Thursday, May 19, 2005

Another iced mango

A mosquito net, a lens cap, two kilos of mangos, a blender and four green fist sized avocados. Spread out over a week, and yet that list of purchases sums up the time neatly for now. It’s summer full, heaving, sweltering, bloated and confusing, it has landed with a ferocity marked with nightly storms, battering rains, murderous heat and the same sun you’ve got only bigger in size, vigour and vengeance.

Wiping out a winter that now seems hopelessly misplaced, the heat has raised the city with a shocking casualness. By noon the streets are empty as everyone cowers inside and we sit in the cool tiled interior of our lounge room and, to the hum of the fans, consider blending up another round of mango and ice to compete with dehydration. There has been a strange taste in my mouth for the last two weeks that’s coming across as decay or death or something, my body falling apart as it tries to climb out of its skin and hide from the heat. At night the mosquitoes had been callously hunting us until we erected a net to hold them at bay. And now by night we lie besieged beneath a flimsy canopy of nylon while the entire world flings its insects at us.

A few days before, I rode out along some new roads around Hanoi with the aim of making use of the brief space between noon and work where the tires could keep some consistency without turning to mush. I took the camera and slung it behind me to keep the filter on the lens as clean as I could without its cap. God only knows where the thing went. It took me an hour before I found something to take a photo of. A bunch of guys were stripping the rubber off a heap of giant tractor tires and I thought it was a chance to actually take a photo of some people literally evaporating. The young guy who seemed to be doing most of the work had his shirt off and was sweating. In my life the only thing that I have ever seen as drenched in sweat had just won the Golden Slipper, and the work itself seemed like one of those eternal torments malicious gods set for the damned.

Not much further along the same road were a group of men attacking a bee swarm with a stick. If they had a fear of being stung they didn’t show it. They were lashing at the tree with enthusiasm and soon the air around them was thick with bees swirling like a storm. One of the men, a thin grinning man, was snatching bees from the air and popping them into his mouth like grapes. It wasn’t worth a photograph but the sense that it was worth capturing in some way made me think at the time of telling you about it here.

I took some casual photos of ducks and pressing machinery, the latter out of some misplaced obligation. Nobody seemed to mind having their photo taken. The ducks were mute on the subject of course, but the pressing plant guy swung his hose back and forth in such an obliging way that I couldn’t tell him I was only passingly interested in the size and strange shape of his machine and not him.

I eventually got to work with just the briefest moment to spare, on the way back passing another road accident with a crowd of onlookers and a bike on its side. The murals on the other side of the road extolled workers holding hoes and rakes and marching across a back-drop of fields that in the real non-mural world were diminishing rapidly. The fields were all turning into blocks of apartments and more houses.

The roadside murals and signs that sprout up along roads project the fears of moral and social decay that get summed up in the newspapers as social evils. Heroin in schools, AIDS, running over school children with your motorbike. They are all hand painted with lumpish, plain and strangely coloured people who ignore the rules of scale for traffic and architecture alike. Their world seems to be a visually simple one where heroin dealers are misshapen, shriveled aliens and happy people march in threes in groups of unlike profession: soldier, scientist, farmer, minority hill tribe person, minority fisherman, minority miner, and so on. The gigantic size of the traffic lights in their world doesn’t seem to worry them as much as the meeting of the rice grower and metal machinist in socialist harmony. The murals themselves on the roads outside of town are often painted on small block shaped buildings whose purpose is obscured from me. The buildings sit by the road above the houses, isolated and ugly, painted in government colours with no doors in their openings or glass in their windows. They’re variously filled with, cattle, families, workers or nothing at all.

In my mind there is now one of these strange buildings sitting empty above a field of rice, a mural on one side shows the tire scalpers, the bee scavengers and the ducks marching across a horizon dwarfed by gigantic mango blenders and mosquito nets. Their sweat drenched bodies glisten in the sun as they set to dismantling the season and the heat before it evaporates what is left of the countryside. In my mind it’s beginning to be summer and I’ll note here that I have a feeling it may be more than what we asked for.

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