Spain through the looking glass

The undeveloping world

with 2 comments

I’ve just spent nearly a month away from Spain – most recently in Switzerland for Christmas, and before that in South East Asia for a wedding.

It’s amazing just how quickly you leave la crisis behind, and how – beyond the foggy confines (pictures here) of the Iberian Peninsula – the rest of the world just keeps barrelling on towards the eventual apocalypse with nary a thought for Spain other than, perhaps, some random football-related musing.

Anyway, so about four weeks ago, I flew out of a Madrid twinkling with Christmas lights and 18 hours later I found myself perched on the back of a motorbike taxi in downtown Saigon, Vietnam: tropical wind in my hair, charcoal stoves, the whole neon circus of South East Asia. And I couldn’t help feeling: what a frigging relief. What bliss to have more than 10,000 kilometres of Eurasian continent between me and Spain and to be so far from the constant groaning and moaning that is Europe at the start of this second decade of Millennium 3.


My first morning in Saigon, I woke up long before dawn and couldn’t get back to sleep, partly because I’ve always been hopeless with jet-lag but also because I didn’t want to miss the early morning activity – the hour or so on either side of dawn being the best time of day in Vietnam (and in Asia generally). So I dragged myself out of bed a little after 5 a.m. and wandered down to the local park to watch all the people doing their anarchic bends and stretches against a backdrop of aquarelle blue. There were the usual badminton matches going on too, and several cha-cha-cha classes populated by heavily perspiring old ladies in nylon jumpsuits.


Next, I staggered down to the main market and sipped my way through about a pint of ridiculously strong Vietnamese coffee while the stall holders set up for the day’s trade. So much repetition of tiny details: vegetables being rinsed to within an inch of their lives, the wiping down of glass cabinets and the laying out of deadly chilli sauces. Everywhere, too, smashing of ice blocks and lazy flip-flopping boys with towering hairstyles.


After the market, I walked and watched the city wake up. I paid someone a dollar or two to repair my shoes and the same again to get my phone-Vodafone unlocked (In Asia, they still have actual service, as opposed to what we refer to as ‘customer service’). All around me, the usual buzz of motorcycle traffic, the beeping of horns, the cries of rubbish collectors, school children in pristine uniforms, old men playing Chinese chess and something else I’d forgotten – industry, industriousness.


It took me a while to put my finger on it, but that’s exactly what I’d been missing in Spain. Vietnam, you see, is full of people working. They’re zipping around on their motorbikes selling things or buying things or making things or fixing things or inspecting things or cleaning things or talking about things.

No one in Vietnam’s rich – or hardly anyone – and many people don’t have what we would call a ‘job’. There are people working 7 days a week for a €100 a month and workers who share cramped apartments with a dozen other immigrants from the countryside. The hospitals are overcrowded, the traffic is a nightmare and corruption is rife. The Communist party is leeching off the people and there are beggars and crazy folk who wander the streets aimlessly – and yet, yet there was none of the horrible inertia of Spain. Vietnam was full of energy and hope and I saw it and I saw that it was good.


My fortnight in Asia was like a beautiful exotic dream: a dream of how things could be. Back in Spain, back in chilly Madrid, it was drizzling and everyone seemed so damned rich and everyone seemed so damned unhappy, and I thought, where the hell am I and what the fuck am I doing here?



Written by georgemills25

January 9, 2013 at 11:16

2 Responses

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  1. ‘Inertia’. Jesus, I feel like that’s the word I’ve been searching for since I got here (a whole two months ago). It is, indeed, palpable.


    January 29, 2013 at 20:13

    • Yep. The feeling has worn off (for me) a little in the last six weeks or so, but it is amazing how worn down everyone seems to be. I’ve even been affected. I just don’t how to process what’s going on in Spain. There are some many different ‘problems’ and no one seems to know where to start.


      January 30, 2013 at 00:45

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