With only a few hours until our exit from Saigon, I think it's time to reflect, summarise, and make sweeping generalisations about the three countries I have visited.
1. Cambodia has a garbage problem.
A big one. A waist deep one. As soon as our mega bus crossed the border, we started noticing roadside rubbish piles. The cleanest spots we found were probably Serendipity Beach in Sihanoukville (I will mention the conditions of this statement momentarily) and the Angkor temples.
So Sihanoukville did have a rubbish problem, but it also had big bins for businesses and we did witness a garbage truck actually collecting garbage. I say Serendipity Beach was clean, and it was, and we were surprised by this. The however is a large one and it comes when you walk down the beach beyond the wall to wall restaurants and you see some sand. This is where the rubbish ends up. It spreads until the tourist spot starts up again 4km down the coast. The bottles and cans are collected by very young children, under the stern eye of their grandmother or something. Everything else stays on the sand, or ends up in the water. The spread of litter is thick and it goes far.
The Angkor Park is pretty well maintained, and relatively clean, if I remember correctly. The word relatively is the important one here, as it means in comparison to the waist deep rubbish piles we saw in the rest of the country.
2. Vietnam has an attitude to garbage problem.
This was best evidenced in Sa Pa, where I tried to pocket a wrapper in front of my H'moung homies Zi and Chi. I intended to carry it around with me all day, and put it in my little rubbish bag when I returned to my room.
Chi stopped me. 'You throw it in the gutter!' She took the wrapper off me and demonstrated.
'No, you need to put it in the bin!'
'No people sweep it up. People pay.'
She was referring to the varitable army of street sweepers you see employed all over Vietnam. These guys walk the streets pushing rather large wheelie bins sweeping up rubbish and collecting it from businesses. The streets are pretty clean as a result of their work. However, a short walk to the edge of a ledge in Sa Pa will reveal a waterfall of rubbish, decorating the side of the hill. This gets blown or washed out of reach of the street sweepers and ends up in the waterways. No one seems to see this as a problem.
3. Cats in Cambodia and Laos are hunted for their tails.
Not really. But every cat we saw in both of these countries had a big problem with their tail. Either it was completely missing, cut in half, bent in half, bent in thirds, broken in three places and twisted in a coil (we named this one Pussistence) or completely mangled in any number of other ways. It was a bit of a hold your breath moment when we crossed the border between Cambodia and Laos (finally) and we saw our first Lao cat. The mangled tale syndrome, we found, was not limited by the border.
From what we saw, Vietnamese cats are free from this condition.
4. The SE Asian mantra is "Anything you can do, I can charge money for".
Be it finding a room, a shoeshine, transport, laundry, carrying of bags, locating train station platforms... It's all on offer for a price in SE Asia.
5. It is plainly evident why the singing bird was caged.
Caging birds is a big thing in SE Asia. In homes and businesses, they are caged for their birdsong. They even cage the ugly ones, like indian miners, as their song is still impressive. Although I am still unclear as to why they cage the pidgeons.
At temples, the tiny cages are not much bigger than the tiny birds. They are sold to tourists and worshippers, so they may be set free for good luck. I have it on biblical authority (source: lonely planet) that these birds are trained to return to their owners, to be recaged and resold.
6. It is plainly evident why the caged dog is quiet.
In Hoi An we saw a cage full of dogs strapped to the back of a motorbike. The same cage would have housed about 15 chickens, all crammed in. This time it held three dogs, all crammed in. They looked like the neglected down-trodden dogs you see on RSPCA ads, only these ones had no looks in their eyes of 'Why!?' They were raised in these conditions and will die in them. Not a sound from them.
7. In all three countries, if you don't want a ride on a motorbike, clearly you are in want of marijuana instead. And if (in the unlikely event) you do not want marijuana, surely you are in need of opium.
It becomes a habit of chirping out a sing-song "No-thank-youuu" in response to the moto driver's "Hello moto!". When they follow with a more shady "Marijuana?" your habitual sing-song reply seems out of place.
8. SE Asian children are sadists.
How many dogs have I seen chased and kicked and tormented by children over here!? Also we witnessed a gecko shot to pieces (literally) by two kids sporting a pellet gun with a laser sight. At a hill top temple in Luang Prabang in Laos, a boy carried around his caged bird all day instead of releasing it for luck. We saw him swinging the little cage at his side as if it were a bag of lollies. There seems to be no general lesson of be nice to animals over here.
9. There is no water shortage in South East Asia.
People in Australia are publicly lynched if they are caught watering down their front step. People in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam not only water their front step, but also their entire driveway, and the road outside their house within a ten metre radius.
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