Small Ethnographies: The Truck Stop

Vietnam’s Route 1, like the American # 1 that runs from Maine to Florida, extends the entire length of the country, running down the east coast, curving around bays, breasting the sea coast, and, increasingly, tunneling through mountains. Also like US 1, the highway does not shun cities and villages but diverts our long-distance attention with scenes of daily life close-up. In this regard, Route 1 does not feature signs informing us that this exit, like the seven before it, sports a McDonald’s, a Wendy’s, a Burger King, a Popeye’s, a Cracker Barrel. In fact, there are no such signs at all. You are left completely to whatever devices you have–a sharp eye, the need for what Phil Our Guide calls The Happy Room, and a willingness to give anything a try.

Hence the international minded truck stop we visited despite having to drive half a mile past, making a perilous U-turn across a two-lane wall of scooters, and entirely filling the parking lot because we encountered one other car. The establishment is the outgrowth from a shed or garage next to a rather handsome house. Everyone contributes, chopping wood in the back garden, serving, offering trinkets and cigarettes for sale, bringing a tray of glasses of rice wine, keeping the chickens and the two fighting cocks out of the dining area. Along every wall, the visitor is greeted by more evidence of the international mindedness of the proprietors. Thus, this short ethnographic notice about the shrinking of the world to a manageable size.

The parking lot gives no hint of the treasures to be discovered inside. Just a few tables and a cabinet with the usual array of drinks. It’s sufficient for our needs.

The Parking Lot Betrays No Secret of the Shop

The Parking Lot Betrays No Secret of the Shop

And, as you walk around the back to find the loo (Western style, no less), a kind of comfort seeps in when you see the solid propriety of the family home.

The House Behind the Business

The House Behind the Business

The dining room brings us face to face with the international themes we didn’t expect to find here:

Are the Hotspurs and Rangers Represented Down the Street

Are the Hotspurs and Rangers Represented Down the Street

I did learn from CNN advertising that Man U has 450 million fans worldwide. Here are six of them half way between Hue and Danang.

Next to the Manchester United banner is this year’s calendar and its hip insistence that the Vietnamese youngsters can claim all the modernity and cross-culturalism they desire.

The Modern Vietnamese

The Modern Vietnamese

The Korean Samsung, actually, is made in the world’s largest electronics factory–in Hanoi. But the fashion is decidedly American, the phony good cheer created by ignoring your beautiful partner to stare at your device is surely intercultural, the bridge in the background looks like a Calatrava design one can see in Seville or Glasgow. No doubt these happy couples are walking over to the ManU game against hated Liverpool.

Still, in this commercial world, we are not without our spiritual moments. There are rumors about that Jesus was never crucified (or recovered from that torment) and traveled to India where he spent his later years. The rumors do not say, as this print does, that Jesus was really Eurasian to begin with.

The Eurasian Jesus

The Eurasian Jesus

You can’t call yourself truly international unless you surround yourself with symbols of America’s great influence on the world. Here are two:

Have your One Choice--Marlboro--Nine Ways

Have your One Choice–Marlboro–Nine Ways

I'll Bet You Haven't Collected All Fifty

I’ll Bet You Haven’t Collected All Fifty

And finally, taking as stab at a new cuisine marks you as an international savant. But who knew it would be an invasion of Italians?

The Italian Invasion, Littele by Little

The Italian Invasion, Littele by Little

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