Something you might never know about Saigon is the mass number of addicts that live half a life and die too young here.
One of my local friends put it like this: ‘it (heroin) help person feel funny and have a new…strange…they feel better, don’t nervous, don’t afraid…and then they want give up but can’t. Impossible.’ Heroin everywhere is a fast track ticket to losing your life, and it is a big problem here in Saigon. Did you know that? So many people here are dying on drugs. So many people…
The road of the heroin user is one of deterioration, humiliation…and death. Social death, death to your family, death to happiness, to motivation, to dreams, to talents, death to everything except the next fix. All heroin users die.
And they all die too young.
Actually if you are aware of it you can see it here in Saigon quite often. They used to hang out in the park (D1): men and women with emaciated limbs crouching too close to the many rubbish bins.
They often made no effort to hide what they were doing at all – all the energy in their deep set eyes was focused on that needle in their hands. The life blood it promised, the end to a horrible permanent pain of mental, physical, spiritual and social proportions that would swallow any lone person completely in a sea of no return.
Now they have been forced from the open by the government which, wisely, decided that the park was no longer a suitable place for such people to loiter. So many children play in this park, so many stupid tourists walk across the thick grass unwittingly and sit on the ground without thinking, so many people exercise here, play here, chat here and eat here. It is no place for addicts.
So where have they gone? Well, to start I want to tell you a story.
A few nights ago I was walking home from a lovely evening with my boyfriend Nguyen and we passed a woman who had pulled over momentarily to the sidewalk on her motorbike. She was wearing one of those excellently ugly pant suits that so many Vietnamese women seem to think are a good idea, and she was focusing on something in her lap. Next to her, and brace yourselves, was her tiny, wide eyed, pyjama-clad son, and in his hands was a needle.
What kind of a life is this?
He was standing on the sidewalk, barely up to my waist in height and only just growing tufty hair on his little head, and his eyes were completely comfortable as he gripped that lethal instrument and waited for his mother to finish preparing her veins. Honestly I actually feel sick writing this. For him, this boy who could have been no more than 4 years old, it was perfectly normal to be watching his mother insert a large metal rod into her shaking arm. The desperation involved in this act was normal in his eyes, her dependence was a fact of his life, to him it was perfectly ok to go to this spot every night and help her administer something that was slowly killing her.
Nguyen later told me that he sees them every time he walks home from my house in the evening.
I told you this story because it shocked me too much to be quiet about it. What kind of future can that precious little boy have?
Heroin is like a poison. It will slowly melt the lives of everyone around it, and so often all we can do it watch. How could I interfere with that mother and child? How was it in anyway appropriate to do so? And how many other people in this city, in the world are in a similar situation?
My local friend, a student studying English to get a visa to America, also told me this: ‘I think (they) want to try because have a lot of people try…
When you try (it) you don’t give up. Sometime people do (it) because very boring, their daily is not good, poor, and they eat to relax. And when they want to buy drug and they don’t have money they stole and make everything to have money, can kill, can everything to have money to buy it.’
What kind of a life is this?