Friday, July 19, 2013

The Wife Shoppers

(I wrote this weeks ago, but I wanted to wait until I left Vietnam to post it. For all kinds of good reasons, there are no photos.)

These two are new: An Indian (Singaporean? Malaysian?) man and a chirpy Vietnamese woman. She looks nice in her high purple heels, which I can’t imagine wearing in Sapa’s chipped filthy streets, and her short chambray dress with a shirttail hem that reveals even more thigh as she moves in the strong breeze on the terrace. She’s perfectly made-up and her bobbed hair has a slightly auburn tint. They order coffee drinks and take many pictures of each other drinking them. I hear her in her good school English explaining something about the American South. They do not know each other very well.

After the photos and the lectures on American history, she moves over to the other side of the table to share his bench and begins rubbing his furry earlobes between her thumb and forefinger and mussing his shoe-black hair.

They join creepy guy, my next door neighbor, who’s been here a couple of days, formally sharing meals with a youngish French-speaking Vietnamese woman with a small child. We sit on the terrace at the same time and pass each other frequently, but only once has he returned the “hello” I’ve proffered. I am fine with pretending each other doesn’t exist, but then I have to hear him all the time through our thin shared bathroom wall, hacking up his Gitanes, or whatever else he’s doing in there. His girlfriend/prospect isn’t allowed up here in his room, so at least I don’t have to hear that. After the first time I saw them at their candlelit dinner in the hotel, I saw him on the front porch of the hotel hunched over his netbook, and I imagined he was going in to refine his search, looking for a prettier, Francophone, educated woman who would marry his old ass, but one without a cumbersome child.

I know this is none of my business, but it really creeps me out: the aversion to western women with all their inconvenient notions of autonomy and equality, and the naked racism of the desire for the Indochine body, with its suggestions of social submissiveness and sexual expertise. I understand the Vietnamese women’s point of view, too, unfortunately. The marriage prospects for educated women here are dim, and whatever social reforms have been enacted, not to mention the communist pledges of gender equity, have failed to reach the level of the family. Women do all the work, inside and outside the home, and many just don’t want to sign up for a life like that. They want to marry a westerner with money and get the heck out of here, where they imagine they’ll have a much better life, with limitless consumer goods and financial security. Leaving behind their families doesn’t even particularly trouble them. As my friend in Hanoi, who is married to a New Zealand man with whom she has never lived, says, “it doesn’t matter, I am the girl, the extra child, I am not important.”

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