Small Demon
May 142009
 

In Hanoi, you will often see a line of fifteen or twenty cyclos, each with a Japanese or German tourist in it, threading their way through the narrow streets of the Old Quarter. After an initial cyclo ride on my first trip to Vietnam twelve years ago, I have avoided this mode of transport. The colonial symbolism is just a little too strong and too noxious; but yesterday here in Hue I twice took a cyclo back to my hotel from the far side of the river. You have three choices here if you don’t want to walk (and I usually want to walk), but it was terribly hot yesterday. You can take a taxi, a xe om (motorbike taxi), or a cyclo. It’s mostly tourists who use cyclos, but you do see Vietnamese use them sometimes, especially if they have to carry a lot of packages. (There are also freight cyclos, which the driver often has to push rather than pedal, laden with heavy baskets of fruit, or bags of sand, or rebar, etc.) The cyclo drivers are all licensed and work for a couple of companies in Hue, so while working conditions still suck, there is apparently some concern for the drivers’ welfare. Hue is a relatively small place and the distances I traveled weren’t long, but I realized again what a terrible job it is.

cyclos_sm

The first driver, who brought me back from the citadel in the early afternoon heat was a young guy who didn’t seem to be exerting any effort. We talked in Vietnamese off and on most of the way and he didn’t seem to even be breathing hard. But in the evening, after walking to a restaurant across the river from my hotel, I felt lazy and languid and decided to take another cyclo. There were a bunch parked across from the restaurant and I went up to a kid lounging in the first one to ask for a ride, but he hailed another guy snoozing in his machine back in the shadows. Apparently there is a system of allocation. The young guy took my hotel’s business card and read it to the older guy — maybe his father– then handed it back to me. It only occurred to me as we were driving away that my driver probably couldn’t read. I had walked over Trang Tien bridge several times by the time I was carried over it by this cyclo driver and I had never noticed that it has a distinct arc. My driver was struggling up the incline. We had been talking at first, but now he was breathing hard. After cresting the center of the bridge, we resumed our conversation and he told me that his father had died in the war. The American war. So that’s what you call getting a little perspective on the world.

trang-tien-bridge

  2 Responses to “Cyclo Politics (VN Diary No. 33)”

  1. ‘with rue my heart is laden….”

    your post brings up this phrase from that poem of 1896 in a.e. housman’s the shropshire lad:

    WITH RUE MY HEART IS LADEN
    FOR GOLDEN FRIENDS I HAD,
    FOR MANY A ROSE-LIPPED MAIDEN
    AND MANY A LIGHTFOOT LAD

    BY BROOKS TOO BROAD FOR LEAPING
    THE LIGHTFOOT BOYS ARE LAID;
    THE ROSE-LIPPED GIRLS ARE SLEEPING
    IN FIELDS WHERE ROSES FADE.

    example of ideas and art of one time,place, meaning applied to new experience (and perhaps altering perception of it)(the way a ritual fetish of one culture remote in time and space may become an object of art in another times and place– a museum — and thus influence generations of young picassos) so quickly and unthinkingly that one does not question the emotion that wells-up. (how ‘this is like that’ gets decided or applied as some objective correlative can only be corrective by a directed exegesis) (though the initial response may never get quite be erased). (the way remembered rime chimes transliterated the way lorca’s “poet in new york” may only be recovered/ exhumed by a literary historian who understands the notations of one language used for another.) ed

  2. You, lucky man…

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