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Reading Crimes

By       Message Linh Dinh       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   1 comment

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A foreign country seeps into one's consciousness via large events and personalities, mostly, as in war, earthquake, tsunami, coup d'e'tat, unprovoked bombing, Gaddafi and Assad, etc., but it's the lesser turbulences that will begin to yield more revealing clues about any society.

My two years in Italy, I often combed through newspapers for crime stories, for why, how and who Italy's residents robbed, killed, wounded or raped were always instructive, as were how these stories were reported. An armed robber in Tuscany would be said to have, for example, a southern accent.

Briefly browsing through a handful of Italian rags this morning, I found out that in January, 130 cops from Prato, Rome, Florence, Milan, Padova and Pisa conducted a vast operation against the Chinese mafia, dubbed China Truck, that ended with the arrest of 33 people in Italy, France and Spain. This week in Prato, a South American prisoner assaulted four guards, seriously wounding one in the throat with a razor blade. In August, a middle-aged pub owner in Pisa hurled insults, rocks, bottles and glasses, from his apartment balcony, at three Africans who had just finished dinner at Sapori d'Africa e Toscani [African and Tuscan Flavors].

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The headline in Corriere Fiorentino, "Pisa, insulti e sassi contro il locale simbolo dell'integrazione"
["Pisa, Insults and Rocks Against the Local Symbol of Integration"]. The restaurant owners are a Senegalese woman and her Italian husband, who explains, "We came to Pisa because we knew there was a large community of Senegalese and a restaurant such as ours, which mixes Tuscan with Senegalese cooking, could work out."

Your biases will tint your reading of these items, but at least they give you a more complicated picture of contemporary Italy.

In Vietnam, you almost never hear about interracial crimes simply because the population is relatively homogeneous, with the foreign residents mostly white, well-educated and not crime-prone. Any host has a right to choose his guests.

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This week, I had a few Tiger beers with Matthew Rossman, a 48-year-old Canadian who has lived in Saigon for eight years, is married to a Vietnamese engineer and has a six-year-old daughter. They live in Thảo Điền, a new, upscale development where "just about every other person you see on the streets is a foreigner." Matthew plans on staying in Vietnam for the rest of his life, with his retirement years spent in Vũng Tu. Once trendy, this seaside resort has become much more serene and pleasant.

In college, Matthew studied English, then entered law school, before he realized he hated lawyers, so he taught English in Colombia for seven years. In Saigon, Matthew teaches English and manages two English learning centers. Among the teachers Matthew oversees are two Russians and a Dutchman, all highly qualified.

Three weeks ago, I also met Nick Santalucia, a Temple graduate who majored in the classics. Just 27-years-old, Nick has been in Saigon for 4 years. Soon, though, Nick will return to Philly with his steady Vietnamese girlfriend of more than 3 years. Though Nick agrees that the US is in dismal shape, he believes a turnaround is possible. If not, he might just return to Vietnam.

"But to really belong to this place, you will have to seriously learn Vietnamese," I challenged.

"I know."

Without "the other" to be aggravated by, prey on or fear, Vietnamese must turn to each other to give and receive violence. Often, alcohol plays a role, as does the sheer density of this place. 78% the size of California, Vietnam has 2.3 times the population.

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Two women shared not just a tiny Hanoi apartment, but the same bed, where at least one night, their boyfriends also slept. That morning, 22-year-old Sơn noticed that his girlfriend was being groped by 25-year-old Trung, but he didn't go berserk right away. Days later, Sơn sent Trung a FaceBook message, "If I ever see you again, one of us will have a hole in his body." Since neither would back down, they ended up in a knife fight that involved two more men. Repeatedly stabbed, Sơn is dead, while Trung is serving a life sentence. His partner in crime, an ex-convict, will be executed.

One cheap feel, and three lives are wrecked. One can contend this sleepwalking fingers, morning curious digits incident wouldn't have happened if the women hadn't been so poor, but it's also true Vietnamese usually don't mind being crammed together.

Culture was also a factor when a 60-year-old man was stabbed to death by his 42-year-old nephew, as both were getting hammered after a funeral, which is always a drawn out affair here, lasting several days.

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Linh Dinh's Postcards from the End of America has just been published by Seven Stories Press. Tracking our deteriorating socialscape, he maintains a photo blog.

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