Thursday, August 23, 2012


This story was told to me over lunch the other day. 

I think I’ve mentioned the segregation among Vietnamese staff and foreigners at my place of work. There are lots of factors driving it, and obviously the biggest factor is the language barrier. Next biggest is a practical issue – Vietnamese people get up out of bed at the arse crack of dawn. They run around and work HARD in the morning, and by 11 am are starving and ready for lunch. 

Whereas, expats get up later, barely work all that much in the mornings by comparison (not many of us will have been to the market and cooked all the meals for the family for the day before we even get to work), and are ready for lunch at about 1pm. So, the Vietnamese staff take first shift in the lunch room, and the expats come in a bit later.  After their lunch, the Vietnamese staff can often be seen snoozing at their desks – but that’s a whole other post. 

So, lunchtime is segregated.  But I always like it when we get a Vietnamese person at the lunch table with us, because they often have quite a different point of view, and even better – they have stories!

The other day, one of our senior Vietnamese researchers was telling us this story about an incident in a medical school back in the 1980s in Vietnam. Back then, medical students would be divided into groups of about 10. The group would spend the whole year doing everything together – all their lab work, all their study groups and socialising, and of course, all their cadaver work. A bit like Grey’s Anatomy, I guess. One day, one of the students decided to play a practical joke on all the others in the group. Before the practical session with the cadavers, he sneaked into the lab and hid himself under a sheet on a table – waiting for the others to come in and be ready to begin their work- pretending to be the body.  When the others arrived and were gathered around the table he – predictably enough – sat up. 

What he hadn’t predicted though, was the reaction of one of his classmates. One guy was so frightened, that he just started screaming – in a long, continuous scream – and running around in circles. Like something you would see on a cartoon, he was running around in a state of panic, with all of his classmates, cadaver included, in pursuit. 

The poor guy. 

It ended up being VERY serious.  At first, they couldn’t catch him.  And when they did finally catch him – they couldn’t calm him. The guy ended up spending two weeks in a mental institution and the group of students were severely reprimanded.  They were told that if the guy didn’t recover, then they would all be expelled. So there was a lot of contrite apologising and grovelling and visiting the guy in the hospital. When he was recovered, they asked him about his reaction – why did he just run around like that?  Why couldn’t he stop? He said that it was because not only was he shocked, but he was being chased. And not just by the group of students, but also by the guy who was supposed to be dead.  How did they expect him to react when being chased by a recently reanimated dead guy?

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