Do Third World countries smell? Think about it. Firstly, let's read Diplomad
- an anonymous U.S. diplomat in (I presume) Aceh:
Many years ago, as we prepared
our return to a tough posting in the Far
Abroad after leave in the States, our son asked, "Do we have to go back
to the 'turd' world?" That phrase, "redolent" with the wisdom possessed
only by children, has stayed with me over these passing years. My son
was right about the 'turd' world. What tips you off that you have
arrived in a poor country, a truly, genuinely dirt-poor corner of the
Far Abroad, is the smell. As you leave the airport, you notice a
special "exotic" odor of rotting vegetation, garbage, and feces
combined with a slight whiff of smoke. Once you're there a bit, you no
longer notice. When you leave and come back, it slams you all over
again. The kid was right: we had been and still do live in the "Turd
Maybe I've been in this
country too long, but applying it to Việt Nam would be an inaccurate
slur. Firstly, the smell you notice stepping out of the
airport - whether it be Sài Gòn,
Đà Lạt or Đá Nẵng (the three I've experienced) is
jet fuel, plus what ever air pollution is available locally. Fucking
obvious. To smell garbage, just stand close to a
bin - an axiom true from Melbourne to Manchester. And I don't know
what Diplomad has against "rotting vegetation". Rotting vegetation is a
thing that you get in rainforests. I've just visited the
rainforests of Cát Tiên national park. It smelt
nice. I want to visit Cát Tiên again. Nope, I
don't know what he meant by "rotting vegetation". Oops, I think he
vegetables". Now I've done my share house living. I've cleaned out 3
month old Bok Choi from fridges. It's a bad odor. It's not an odor
present in great amounts here, unless you visit
the local markets. Then you get a big whiff of it. But markets aren't
everywhere, and there are big spaces free of them, and their stench of
Yes, sometimes you do get the
stench of faeces in
your face. I've blogged about the local
cloacas that pass for canals.
Things are also whiffy at home - due to the
government making much needed renovations to the sewers. But in
most parts of town you don't smell shit. It's not that the walls are
clean. Far from it. But they don't smell. Except maybe of urine.
To many Vietnamese men, wall = urinal. But isn't that also true in the
There are worse
things in this country. Mũi Né is a small beachtown 200 km
east of Sài Gòn. It's a nice vacation spot. The
only real drawback is in the air. Every now and then, the air wafts to
you the stench - the stench of something dead and rotting. In this
case, fish: sealed in thousands of clay pots and fermenting away. The
process result in nước mắn - fish
sauce, which happens to be Việt Nam's #1 condiment. It's actually not a
substance in cooking. But the odor of the manufacturing
Now I can go on and on about
the unfairness of describing undeveloped countries as "The Turd World".
As if the First doesn't have its share of smells. (Even been behind a
roadtrain of cattle? They're common in Australia. The combined stench
of stearic acid and bullshit is also unforgettable.) It also reveals a
surprisingly condescending attitude for a diplomat. Unfortunately,
there's something smellier about Diplomad's site:
A Blog by career US
Foreign Service officers. They are Republican (most
of the time) in an institution (State Department) in which being a
Republican can be bad for your career -- even with a Republican
President! Join the State Department Republican Underground.
Yes, but which sort of Republican?
Are we talking about "grownup" Republicans - people like Gerald Ford,
George Bush (senior) and George Schultz? You might not agree with them,
but you could work with them, and they sometimes did good things. For
example, Bush was the man who kicked Saddam Hussein out
of Kuwait in 1991. They were people you
could deal with. They were (more or less) competent.
I hope that the's sort of
Republican Diplomad is. I fear he belongs to a less savory grouping:
PNAC / Neoconservative motherfuckers. Neither benevolent nor competent
nor loved by the rest of the world. People like Paul Wolfowitz, Richard
Dick Cheney, and many other asshats who came to prominence post 2001.
They're far more
ideological and intolerant than the first group. A lot of them love the
U.S. Hegemony. Alas, they're not that competent. It's people like them
who got George Bush junior into
invading Iraq with wildly overoptimistic troop estimates. They were the
ones who bought Ahmed Chalabi's bullshit. And anyone who questioned
this was sidelined or sacked.
And now look at the mess they
made. 1300 American dead and 10,000 American injured (and 100,000 dead
Iraqis) later, Iraq is run by 20 or 30 different factions with guns.
The insurgency now has a 6-digit population later - twice the figure of
U.S. soldiers stationed there. Even the green zone isn't safe. They're
now down to using up their reserves. And they've pissed off France and
Germany so much that they're not getting any help from them.
way they're getting out with face is if the Iraqi elections are
peaceful. Since electoral workers are being killed, that looks
unlikely. Is Iraq Việt Nam on crack? From where
I'm sitting, mate, it's looking more like Teotoburg
So how would Diplomad classify
himself? He doesn't say. When he bitches about other countries (which
is often), he reminds me
of the second group. For example, on other countries' contribution to
the tsunami humanitarian effort:
Sitting VERY late for two
consecutive nights in interminable meetings
with UN reps, hearing them go on about "taking the lead coordination
role," pledges, and the impending arrival of this or that UN big shot
or assessment/coordination team, for the millionth time I realized that
if not for Australia and America almost nobody in the tsunami-affected
areas would have survived more than a few days. If we had waited for
the UNocrats to get their act coordinated, the already massive death
toll would have become astronomical. But, fortunately, thanks to
"retrograde racist war-mongers " such as John Howard and George W.
Bush, as we sat in air conditioned meeting rooms with these UNocrats,
young Australians and Americans were at that moment "coordinating"
without the UN and saving the lives of tens-of-thousands of people.
Well according to Wikipedia,
Singapore has been doing sterling work in
using its armed forces in Aceh, and Malaysia (one of the countries hit
in the disaster) is actually shifting resources to help other
countries. There's a lot of good stuff coming in from other
countries. Look up the link. Singling out two countries for special
praise (of which one happens to be his own)
is unwarranted here. And I don't think that John Howard and George W.
Bush are "retrogade racist war-mongers". I think they're "assholes".
The difference is that John Howard is actually competent at his job,
was aware of the tsunami when it happened,
and occasionally shows signs of genius. For example, his 1 billion AUD
Indonesia stunned everyone.
(Including me. And for a rare change, in admiration.) While Dubya
seemed unaware of the tragedy at first, and then pledged stingily.
I don't want to be too hard on
Diplomad, because he's fighting the good
fight too. He sounds like he's been running ragged at the Embassy
trying to organize the aid effort, and thus grouchy as a result. The crash
of a U.S. aid helicopter in Aceh today
wouldn't have helped his temper either. I salute him, but I also
remember that one can be a hero and a prick as the same time. He seems
to love whining about "Scandinavians and leftist Americans, and the
occasional pompous Euro-Brazilian". He decries the U.N. as
the "High Priest Vulture Elite". He
accuses them of being a parasitic elite better at photoshots than
actually giving aid. Paranoid hyperbole? I'm not too fussed about the
and the way it dropped the ball on Rwanda. On the other hand, U.N.
peacekeeping troops did better work in East Timor. Irregardless of
that, the United Nations organization is definitely in need of reform.
If he digs dirt on them, then good on him! If it contributes to the
reform of the U.N., so much the better! But does Diplomad want abolishment?
I don't know, but if it doesn't sound like a good idea. Better an
ineffectual organization where countries can talk than no such
organization. Or is he one of those people who believe in American
hegemony? No way.
One interesting question is:
why is being a republican bad for your career in the State Department?
Remember, this comes at a time when the Republicans control the House,
the Senate and the Cabinet. Diplomad is sort of hinting that
upper-level public servants are political biased. My guess is
different: these public servants have observed - in the space of 4
years - how an atavistic and ill-judged Republican administration have
trashed the good international reputation of the U.S. built slowly and
gradually since World War
II. This month, they see the retirement of their boss, and possibly the
last grown-up Republican, one Colin Powell, who has been slowly
sidelined by Rumsfeld, Cheney and others of their ilk. By their
standards, the remaining Republicans are PNAC / Neoconservative
sympathizers, and can be fairly judged to be batshit crazy. That's not
political bias. That's just self-protection.