Unlike for Beth, “gutter” is a simple topic for me, as gutters are the epicentre of all life in Hanoi.
Vietnamese houses are usually very tall and skinny, to maximise capacity of the expensive land. But the weird thing is that despite this height, all the action happens around the very bottom of the houses, on the ground floor, and on the piece of footpath outside. I’m not sure if this is just habit, because their houses used only to be one storey, or because Vietnamese people prefer being as much on the street as possible, at all times. It’s a common sight to see Vietnamese families sitting on the floor eating dinner together just inside the doorway of their house, one metre away from the gutter.
You can also, of course, go one step further and eat while actually sitting in the gutter, at a street food stall, where the stools will elevate you approximately 15 centimetres from the detritus below.
Along with food consumption, the other favourite gutter-related pastime in Vietnam is potty-training. When a toddler needs to go to the toilet, Vietnamese parents and grandparents crouch down with them, holding their pantless child aloft above the gutter. They then make a “ssssssh, ssssssh, ssssssh” sound which is not like a gentle “shush” but a wee-encouraging sound of gushing water. If the child needs to do a poo, they lay down some newspaper in the gutter so they can pick it up afterwards. The poo will likely go into a rubbish bag that goes back in the gutter for collection by the garbos in the evening.
On our island, the gutters are of particular interest as they’re forever clogging up with the most indescribably revolting, pitch-black sludge. Almost daily our landlord gets out the front of our house with a big wooden stick and pokes around in the sludge, temporarily stemming the tide of grossness. Unlike in Australia, where they have those signs on the drains to discourage littering, saying how the gutter flows directly to the sea, I feel like our gutter needs a sign saying “Danger: Enormous fountain of faeces could erupt at any time”.