Saturday, September 4, 2010

Only Geniuses Marry in Vietnam


Vietnam is a fascinating place, but if you are not inclined to bare well the third world living conditions - not withstanding the numerous 5 star hotels - then hopefully Vietnam's sheer vibrancy will compensate. 
 
After a year of comings and goings, there are numerous moments worth recording: from the first time I took to the streets on a motor scooter – something I thought I’d never do and deserves many blogs; to my brewing of cashew-apple wine – something that may require more than mere blogging for prosperity.

But on this occasion I record one event that appealed to my sense of humour, although at the time I had to hold back any inclination to express it. Such is the etiquette required in socialist bureaucracy.

I will not say that the bureaucracy involved for foreigners to marry in Vietnam is overly difficult, but let me say that it is more complicated than attending the celebrants office 30 days prior to the big day, as one may do with a marriage celebrant in the West. Reading from my own governments web site, there are 3 main documents to produce: a passport; a divorce certificate if previously married; and a Record of Search from your country demonstrating that you are not presently married. These all need translating in Vietnamese. Lastly, and the point of this short story, is the psychiatric assessment required for both parties before a foreigner can marry a Vietnamese citizen in Vietnam. 

It is this last requirement that tickled the nerves in my frontal cortex. The very fact that one requires a psychiatric examination to marry is humorous enough, but making it compulsory in the case when a foreigner is involved, takes the issue beyond laughable.  

Getting down to business, what would you ask of a candidate for marriage if you were making a psychiatric assessment? Yes, you can see that we are on fertile ground for humour. You may ask the reason to marry - do you love her.....what do you love about her......is she beautiful....what would you do if you found someone more beautiful ? You may inquire about any previous marriages; and of course, reasons for divorce - past of course. 

But no, none of these possible questions were asked. Rather, I was given an IQ test! Yes, laugh all you like. Let your jokes run free. Let your frontal lobe explode in a giant spasm. 

The assessment went as follows. My beloved and I attended the top floor of the mental hospital. Both of us underwent assessment by the young doctor wearing the proverbial white coat. Interestingly, we were given different tests. In Vietnam, it seemed, IQ is gender based! Or was it rascist ! Anyway, I will let you guess who had the more difficult test.  

So, here I was in front of 60 sets of multiple-choice diagrams. You know the ones: triangle, circle, square, rectangle. Which figure goes next: triangle, circle square, rectangle? There was a pattern that I easily recognized.

After the first half dozen or so I was thinking this was quite easy, when slowly but surely they became more complicated: square with dots inside; circle with dots in one half; triangle with no dots; rectangle with half dots. Which figure goes next: square with no dots … ? The pattern became obscured to say the least. 

I began to take a few further seconds to mark my answer, but the doctor encouraged me to quicken, while he asked his first question of my beloved: ‘Name some cities in other countries.’ 

Is that capital cities I found myself wanting to ask. 

But turning back to me, the doctor insisted, ‘quickly now, time is important.' All very distracting.

Half-shaded square with dots in the remainder, circle shaded, triangle shaded in half, rectangle fully shaded…… thinking, thinking…. 'Quickly now,’ the good doctor hastened me. Very distracting. 

‘Number 4,’ the doctor whispers while looking over his shoulder to see if his supervisor was not observing. Oh great, I thought, I can see this finishing badly. I am expected to cheat too! More then distracting.

‘In the pictures, which house is the prettiest?’ he asked my beloved. I could see her pondering the dream home I was going to build her.

Circle, triangle, square, rectangle, all with too many extras to describe…. ‘quickly now, the increasingly impatient doctor insisted. 'Number 2,’ he volunteered before I had even began to consider an answer.

I have known to be a little pig headed at times, and you know how men hate taking instructions, so you can fathom why I was doing my best to ignore the young doctor’s suggestions. 

‘Quickly now, Number 3.’ Now he was staring straight at me. I was becoming nervous. 

I was beginning to think that there was a more sinister agenda to this test. Was he giving me the right answers or would my score be next to zero if I listened to him? Maybe this was a test for independent thinking. Surely not in a communist country. Maybe he was looking for signs of my ability to conform. He looked over his shoulder again to see if he was being watched. Maybe this was part of his act to obseve my 're-action.' All very distracting.

Finally I ignored his answer and selected my own: Number '3' I indicated. ‘No! no!' he insisted. 

The humour from this event was quickly deteriorating, but I tried not to take it too seriously How could I? An IQ test as a prerequisite to getting married ! 

My mind began to wander: What would happen if the good doctor was telling the truth, would I get the highest IQ possible? Surely he should throw in a few "mistakes," just to show that all foreigners aren't total geniuses. 

Eventually time was up. The doctor started to tick the answers. Perfect score ! I’m a genius! 

Or would there be some guys in uniform ready to intercept me back on ground floor for cheating. On the other hand, I had conformed to the States requirements, and since when is a little fraud not part of a socialists states mechanism?   

My beloved also had been successful: she had chosen her rose garden and her smile was telling me that in some strange way that only a corrupt system can produce, her psychiatric results had placed firmly in her mind a hilltop villa in Dalat where we would live happily ever after. 

We descended the stairs of the hospital and collected our certificates of 'approved psychiatric assessment.' Apparently I was not clinically insane, and if a perfect score on an IQ test is any measure, I am a certified genius. Was this the required mental ingredients for a foreigner to marry in Vietnam? 

The good doctor appeared and sincerely wished us well. I didn't have the heart to tell him that in my country and probably most developed nations, partial insanity and a good dose of stupidity will go a long way in providing the mental formula for a happy marriage. 

However, I was happy that I was one more step along the bureaucratic path of marrying in Vietnam. 

Most importantly, my beloved was one more step closer to having her paradise, and a woman's paradise, no matter in what country, is a nice house with a nice garden, and a good man to build it for her. 

And you don;t have to be a genius to know that !