Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Is it the end of Hello?

Someone needs to put a stop to it, not that's there's anything wrong with a friendly hello. But my throat is dry, my voice is hoarse, my will threadbare, my alternative sensibilities yearn out for more. Also, my neck is stiff from turning on my bike everywhere I go, as I pass children, building sites, travel into the boonies, down country roads, over the hills and far away. Everywhere I hear "Hello!"

When you first come here you think it would be rude not to reply, yet the numbers are stacked heavily against you. Mark my words you'll rue the day you take on the task of replying to everyone. It's akin to counting the grains of sand on a beach.

Age or status isn't important. Infants, teenagers, shoe shine boys, middle-aged fruit mongers, doctors, pimps, truck drivers and toothpick vendors. As I pass them all they uniformly shout "Hello". When I'm full of vim and vinegar I holler back, yet when I'm exhausted and sunburnt I just raise my eyebrows. Yet you feel guilty ignoring them, just like the Monkeys, they're just trying to be friendly.

Only the old Ong's and Bac's are left out of it. My heart goes out to them. Sometimes they'll catch your arm and chance a risque 'bonjour' when they think no one is looking. These poor souls are remnants of phapophilic past when the country played host to French buereaucrats, dapper soldiers and pernod was downed in one. Then it was de riguer to learn French. Now despite strenuous French investment it is out of favour.

Even more tragically, once sadly, a old man with translucent skin, bewildered eyes, shaking hands and the fear upon him, met me in an alleyway in the suburbs of Hanoi. "Ruski?" he said hopefully and tentatively. Perhaps he'd studied there once upon a time and a flicker of a romantic past was on his lips. Poor chap. Perhaps all he wanted to say was 'Zdrat-s-voyei-tre' Then a bunch of whippersnappers came scrambling out of their boxes roaring "Hello! Hello!" Running through my legs and jumping on my bike. He shuffled away sadly, left out in the cold, now behind an iron curtain of linguistic homengenisation and new fads. Learning Russian now is like wearing leg warmers and buying a hula-hoop to be in fashion. Ah History, ye fickle mistress and cruel temptress! Now he is merely a crumb of the past and a bystander to the grand cult of Anglaise.

The other day, having nothing better to do than wait for beer drinking PM, I decided to count the greetings. There were no less than 72 hellos directed towards my good self in all. So, giving the matter no thought whatsoever, in any non-given SARS mid to peak season with an average of 25,000 Anglo-Tays, from north to south, I estimate there is a staggering one million eight hundred thousand hellos being uttered daily. That is a staggering 45 billion hellos per year.

The country is pushing itself to gross extremities. Exhausting that solitary word. Beating it into the ground of insignificance until it can muster no more. Soon Anglo-Tays will pass the polite hellos, seeming rude, stuck up or indifferent. It shall be nothing other than a faint whisper. Like a distant buffeting breeze unremembered. A sad image you'd have to agree. Like a candlelit dinner for one.

Therefore, I would like to launch the "wahey" programme of cultural integration task force. We shall teach country bumpkins and urbane city folk to shout "wahey!" when they see a Tay pass by their office, door, street corner, hammock, shop, tree, bench, massage parlour in any non-life threatening traffic situation. And when that gets annoying we'll change it to "Good Day to you there!" then "Yoo hoo!" and then "Let there be rock" and so on, so forth.

All in favour say "Wahey!"

May the future be bright and ridculous, amen.