Thursday, January 13, 2005

Too cold to sleep on the desks

Today the mercury hit its highest mark at 7 degrees. A bare and thrilling temp that had us hopping about on the tiled floor of our house. At eleven, my boss rang to inform me that the little kids wouldn't be coming to school today, it was just too cold.

Children here tend to go to school for about five or six hours a day. They go in the mornings or the afternoon, and at lunch they, like the rest of Vietnam, take a nap for an hour or two. In winter when it is too cold to sleep on the concrete floors, they sleep on top of the desks. On very cold days when the temperature gets below 10, they get to have the day off if they want to.

The schools, as I mentioned, are concrete. At lunchtime the sound is incredible. The reflective concrete resonates any noise, and the constant screaming and screeching of children playing, fighting and shouting booms over the neighbourhood. It seems as if you have come across a caucus of parrots in full voice, the voices boom out into the air, scaring rain from the clouds and real birds from the trees. Put a hand up against the outer walls and you can feel the foot thick concrete moving in and out like speakers. Children living in this world develop thick calloused eardrums and voices that can drill through sheet steel. The standard of building used to construct these schools was honed by bomb shelter makers during the American war and can withstand a nuclear detonation.

Speaking of which I don't think I've mentioned the recovery of a bomb from a village in the central highlands last month. It is still not unusual for bombs to be dug up, particularly by farmers, and Hanoi is littered with small and large lakes created by the bombing of the city over thirty years ago. The announcement of a bomb being found would therefore not attract too much notice if it weren't for the size of this particular incendiary. This particular bomb weighed in at 5.5 tons, about equal to 3 Mitsubishi Magnas and a Holden Barina piled up together. Over 3.5 tons of explosive was removed from it, after they dug up hundreds of cubic metres of soil and rock to get to it. To give an adequate comparison, that is about the weight of 35 Westinghouse 520L fridges, that is the hefty size of fridge. The previous biggest was a contrastingly lightweight 1.4 tons. They estimate that there are still 300,000 tons of unexploded ordinance still ticking away here and children and scrap metal workers are still killed by it every year.


At 5:18 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting, keep updating as we like to hear about life in Vietnam.

At 4:21 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recommend belting out a cover of 'My Sweet Lord' by George Harrison and then settling down with a hot marmite drink. That should warm the cockles.

At 12:35 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i haven't read all this yet but wanted to say hello.


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