What happens in Vietnam... / by Deborah Clague

I entered the room exhausted, drenched in a layer of sweat that I no longer tried to conceal. A three-hour nail-biting, hair-greying ride from Ho Chi Minh brought me here, deep in the Vietnamese jungle, to Tra Vinh University (TVU) where I would be documenting national Teachers' Day and my own institution's deep ties to helping build the educational model framework to support economic development in the region.

But first, I would rest. It had been a long day. 

The room was quite large; a space normally occupied by international students in residence. Everything was painted pale yellow, culturally symbolic of good luck. Throwing my small bag down on the couch, I took a moment to catch my breath and collect my thoughts. I regretted leaving my main suitcase - with the majority of my clothing and toiletries - back in Ho Chi Minh; a colleague told me I wouldn't need it though as we would only be gone overnight and there wasn't much room in our driver's vehicle. This made sense. As the photographer, I would be in the background anyway. A fly on the wall. My camera equipment thus took priority over a change of pants. Speaking of which, mine were now sticking to my legs. The humidity was insane! I walked over to open a window but noticed there was no glass, just an opening overlooking the campus below. Brushing the curtain aside to survey the landscape, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. 

There was a lizard sharing the room with me. It scurried faster than I could follow. Where did it go? I went back into the living room area to ponder my situation further. Then I saw another one. 

And another. 

And yet another. 

Their chirpy cries enveloped the room, communicating the plight of having a giant in their living quarters. I (eventually) came to realize the lizards were harmless but couldn't escape my mind from racing to the snake farm our group visited several days prior. Big snakes, poisonous snakes … but mostly big and poisonous snakes comprised the tour. We were educated on identifying and handling them, and also informed, prudently, that one of the only medical centres in Vietnam that treated venom injection was located next door. The guide's words of "if this snake bites you, you have 10 minutes to live" rang in my head … as did the fact that I was now at least 3 hours away from that medical centre. 

Between the heat and the thought that there may be more slithery creatures hiding in my room, I started to wig out. I decided to call upon an individual I met earlier in the day. An employee of TVU, he was one of our Vietnamese/English translators and joked that he was considered "the most handsome man in Vietnam". This went beyond ego when every female I met also referred to him as "the most handsome man in Vietnam". Yes, he was cute but could he conquer the rogue cobra I believed was hidden under the mattress? I told him of my concerns and he laughed; the issue was obviously recurring amongst westerners visiting the remote campus. A quick but thorough 10 minute search resulted in nothing. I could rest somewhat easier.

If those damn lizards would stop talking. 


Read the full article in the Spring 2015 issue of Designer Magazine.