The End of Thao Dien

The End of Thao Dien

As I’m waiting for an eleven-year-old girl to finish pouring my gas from an old 2L pop bottle, a dump truck races down the street behind me, crashing through our quiet morning like a bowling ball of death. These crazy assholes are a constant threat around here these days — huge beasts driven by gaunt little men with pockets full of meth and cigarettes. They’re hauling in big changes for Thao Dien, building the future of Vietnam: a place where the traffic is miserable and the greatest commodity of all is a bit of privacy — where all of the green space is photoshopped and nobody can breathe without a mask.

It’s been obvious to me for a while now: Thao Dien is dying. Investors and developers are clogging the area with too many new apartment buildings. They’re banking on people like me, people who’ll pay inflated rents just to live where it’s still possible to take your dog for a walk without getting run over by a dump truck. They’re building on the allure of Thao Dien and destroying it at the same time. These streets weren’t built for extended-cab Suburbans, or Escalades, and yet here they are.

Hip little Thao Dien will go through a slow and agonizing death, and those of us who called it home before the developers finished it off will speak in condescending tones about how everything changed — about what a nice place it used to be — perfectly aware that we were the problem. Nobody will have fun when all these new tenants show up with their SUVs to race through waist-deep flood waters at highway speeds. The end of Thao Dien is upon us, and I ain’t gonna swim.

For now, all I can do is complain and fight my way through these clogged arteries, because…

It’s Rich Kid O’Clock in Thao Dien again, that miserable chunk of time when private schools open their gates and clog the streets like affluent cholesterol and nobody can move because assholes shove their fucking Toyota Fortuners into every little bit of space, parking in the middle of the street while traffic backs up behind them and every other idiot in an empty SUV gets pissed and tries to pass in the motorbike lane, and now nobody can move and we all watch as another fucking idiot tries to make a u-turn into our lane, blocking traffic in both fucking directions, so now there are hundreds of us all locked into a Vietnamese Stand-Off, where nobody will budge and everyone just gets angrier and angrier in that non-confrontational way where nobody actually tries to solve the problem and everybody just pushes in as close as they can to the car ahead of them and fucking lays into their horn until a nearby security guard comes out and loses his fucking mind trying to get people to magically drive through each other, just like he did yesterday, and the day before that, and will do all over again tomorrow because it’s just going to keep getting worse.

Okay … breathe ... find your Zen.

Nope, fuck this.

I launch up the curb and land between two Korean ladies, chatting away beneath their sun umbrellas. I crash into a traffic cone, which gets stuck under my wheel, so I have to boot it out, and it almost hits some Aryan kids in dumb-looking uniforms, protected by a woman flailing her arms like she’s a Secret Service agent. The security guards come at me with their batons and whistles going, but I live around the corner, and they know that I'm not stopping without violence. On the way past, I leave them with my usual advice: “Stop having kids!”

There are cars & buses & vans & taxis & shuttles & pick-up trucks parked two deep on both sides of the street. The line to get out of Thao Dien starts all the way back here, at the An Phu Compound, where it's wide enough to be blocked by a single parked car. There’s an empty, tree-lined street on the other side of the fence, but that’s not for us peasants. It’s for the people who hire drivers to pick up their kids from schools that are two minutes away.

When I finally make it to Burger King, I turn onto a side street to get away from the cluster fuck on the main drag. There’s actually a bit of space to move here, so I have fun and lean into the corners, weaving through a paved slalom of taxis and garbage carts — but just when I’m enjoying myself, revving my Honda Wave for all it's worth, I come to another crowd of SUVs, out front of another private school, and even more construction sites with more dump trucks blocking the street.

At the end of Thao Dien, where cement skeletons rise up from the dust like graveyards of human coral, where we push into the sky to live on top of each other, I see the future that’s been chosen for us.