Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Most Surprising Thing (Revealed)

“What do you think it is?”

“I don’t know. Some kind of cart?”

“Well, yeah, it’s basically a hand truck. Two wheels. Handle. Tilt back and roll forward.”

“But it doesn’t look designed to haul stuff. It looks too light. And besides, what’s with the shower head?”

“Shower head? Movable cart? What the hell?”

That’s the gist of thoughts and conversation as Maggie and I sat in the Hung Tam restaurant near our hotel in Da Nang and watched a small Vietnamese woman pass by on the street pushing what we could only imagine as a shower on wheels. The upright portion was a metal box a few inches deep, four to five feet tall and maybe two feet 16 inches wide. A narrow pipe rose from the top surface of the box, and bent horizontal at six feet and ended in a flat disc that did indeed resemble a shower head. At the base, adjoining the axle and wheels, a horizontal platform protruded at a right angle. Somehow it did not look designed to haul anything much at all.

During the next few days we saw a few more of these wheeled mysteries, mostly on the Son Tra District on the east side of the Han River. Never in the city center where the crowded streets and sidewalks would be impassible with such a device. Our neighborhood in Son Tra, lying between river and ocean beach, is still relatively undeveloped and open, with plenty of open pavement for moving a hand cart. Maybe the showers are for the numerous construction sites in the area.

The mystery was solved Christmas Night on the riverfront promenade that parallels Bach Dang Street. Maggie and I had just attended a traditional American/British/ Australian Christmas dinner at a western eatery and were walking off the meal, taking in the sights and feel of a street we had only seen in the daytime, enjoying the festive lights we’d seen from the Song Han bridge as we returned each night from class too tired to spend time walking along the riverfront. The promenade was not crowded but many people—families, couples, groups of young people, two American tourists—were out all enjoying a pleasant December night.

Walking along we spotted a woman pushing one of those devices not far ahead on the promenade. Determined to solve the mystery, we quickened our pace to catch up. Before we reached the device, a young couple approached the woman who set the device upright. We caught up to see the young man step on to the platform at the base. The “shower head” descended until it touched his head. Numbers appeared on two small digital screens on the front panel of the box: his height and weight. When he was done, the young woman stepped onto the platform and was also weighed and measured .

So that’s what it was all about! Height and weight as a streetside amusement. Apparently enough of an amusement to justify investing in a portable device and wheeling it around town. Christmas Night along the promenade in Da Nang would be a good opportunity. People were certainly out and about, in a festive mood. Christmas is not a holiday in Vietnam but it is well observed and the promenade was a fine place to do so. That’s why Maggie and I were there. That’s why the height and weight vendor was there. And that’s how we came to know what the “shower on wheels” actually was.


Blogger Patrick said...

The Vietnamese version of this:

5:42 PM  

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