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Sunday, 8 April 2012

Strange habits on the plains and in the mountains. Saigon



Strange habits on the plains and in the mountains. Saigon

One of the odd things one noticed was that certain old women had black teeth. I say old because I never noticed them on young girls so imagine it was a habit from before the wars. On enquiry I also found it only applied to those from the north or centre as it was not practiced in the south. I never received a satisfactory reason for it but believe it was a process that protected the teeth from decay. Perhaps it was better to arrive in old age with black teeth than no teeth at all. This was often the case in the south. Apart from there being far too little dental care they ate far too much sugar. In fact they had a very sweet taste, often drinking juice from sugar cane sold by street vendors.

Another custom was that of chewing betel. With other products mixed in this gave a red colour. When added to black teeth it was most bizarre. There again it seemed to be a habit limited to old women. The fact they spat this mixture out made it rather revolting to me. Unfortunately Vietnamese followed the Chinese custom of spitting in the street. I can remember being at a table next to the street in Tan Dinh eating a bowl of pho when this blind man made his way from the interior of the café, put his hand on my table, and spat into the street just missing me. Another time I was somewhere in the Mekong Delta, in one of those three wheeled taxis along with a dozen other people, when one of the men blew his nose by closing one nostril with a finger. The wind swept the result back into my face. There were days when life in the East was difficult. I had been brought up in a family where one made no noise at all when drinking soup. The Vietnamese slurped horribly. Of course beer helped to dull one's senses.

If Vietnamese men smoked a lot the women rarely seemed to. Montagnard women of course smoked cigars or pipes. Some Montagnard women also knocked out the two front incisors as they said it made them look like rabbits, or so I read somewhere.

The women never drank. When there were wedding receptions I found it an utter waste giving them champagne as this was only left in their glasses. Some men drank but generally it could not be said they were heavy drinkers. There again amongst some Montagnards the form of greeting strangers was to say " Let's get drunk together". No comparison of course could be made between the habits of the people of the plains and the mountains. I remember hearing some nutty American evangelist preacher saying on the radio how he had 'civilised' a tribe of them by getting them all to wear shirts.

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