Monthly Archives: May 2012


Magical mystery doorways! I thought. Before someone pointed out that these are birdhouses, specifically for swifts.

In recent years people in Can Gio (75kms from Ho Chi Minh city) started farming swift birds for their nest and egg. Swift nest made from the bird’s saliva is a highly prized delicacy in South East Asia.

Unlike poultry, you have to seduce the birds and lure them to this “den” by maintaining the right temperature, sound and particularly by spraying chemical pheromones all over the building. The popular brand on the market is Close2You Aroma. Great name.


Physician turned mythologist – Devdutt Pattanaik’s fascinating account of how and why people from the East (India) and the West behave differently, rooting from ancient mythologies. There are many aspects of the Indian world order that I find true to Vietnam as well.

When I was a child the only times we get to eat meat was when there was some sort of festival or a big family gathering. A live chicken would be sacrificed for the occasion. My grandma would slit its throat, collect its blood in a bowl which were then used to make congealed blood. Then she doused it with hot water and plucked the feathers off. It was a process that required practice and skill and she did everything quickly and efficiently.

By the time I could cook the economy had improved immensely and we ate meat when we feel like it. Meat was also readily available in the markets and supermarkets. Occasionally someone from the countryside would bring a live chicken to the house as a present but for the most part someone else did the dirty work for us.

I never did the dirty work. I even skipped bio class in school when we had to dissect live frogs and birds. The only things I’ve ever killed were ants, occasionally spiders, and roaches (squeamishly). Otherwise, I have never killed or stayed in the presence of a killing. I’d always sneaked off.

All this goes to say being in the presence of mass killing was the first for me. It’s not that easy to visit a slaughterhouse if you’re not in the meat business, but after the district vets gave the go ahead, the virology and zoonosis team at the OUCRU took me with them on their visit to the slaughterhouse in Cao Lanh, Dong Thap, down in the Mekong.

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This has little to do with medical science and is not particular to vietnam but so interesting. There are a lot of things we assume unique to humankind which have proven wrong. The experiment with the capuchins at the end of the talk is fascinating and hilarious.