A few weeks ago my building decided to enter a full renovation without telling anyone. My Internet went spotty immediately and was replaced by jackhammers, drills, saws, all manner of Vietnamese arguments between construction and management in the hallways and the removal of my old American style window air conditioner leaving a large hole in the wall where no window had previously been. Then came the roosters. In a visual sense the rooster is a positively regal fowl. Decked out from head to toe in a rainbow of colours and strutting about like Mick Jagger you would think Keith Richards was lurking right around the corner. But just like a runway model what a rooster slays with looks is immediately knocked down when they open their mouth (or beak as it may be). And they like to open their beaks starting at around 4am and continuing past 10, as if they aren't quite sure the whole world is awake yet.
But how did I get from living in a city of 8 million to roosters in the flash of a renovation? Answer: There are two sides to every building.
In the area of Saigon in which I live there are hundreds of guest houses on every street - the kind of places that usually cater to tourists, have a travel service of some sort in the lobby and plenty of garish signage out front to make sure they are keeping up with the Nguyen's next door who have even more garish signage, and of course, roosters - but nobody knows that until they get to the back of the building. I live in a building like that - a building that thrives in a flood of neon to the street but basically fronts a barnyard out back - a sort of cruel reversal of the Universal Studios Wild Wild West town. Except, this in the Wild Wild East.
My move to the back, after having already become accustomed to sleeping through Bon Jovi at 4am every night from the bar across the street came with a knock on the door one day. "You move room one hour. We change everything. Two days. You move back". That was a week ago. But rooster time came immediately.
A Vietnamese professor explained in a newspaper recently that migration to the cities in Vietnam came differently from that in North America 100 years ago or more. "In America", he said, "people moved to the cities because that's where the factories were. In Vietnam, we have no factories in the cities, but people move anyway because they think they can make money." And so we live in a nation of farmers - who are all busy becoming millionaires of one sort or another, even if it's finding a way to make a million chickens. I guess that's what the roosters are for. Every Sunday I walk through the back alley here and see a man carefully washing his rooster. He loves that damn bird - because it's more than one meal for his family in the future. And there are ducks too. I can hear them now - but if I went out front, I'd get Bon Jovi, only he's no Mick Jagger, I can tell you that.