of rats!

So there is a...somewhat lax attentional focus on restaurant hygiene in Vietnam. There's also a somewhat lax idea of what exactly constitutes a restaurant; for example, a fewplastic tables and garden stools that appear to have been made for gnomes, a portable deep fryer carried by a tiny woman using a neck yoke, and 10kg of tofu, and you have yourself a street cafe.

But aside from that, even in the official-looking restaurants (tables with cloths on them! napkins! waiters!), hygiene is significantly understated. Dogs and cats usually wander through, either looking for food by people's feet, or actually looking for the feet, in the case of one tiny puppy that we found had an affinity for gnawing on my Crocs. People frequently throw their trash on the floor. And on the street, and in the lakes and rivers, but that's another post. Nancy and I once watched a woman squat to pee next to the museum in Hue (which was mysteriously boarded up and unoccupied), haul her pants back up, and return to her food stand without even thinking of hand sanitizer. This is why Tabitha told us we probably have worms.

Another thing you see a lot in restaurants is rats. Not mice. Rats. The first few times I saw them, I sort of internally squealed and went Ewewewew. Our last trip to the excellent vegetarian restaurant Nancy and I found in Hue (called Lien Hoa, only a few blocks from the main backpacker drag, and in a gorgeous pagoda), we watched one run back and forth in the garden next to where we were sitting with a sort of detached calm...then he hoppedover the wall and into the restaurant under a table...and under some more tables. We were both just kind of watching him sniff between the chairs, penetrating further and further into the restaurant when I said, "You know, I feel like I've really adapted to being here. Instead of going to a restaurant thinking, 'There couldn't possibly be any rats there', now I'm just thinking, 'I'd prefer if it didn't crawl on my foot.'"

Nancy laughed, and when we looked up, we noticed one of the waiters watching the rat with the same lackadaisical interest we had. He saw us and sort of shrugged, and we sort of shrugged back, and then we had some more tea. It was very much like, Eh well. Rats.

 In other news, Hanoi Water Puppet Theatre is REDONKULOUS. All of the tour groups are totally shnozzled into going to this famous theatre form, which even the Lonely Planet describes as a "whimsical treat". Nancy and I certainly felt we were having a cultural experience, particularly at the points when the water buffalo's heads were totally immersed in the water while they were being waved around, so that they looked like they were drowning. At one point, some puppets came out with candles on their hands, and I whispered, "Knowing how things go in this country, I wouldn't be surprised if the whole stage caught fire." It didn't.

Nancy and I have dubbed it "Janky-nam", as literally everything is janky. It's sort of charming. But also? Redonkulous.

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