Thursday, May 20, 2010

Social Evils

You still see in Vietnam – though not as often as before – big propaganda posters exhorting people to do this, or refrain from that.
My favourite propaganda campaign happened during the mid-90s, and it was called the Stop the 7 Social Evils campaign. As the campaign gathered steam, more and more social evils were added, until eventually the posters were covered with dozens and dozens of wicked activities rendered in such small print that you could barely read them. Though of course, children would stop in front of them for hours and decipher these descriptions of wickedness.
Among the original 7 evils were prostitution, heroin and homosexuality – which kind of describes an average Saturday night in the big cities of Vietnam.

Big black serpents would be painted spitting venom, and the drops of venom took the shape of words: gambling, motorcycle racing, massage. And bia om. Bia om is a uniquely Vietnamese entertainment, in which men go to a beer garden, purchase a beer and are hugged by the waitresses. Om means to hug. I’m not for a moment pretending it’s as innocent as it sounds. But the fact is that, until the Social Evils campaign spread across the country, many regional areas had never heard of bia om. However, once this particular evil was explained to them they quickly opened such places, and now even the smallest towns in Vietnam can boast of at least one bia om establishment.

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