Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Weigh me a Nordic bum tea

My girlfriend and I live in a little alleyway just off fourteen-laned Dien Bien Phu Street, one of the main west-to-eat thoroughfares of the city. Every day we open our balcony doors to let in some fresh air as it’s just plain nicer than a stuffy house. But what inevitably also drifts in, are the sounds and calls of the hawkers and recycling ladies plying their trade down our alley. This doesn’t sound like much, until you take into consideration that they come around at a rate of about one every ten minutes in the morning, shouting indeterminable things or making strange noises. It’s always great fun when we have friends or family visiting from abroad who aren’t use to the randomness of it all. Let me break it down for you:

I’m sitting in the living room when suddenly I hear, from a distance, and in an impossibly high and fragile voice: “Weigh a bum me Nordic teaaa!” and then a little closer and a little louder…“Weigh a bum me Nordic teaaa!” Fret not, as it isn’t Thor or Odin asking for the dimensions on your anal excretions, it is but an old conical-hatted lady trollying her mobile bakery of fresh breads, buns and cakes down our alley. This morning I was lucky enough to witness two on the same turf, coming from opposite directions. I thought there might be a showdown, there were tell-tale signs; a glint of a fresh croissant in the one’s pocket, an itchy-baguette finger on the other, a Swiss roll tumbling across the alley. Alas, they stopped for an amicable chat and a taste of each other’s wares.

As they depart, along comes another high-pitched wavering call: “Get ya-ya! Get ya-ya!” Ya-ya? Like the sisterhood with their divine secrets? Not for me thanks. Actually, it’s the recycling lady asking if anybody has any plastic bottles, cardboard or dirty secrets they would like recycled. We wash our own dirty secrets, thanks.

Some of them don’t even have to say anything. There’s the ubiquitous caramba man who comes along on a bicyle with a “sshka sshka sshka” of his shaker. He’s offering cup massages, which leave you looking like a leopard with leprosy, but also a business card with the directions to some other contraband services, or so I’ve heard.

Then, along cycles the Olé-type ice-cream man, who has a car battery hooked up to a looped player with speakers, all taped to his bike and busting out a trademark tune for the kiddies, with a massive cooler box on the back. Those are the modern ice-cream sellers. The old school ones still just pedal along and ring a bell, advertising their chin mau or nine colours of ice-cream with traditional flavours like young rice and green bean.

There’s also the spoon-banging soup lady, fruit-sellers, feather-duster purveyors, various bangers, clangers, shouters, ringers and the one who sounds like a tortured, electrocuted cat that just won’t confess. She's one of the people who walks around with nothing to sell , chanting random slogans or something, which is confusing and slightly unnerving. Maybe she works for the government

Most of the hawkers just sound like they are absolutely insane, that is, if what they said was actually in English.Our favourite is a man who comes along at least three times a day, again with a hooked up, homemade sound-system. “I’ve lost my car! Help me find my car! My Car!” On loop. Every five seconds. Thrice daily. Without fail. Either he is really determined to find his missing automobile or he has the memory of a goldfish. It must mean a lot to him. A lot… We have a chuckle every time he comes along. “Have you seen his car yet, honey?” “No, not yet, I hope he finds it soon.” "Yes, I do hope so." He’s actually selling Banh Chung, a traditional Vietnamese snack of peppered pork and green bean wrapped in leaves, very popular in the period leading up to Tet (Lunar New Year).

According to our friends Dave and Nat, they had a daily hawker come round their alley where they used to live with the creed of “Vagaaaaaiiina! Vagaaaaaiiina!” Wonder what she was selling.


A Girl in Asia said...

I have a guy that goes past my place yelling what sounds like 'quack quack' but haven't checked out what he's selling yet (ducks?!). It's part of what I love about living in D1 - the action on the streets. Except if it wakes me up.

Henno said...

I think I may have been privy to a few quacking hawkers so far. If you want the real action, try the backwaters of Tan Binh or Binh Thanh. There was a dude who owned a rooster living next door. A bit of a sleep-in? I think not.

po said...

Heheh it sounds fascinating!

I am only going to Hanoi, but I hope to hear some cool hawker calls too.

henno said...

I'm sure you'll hear (and see) some crazy things in Hanoi. When are you going?

Miss T said...

hilarious...guess it beats the guys on camps bay sellng "sprite to make you bright...appeltizer to make you wiser" :)

henno said...

Haha, that's great. At the rugby at Newlands, they've got the old ballie with his "A sucker to make you wakker, a lolly to make you jolly!"

koi.chan said...

hmm, I was equally tempted between protecting the little mystery of the "vagina" calls for your much interested readers and unveiling this epic laughstock :P. My guess is the lady was shouting "ve-chai" (recyclable rubbish) in a very Northern-heavy accent ;). The hawkers now are actually much less than some decades ago. My dad often fondly reminisces of snack food hawkers in his time who even composed cheesy and funny songs or poems to entertain equally elder and young.