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Can we sit on the fence on this one?

Update: April, 22/2015 - 08:32

by Quang Vinh

The images and video clips of last Sunday lost no time in doing what they do in this digital age of smartphones. They went viral.

It was not an edifying sight - young dads holding their children in their arms and young girls in mini-skirts climbing over the high fences of the Ho Tay Water Park in Ha Noi, with at least one of them getting their underwear torn.

And true to digital norm, the images became the talk of the town, with instant feedback pouring in through all forms of media. Some found it a matter of light-hearted fun, even a somewhat touching gesture by a father to get his child into the park. Others decried the "Com binh dan" (a restaurant euphemism for common) approach of scrambling and jumping queues. Some went so far as to say this was uncivilized, unacceptable behaviour that showed up the country in a bad light.

In expanding on the last-mentioned criticism, attention was drawn to how people admired the orderly way in which the Japanese people responded to the tsunami four years ago.

The incident even became the subject of a music video clip.

The triggering factor for the unseemly rush at the Ho Tay Water Park was an announcement that admission would be free from 8am to 10am that day. That magic word, "free", drew thousands and by 9am, the management found that the park was overcrowded, beyond their capacity to handle. They decided to close the park's gates, but the crowd went berserk in trying to get in anyway.

Le Nga, an office worker in Ha Noi, shook her head in disbelief. "Is it worth it, just to save VND100 thousand (US$5)?"

The arguments and counterarguments poured in, and an intellectual circus was soon on display, including some regrettably stereotypical judgments like "Uneducated" and "Not Hanoians, but rural migrants sullying the image of elegant Hanoians."

Nguyen Hung, a reader on dantri.com.vn, commented: "After so much effort, we have achieved many things except for civilization," reminding readers of the good old days two to three decades ago when the country was mired in economic difficulties but people quietly queued up to get things with ration stamps.

I felt Hung was onto something there.

I remembered that last May, parents pushed the gates of an elite primary school to the ground and rushed inside in order to be the first to register their children for kindergarten. In this case, most parents were well-off, well-educated and from the so-called upper class, the haves rather than the have-nots.

Other writers have mentioned the annual stampede in Nam Dinh Province for a yellow piece of paper on which a Tran Dynasty (13th and 14th centuries) seal is stamped. It is believed that the seal would bring work promotions and other such benefits.

An expat colleague of mine recounted an incident in New York where people queue up for hours on cold winter nights for "Black Friday" sales when huge malls open at 5am and offer huge discounts. He said he'd gone to see this "consumerist phenomenon" for himself, and was stunned to see how many people were there. Some had even brought tents along! Tensions ran high although there was almost 8 hours to go before the doors opened. My colleague was snapped at as he tried to give his friend a flask of coffee he had brought along. Others thought he was trying to jump the queue.

Is this what we are seeing in Viet Nam, our version of the consumerist phenomenon? Is this our new normal?

Have we given our royal seal of collective approval to the each-one-for-himself-and-the-rest-be-damned approach?

I am not sure, but I feel such incidents should be seen as symptoms of a social disease that needs to be diagnosed clearly and treated urgently before things get worse. — VNS

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