"Broken rice with pork chops."
"Lots of vegetables?"
On the way back to Ea Kly, we passed a town, Kiến Đức, that seemed oddly desolate, with many restaurants empty or out of business.
"They must have suffered a bad season," my brother in law concluded.
"Sichuan pepper [tiêu] and cashews [điều]."
Since "tiêu điều" in Vietnamese is also "desolation," I joked, "That's what they get for growing desolation. They should switch to growing apricots [mai] and making fermented fish [mắm]."
Mai mắm, you see, sounds a bit like "may mắn," or "lucky." Vietnamese think like that. Since mai alone also means lucky, most Vietnamese overspend during Tet to buy at least one apricot tree in blossom, to ensure good luck for the rest of the year. It's an absurd belief, but that's culture for you.
The Vietnamese susceptibility to magic is more than counterbalanced by a clear headed practicality and common sense, for otherwise, they wouldn't be able to survive or even thrive. Take my brother in law. Though prone to mumbo jumbo, the 43-year-old has risen from nothing to become a millionaire, with his main business the making of plastic crates that are exported to Thailand. Two years ago, he traveled to India to explore the possibilities of exporting organic Vietnamese fruits and vegetables.
There is much that is irrational or fantastical in every society, with some beliefs imposed from above, sometimes abruptly, even violently. The worst beliefs aren't just costly, but suicidal, but you can't see what's killing you if you're mesmerized.
Marx is a false god, conclude most Vietnamese, so now you can drive hundreds of miles here without encountering his bearded face once, but everywhere, temples and churches are being built, and statues of Guanyin, Jesus and the Virgin Mary front millions of homes. Vietnamese breathe easier because the state no longer micro manages their lives or, worse, try to control their every thought. Surely, that's the worst evil.
(Article changed on February 25, 2019 at 06:00)