Don’t get cocky when you have no idea about the history of a culture. That was my lesson for today.
I’d had a few drinks, that was true, but suddenly I thought I knew better than hundreds of years of Asian history.
I was looking at some art on the wall of a local food hall of a typical historical scene.
“Why do they make it hard for themselves?” I blurted out to my Vietnamese friend, “They should just get a cart with wheels!”
I was referring to the street sellers that carried their shops around by balancing a stick on their shoulders + dangling the wares at each end like a pair of counterbalance scales.
She was calm with me but I needed to be brought down a peg or two.
Firstly, she patiently corrected, the wheeled trucks don’t come for free and not everyone has the money to invest in something like this.
We had actually been talking about homeless people a few days before and this prompted a new thought to form in her head. “I think maybe the reason that Vietnam doesn’t have such a homeless problem is to do with the culture. Here, if we get into difficulties then we can always go and stay with our families for a short period. It is common for many people to live in the same room, which makes rent very affordable. Perhaps even as cheap as 10USD per person a month.”
“In fact, it’s very common to live together with your family when you are younger, in order to save money. People live close together because of the population levels. We have a high cost of land here compared to our wages.”
“Also it is very simple to get started with a small business in Vietnam. You can just get a stick to carry some things around, or buy some small wares to attach to a push bike and you can start to make some money. I think the combination of having the support of your family and the ease of getting going with a business like this means it’s more difficult to end up homeless.”
And secondly, she concluded, the sticks are a product of their environment. Often the sellers would need to cover rough terrain. Concrete paths and tarmac like in modern cities have not existed for long and even today the rural areas are hilly; a wheel just isn’t appropriate everywhere.
“Oh yeah”, was the best I managed to reply.
So I managed to both make myself look stupid and learn some new things at the same time. The important part, I think, is to be curious but not to assume I have better ideas 5 minutes after getting into a country vs centuries of established living practices.