Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Time and No Time (Sandy)

If you're not up and functioning by 7 a.m., the locals may think that you are sick. Look out at 5 a.m. and see people going for a walk, playing badminton, doing calisthenics in the street. And then they eat their morning soup (usually it is soup) either at work or on their way to work. Slurping and burping are acceptable.

At 11 a.m., almost religiously, the place roars to a halt for lunch and a nap, waking up again between 1 and 2 to zoom forward until 4 or 5, at which point the motorbike roar starts again: home. But dinner, too, may be away from home, depending on how much time has been spent to stock the larders. And then at night: the young especially go to coffee bars to meet friends and talk and sit with a cafe sua da, a Tiger Beer, a fruity smoothie, or a Coke (but just as noodles in the U.S. do not taste the same as noodles here, so too Coke does not taste the same here as at home). Pennywort juice, watermelon juice, an avocado smoothie. 

Time moves slowly at night.

No rush.

Here you have to ask for the bill; there is no trying to move you out so others can occupy your seat and make the owner more money. Vietnam runs on "rubber time" -- nothing scheduled on the hour starts on the hour. And here it somehow doesn't matter that the clock in the $15-a-night hotel room, most likely battery-run (and batteries here tend not to be terribly sturdy), has said 5:05 since we checked in 9 days ago.

Unlike in the U.S., where we measure time in minutes, Vietnam speaks of time (and everything else) in terms of custom and relationship, redefining the phrase "taking the time". For people, here how they treat time is neither an investment nor a choice; how they treat time is just the way they do things.

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