August was Hungry Ghost Month, when the gates of the spirit world were opened unleashing millions of hungry phantoms on our planet. With the spirits unable to eat earthly foods, large numbers of Buddhists satiated the phantoms’ insatiable appetites by burning incense and opening the doors of their houses to let out the aroma of food. Unfortunately, as Harry Potter would be likely to tell you, there are always some ghosts trapped in between realms. When left unappeased they start to cause mischief, meaning that August was also a month to take precautions. Wearing protective scarves or amulets was one, as was avoiding travelling or going out late at night — during Hungry Ghost Month the likelihood of accidents, mishaps and robberies increases exponentially. We’ll have to wait to see the data on that one.
Last month was also when the ghosts of Tet Eve Past came back to haunt us. In this instance it was in the form of the Saigon Tax Centre.
When the news broke, nostalgic Saigonites were brought to tears. How can the city destroy yet another establishment built by the French? Surely this is part of Ho Chi Minh City’s heritage? What will we do without all those wooden chess sets, miniature ships and mother-of-pearl chopstick collections on the third floor that we never bought but always said we would buy as souvenirs but never actually did? And what about those camera shops on the ground floor, the supermarket, all that overpriced jewellery, the huge motorbike parking lot and them lovely wallets embossed with Armani and Polo logos?
Not a lot and who cares, said the Hanoi Massive. Instead they reacted with restrained glee to the news that their favourite watering hole, Tay Tap, is due to return. Forget the impending Sep. 2 opening of Lotte Centre on Lieu Giai, it’s the drinking establishments that matter in the capital. And although Tay Tap is not actually open yet, construction has started on a new space next to Da Paolo’s on West Lake. Meaning that soon you will be able to go in, swill your beer, and finish it off with a coconut or two on the deckchairs overlooking West Lake. You may even fall in. Now you could never hope to do that at Lotte Centre!
Fortunately, with Piknic Electronik going strong every Sunday out at Softwater, Hanoians didn’t need to wait to get their cheap beer, party vibes and skinny dips. Many even took an early river-water plunge and hit the outdoor Excite parties out at Eden Bar while Summer Vibrations brought revelers to a 24-hour dose of revelry somewhere near the pottery village in Bat Trang.
Football, WiFi and Railway Lines
The sad news, however, came in the football. While Manchester Utd continued to flounder, leaking supporter after disloyal Vietnamese supporter to their noisy neighbours on the other side of the city, so Vietnam’s under-19s lost 3-4 to Myanmar in the final of the Sultan of Brunei Cup.
So happy were the fans that the country’s budding footballers got as far in the competition as they did — recent senior team performances have been dire — that the players received a hero’s welcome when they returned to Vietnam.
This was only outdone by two sterling pieces of news. The first came from Danang with the launch of free WiFi throughout the whole city. Using a system comprised of 330 base transceiver stations, WiFi access points that have been installed on lighting poles and key locations including universities, tourist sites, apartments and 29 state departments and agencies. Let’s hope the proven connection between brain tumours, mobile phone usage and Wi-Fi continues to go unproven. We certainly wouldn’t want the truth to leak out on this one.
The ramifications could be even worse if all the parents of Grade 1 to Grade 3 students in Ho Chi Minh City were to get their mitts on all that proven but unproven research. It could mean that a new city-wide plan to make school rooms into Smart Classes could well come off the rails. Not that it will, especially with the present construction of the Ho Chi Minh City Metro System in the lead for that particular accolade.
Yet the authorities are sponsoring 5,334 tablets for disadvantaged students with another 321,000 having to buy tablets for between VND3 million and VND5 million a go. The hope is that new star-spangled-banner technology will be brought to 451 of the city’s schools.
Hungry ghosts or not, August was a month with substance, satiating more than just the needs of all those ravenous spirits out there.