Thinking outside the box in the Vietnamese context

It’s possible to love where you are without fully understanding it.

I revel in Việt Nam’s summer heat, and adore watching the afternoon rain clouds building up and mornings in the shade with a fabulous cappuccino.

Yep, you can tell I’m a hardened, tough, street-wise expat who’s lived here for seven years from my stern gaze in traffic and my scars from clipping the bougainvillea plants at the weekends.

And I’m still none the wiser about many things Vietnamese even though tourists remain in awe of my second-grade Vietnamese language skills.

There’s so much to wonder about.

Why do shopkeepers never organize their money into separate piles for easy money changing?

How come bacon and butter seem to be the same sound to Vietnamese waiters?

Is there a reason for sidewalks when no-one walks on the side?

Is the Mayan calendar used for Vietnamese time keeping?

Vietnamese_thinkingHow can the driver drive his vehicle?

But it’s all fun figuring out how to do things here – at the end of some particularly frustrating episode you feel like a god for an hour, able to leap parked Honda bikes in a single lunge, until the next problem arises.

Native Vietnamese ingenuity is handy and rubs off on a long-term expat at some stage when you realize rubber tire strips are great for making a homemade hammock or a piece of wire does the job just as well as that fancy thingamajig you were going to buy at Metro.

My dog, Blackie, recently gave birth to five gorgeous puppies who are rapidly figuring out how running around gets them fed faster, along with lots of pats on the head.

Puppies need training so it’s time to get a box for this.


You were wondering where the ‘box’ came into the story.

Swerving and braking my way down to the local wood shop, which has large sheets of processed wood, I envisaged a grand design of a whelping box (baby box for pets) with a hinged door, on wheels that could move if required.

After some quick measuring and some grade two Vietnamese the lady of the shop quoted a million dong for two sheets.


I gave her my best ‘you have to be kidding’ stare – she grinned.

I frowned and folded my arms – her smile got wider.

I did the pout – she did the waving hands.

I left.

So what to do?

This is where the Vietnamese way comes into play.

My neighbors mostly don’t have fancy brick fences or gates – just a mess of bamboo wired together at typhoon category two strength.

So I started looking around – what kind of boxes did people throw away?

Interestingly – you can get large Buddha house shrines – dusty but could scrub up well.

Chicken boxes are rough but no-one’s giving them away!

Another thought was to get an old, small wooden table.

I could turn it upside down, put the wheels on and then find something for the walls.

A local building gang had a table – just right – but they wanted 300,000 đồng for it!

I told them they were dreaming and continued on my quest.

I considered a large ice box but then thought Blackie and the pups might demolish it quicker than a Nouvo through a red light.

Giving up for the day, I headed up to Đà Nẵng for some teaching.

Then another Vietnamese idea – a friend suggested a large cardboard box – the kind used for carting large fridges.

It was re-enforced with layers of cardboard, surprisingly light but very solid with a pallet base for piling the boxes in shipping containers.

It was just about right and only 40,000 đồng!

We got it folded and sent down to Hoi An by the extraordinary yellow, wobbly Đà Nẵng to Hội An public bus.

Quite amazing what they carry, both inside and in the luggage bays underneath!

I’d become accustomed now to carrying things on the back of my trusty Yamaha Ultimo, either by sitting on it, strapping it on, riding one handed while balancing it or holding it out to the side.

At 56 years of age, I’m quite the circus rider these days so getting it home from the disorganized chaos of the bus stop spilling out lost backpackers, poor students waiting for mum’s pick-up and old vegetable sellers was as easy as finding bánh mì (Vietnamese bread).

A few quick cuts with a power saw for air holes and a dollar’s worth of fencing wire folded neatly around the sides and hey, presto!

One whelping box – the pups love it and Blackie seems relieved not to have to look after them all the time.

Thanks, Việt Nam, for teaching me how to save $48 by thinking outside the box!


How do I feed five puppies without getting food all over the house.



(*) Stivi Cooke is living in Hội An, a small town in central Việt Nam

Source: Tuổi Trẻ News


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