Everybody Knows About You

Sometimes you think you know how things work. Sometimes you do. But, sometimes you really don’t.

We live in a fairly nice apartment. The view, as you can see, is not scenic but we have a maid and 24 hour security. We have a one year lease on a 2 bedroom flat. Occasionally, we have an overnight guest and twice we have let friends or co-workers stay in the second bedroom when we were away. No problem normally, but we didn’t understand how things really work until we returned after Christmas and “heard” that there was a big flap about some of our guests. In fact, it turns out that 3 of them, traveling together were turned away. But to this day the only people who have talked to us are the rejected guests. To be fair, there is a law that says guests need to be registered with the police. Depending on where you are in Europe or Asia you may have to surrender your passport when you check into a hotel. We have all come to accept that. In Vietnam it extends one rung lower and individuals have to register guests staying in their homes. Practically speaking it doesn’t happen if it’s a one or two night gig, but they are serious about longer stays.

Here’s the way it generally works: the tenant is obligated to notify the security guy, who is obligated to notify the landlord, who is obligated to notify the police. Not only that, there are “watchers” in the neighborhood who inform when someone, like our landlord, doesn’t comply. It’s a kind of coconut telegraph. Word gets around.

But, there’s more. Saigon looks like a happening place – lots of bars, lots of bar girls, busy streets any hour of the day or night. But, the truth is it’s a sleepy little place with 8 million residents where you’re supposed to be in bed by 11pm. Yep, that’s right, 11pm and some apartments and houses lock the door and won’t let ANYONE in or out after that, not even the people who live there. It sounds crazy, but our gorgeous French-Mexican neighbor told us that her first apartment here was just like that and she got locked out more than once. I can understand that the security guys aren’t crazy about getting up at 3am to let our little French fox in or to let us out at 4 because all the flights to the US leave at 6. Still, it is their job isn’t it? And, we’re paying the rent and them, right? Well, apparently not totally right. They squeal to the landlord and we hear about it.

And though you could argue that it’s a safety issue guarding the old homestead, it’s not just at home that there are extra eyes. On Monday, we had an office visit from one of the local security police (the guys in the bilious green uni’s). He said “different” people than normal had been seen coming and going from our office. He wanted to know about them, and he wanted to know why our office assistant left and who we were interviewing for the job. This is totally weird and off-putting. I lived in Berlin before the wall came down, but the Stasi were on the other side of the wall. Now they’re in our courtyard and somewhere on the street where we live. This is an amazing country. We love it, but sometimes we have to suspend our disbelief and focus on how great it really is to be here, watch it grow, and follow the law no matter how strange it seems to us.

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