Throughout the history of mankind the owl has featured significantly in mythology and folklore; they are one of the few birds to have been found in prehistoric cave paintings.
In ancient Greece, owls were a symbol of good fortune. The idea of the "wise old owl" may have come from the bird's association with the Greek goddess of wisdom, Athena.
But by the time of the Romans these feathered friends had morphed into omens of impending disaster. Hearing the hoot of an owl indicated imminent death, as was the case with Julius Caesar, Augustus and Agrippa.
That might explain why a family in the central province of Thanh Hoa lived in mortal dread for 10 days when an owl decided to move in one starry night. The Vietnamese side with the Romans when it comes to owls. They are firmly of the belief that when you hear the "twit twoo" of an owl, impending disaster follows. So you can imagine the terror this tawny nocturnal visitor caused to the hapless family when it perched itself on top of a closet for the best part of two weeks, blinking its big brown eyes while the members of the household looked on petrified, awaiting its clarion, or rather, carrion call.
In desperation, the head of the household took a photo of the fell creature and posted it on the internet, fully expecting surfers to share in his agony. Instead, he got congratulatory messages, with some even saying things like "Isn't it cute!", "How lovely".
After terrorising the household for 10 days and nights, the nocturnal visitor moved on, no doubt bored with the company it was keeping.
So far, no disaster seems to have befallen the family but they did report that their resident rats seem to be unusually quiet these days.
The tale of the deadly turtle
Unlike owls, turtles are held in high esteem in Viet
Nam, as anyone familiar with the tale of Hoan Kiem (Sword Lake) will attest.
But driven to desperation by hunger, nine villagers in La Xuyen, in Ha Noi's Ba Vi ate a sacred turtle that had been living happily for some years in the village pond. The turtle had been canonised after thieves threw a statue of Lord Buddha they had stolen from a local pagoda into the pond, wrongly thinking it was of no material value.
When rumour of the nine villagers' actions spread, a local wizard, or shaman, announced that all those who had defiled the sacred flesh would be dead within 49 days. However, the village headman later told a reporter that only two of the nine villagers who had dined on the revered turtle had subsequently given up the ghost. It was also pointed out that one of the two deceased had had a congenital heart condition, while the other was an octogenarian with a serious spinal disease.
That said, a local aquaculturist thought the aforementioned turtle bore all the hallmarks of the invasive red-eared slider whose meat is potentially fatal if ingested.
Visitors to Asia are generally advised by their embassies to be wary of con artists, particularly when visiting tourist sites.
It might come as a surprise therefore to hear that Hanoians were recently advised to be wary of foreign tricksters. It transpires that a number of tourists had been cheating hapless Hanoians out of their hard-earned money by passing them counterfeit dong.
Just last month, at least two Hanoians reported to police that they had been cheated out of VND22 million (over US$1,000) and VND46 million (over $2,000) respectively by foreigners employing this tactic. It seems that these no-gooders were asking locals to change large counterfeit bills into smaller notes.
One of our roving reporters was recently approached by a man of Middle Eastern appearance who asked her if she could change a VND500,000 note into smaller denominations so that he could buy petrol. Wary of scammers, she politely refused but did point out the way to a nearby petrol station. The foreign visitor thanked her and then drove away – in the opposite direction, much to her surprise. — VNS