International but mostly national be nice to a Bao Ve week

06Oct08

We could call them motorbike security, parking staff, or even valets, but in Vietnam they’re known in English (by expats) as they are in Vietnamese — I speak of the ‘bao ve’. They are the men who may or not park your bike outside whichever building it is you are entering (some prefer to entice you into parking it yourself, others point into the distance, as if to say, yes, yonder, behind that tree, that would be lovely thanks); they may be attentive, they may not really care, but earning something just above a pittance and far less than a fortune, who would? 

Now some of us less patient souls may have to hold our hands up here and admit that there have been times — more than twice, less than a hundred for myself personally — when perhaps we have overreacted to a bao ve’s supposed laziness or lack of appreciation for you and your trusty steed. But there have been plenty of occasions when the expat is at fault. Say for example, the time I you lost my your ticket and tried to drive past without acknowledging the man anyway. Or the time I you accused the bao ve of forgetting to have given me you a ticket and discovered it in myyour pocket back home after shouting and roaring. Of late some of you might have barked ‘KHONG PHAI’ when the bao ve asked for VND3,000 even though the price for everything else has gone up and you didn’t shout ‘KHONG PHAI’at anyone in the petrol station, five star restaurant, bia hoi, et cetera. Some of you may have dumped your motorbike in the middle of the road and shouted that it’s not your job to park it . Some of you may have groaned when a bao ve tried to speak English with you because he only probably speaks 17 words of English and you speak 152 Vietnamese ones and are intellectually on a different playing field altogether and could be discussing quantum physics, if you were a quantum physician and there was another quantum physician around and you had learnt the word for quantum physics (vat ly luong tu — I just looked that up) so you could say, “Toi nghi vat ly luong tu… um, rat la thu vi…” 

The Comical Hat’ s staff writer Teddy de Burca jnr. had the best of times and the worst of times — read The bao ve and I set sail herewith one bao ve in Hanoi. But the story is proof that we can all bury the hatchet no matter how deep the wounds. It got The Comical Hat’s Think-Tank going so it did. Rather than waiting to fall out with a bao ve, to make it up with him later, a more far reaching social initiative would be a preemptive act of friendship. But one individual’s actions would be too little in such a big city, like hoping one umbrella could keep us all dry in monsoon. What we need is a collective coopertaive operation… 

So we were thinking… when you arrive to whatever building it is you are going to this week, The Comical Hat urges you to reach out that hand of friendship, or if you’d rather less physical contact, a chirpy bonjour will do, but feel free to chime in with a wink or a smile. But we’re not offering instructions on how you should reach out to your local bao ve — do what you want: hug, playfully wrestle, tickle him, offer him a smoke or a throwaway comment on the fleeting beauty of a Hanoi Autumn or the way Tuan/Thuy might look at you on a October night on Thanh Nien road.   

There is a veritable army of unloved, underpaid men out there, plodding through life on the side of the road, dealing with one grumpy person after another. It could make that man’s day, if not change his outlook on life altogether (if only for a minute), if you offered a reasonably-genuine-though-let’s-not-get-too-carried-away-and-start-exchanging-phone-numbers-act of friendship. Perhaps the bao ve you frequently deal with is an old cantankerous wretch, but if 180 degree turnarounds by evil fictitious characters such as Darth Vader, Scrooge and Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day have taught us anything, it’s that ultimately the nature of man is benign — at least it is in films with a sentimental ending that will send audiences home with that oh-so-precious ‘feel good factor’.  

So this week park your bike and be nice to your bao ve while you’re at it because it’s… “International though mostly national be nice to a bao ve week“. You can tell us about your heart warming stories in the comment box next week. 

We are already looking forward to the headlines next week: The Comical Hat forges links between bao ve workforce and expat community. Then we’ll look to have some bi-lateral talks over cups of green tea. Won’t that be pleasant?

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