Life seems so simple here. People are either throwing themselves into work (even if that means standing at attention while waiting for customers, like soldiers lined up waiting for the command to attack), or doing absolutely nothing; just sitting around on the omnipresent little stools, chewing the fat amicably (often with tea and sunflower seeds, or tobacco). This of course seems an obvious observation on the surface, for what do people the world over do? They work, then they relax. But as an American, the peculiarity I see is not so much in the doing, but in the when of that doing. Mostly Americans are all on the same, or very nearly so, schedule, meaning everyone is either working or not working at very specific times throughout the day. Here at times it seems as though half the population is doing nothing, and this in the middle of the day, while the other half is hard at work. Well, those are some thoughts and observations.
I suppose I could also say how much closer they seem to nature, and by this I mean the human animal in its natural state, simply eating, drinking, sleeping, socializing. I look at many of the Vietnamese as I walk around Hanoi, mostly the older generation, and I look at their dogs, and I watch their chickens strut about a garden or pick through a trash bag on the curb, and the similarity is utterly astonishing. I can’t get it out of my mind. Their behavior looks so natural, so completely free of pretense, of thoughts of needing to be elsewhere doing something. There is at times a sort of zen-like essence to it, like one old story that goes: There was once a disciple of one Zen Master having a chat with a disciple of another Zen Master. The first disciple was explaining to the second how his master could perform all sorts of miracles, such as, for example, performing calligraphy in the air with a brush as the characters appeared on a sheet of paper on the other side of a river hundreds of feet away. After recounting this and other supernatural feats he asked his friend what his master could do. The other disciple replied that his master could perform amazing feats as well. “As an example,” he said, “when my master is hungry, he eats, and when he grows tired, he sleeps.”