When sick, many people will try any kind of treatment, even the most stupid or unreasonable. It is, as they say, clutching at straws. In a village in southern Binh Phuoc.
Province, hundreds of people with all kinds of diseases sit in a long queue to await their turn to meet a "talented doctor" who is gaining a reputation for his cures.
Without any check-up, he blows water over all parts of the patients' body, then burns incense and says some "magic words" which no one understands. Finally, he forces patients to drink a bowl of water mixed with ash.
Rumours abound that he has cured many patients from acute diseases. So, more and more people turn up, some waiting for many days for their turn to get the treatment which, we might add, can cost millions of dong.
In central Quang Nam Province, there is a famous quack who "cures" all diseases by asking her patients to drink water mixed with some kinds of leaves. "Magic" words are also part of the potion. And in northern Nam Dinh Province, one quack even uses urine to "treat" cancer in her naive patients.
People suspect some of the patients are her "dummies", people planted by her to spruik her abilities. However, many do claim the treatment is effective.
According to a doctor in Ha Noi's Military 103 Hospital, "magical medicines" have no effect and can even have negative impacts on a patient's health. He says the practitioners are quacks and opportunists. This is probably true because these "talented doctors" have no expert medical training. When things are quiet, they go back to farming or selling vegetables.
This is not to knock traditional medicine, which has proved its worth over the centuries. And even a dose of religious faith can be a good tonic, as many Western hospitals realise by setting up small chapels in hospitals.
However, as the Vietnamese hospital system becomes harder to afford for ordinary people and the well-to-do always fly to Bangkok or Singapore because they claim the treatment is better, there will always be room for these rogues.
Drivers see red in central region
A smart, traffic-control system has gone on trial to minimise traffic jams in central Da Nang city. However, the European system has already upset and confused the locals.
The system has 42 new traffic lights and 22 existing ones connected to 36 cameras. It is supposed to regulate traffic flow by counting the number of motorbikes and cars and changing the lights accordingly at each junction. Ideally, it is meant to provide an easy flow of traffic to meet all types of situations – from the morning and evening rushes to the quieter times of the day.
The system can instantly adjust traffic lights or give certain lanes priority to ease congestion. It is applied – and works – in many countries around the world. However, it was not designed for the chaos of Vietnamese traffic which, according to some, has only one rule: If you see a gap, fill it!
This is supported by a Da Nang city traffic official who says Vietnamese drivers have no habit of travelling in the correct lanes for different vehicles. So, the smart system and its cameras are unable to properly count the number of vehicles.
This means the lights are going red when they should be green and vice versa. This has kept drivers cursing quietly four or five times on a short stretch of road as they are pulled up by the lights time and time again.
So, believe it or not, the traffic officers are now counting the number of vehicles themselves and then adjusting the lights. A foreign expert, who helped set up the system, said people would rather be jammed in traffic than wait for a red light to go green. He said the smart system would be adjusted to make it more suitable to the traffic culture of residents. Can we politely ask: "How? By turning it off?!"
However, if there'd been proper trials and publicity before the system began, there would have been more support.
Practice what you preach
Many campaigns call for people to take action to protect the environment, but exactly what this means to different people is hard to say. There is a lake in my district that is, like many in Ha Noi, polluted with an endless flow of rubbish from drains - and bags and bottles thrown in by residents.
So the head of the district hired people to clean the lake and float foam-plastic boxes on it with slogans saying: "No rubbish in the lake!" and "Stop littering the lake!" The unfortunate thing is, that to many people, the boxes themselves are a type of litter.
This reminds me of my childhood participation in environmental events. My classmates and I, as good students, held colourful balloons printed with slogans "Protect the Environment!" or "Don't pollute the atmosphere!". Then, on a signal from the leader, we would all let the balloons go and watch them fly into the sky.
At the end of other environmental events, sites were often littered with leaflets, food covers and drink packages. Another job for the city's hardworking cleaning brigade. — VNS