Sunday, March 20, 2011

Something That's Bothering Me

It's morning on the second day of our stay in Ho Chi Minh City. Yesterday we practiced resisting the advances of various vendors as politely as possible in the Bến Thành Market, a place that isn't much fun for people who dislike haggling as intensely as I do. The market was oppressively stuffy and full of nauseating smells, so Wife and I decided to escape the crowds briefly by walking around the outer perimeter of the market building.

On the sidewalk outside the market, I felt a tap on my arm and turned to see a man who was missing several portions of the skin on his face. His lips were gone, perpetually showing a full set of teeth. His nose had been reduced to a slight protrusion with two nostrils and his right eye was surrounded by raw-looking tissue that barely seemed to cover the bone. I couldn't guess his age because what skin he had left was pulled too tightly around his head to reveal any natural wrinkles. I assume his injuries were not recent, because he didn't appear to be in pain, yet the tissue showing where his skin was missing looked wet and vulnerable. He didn't look like a leper; he looked like he had just tried to eat an exploding string of firecrackers.

The sight of this man was horrifying and something I wish I could forget, but what haunts me more is the way I reacted to him. The man met my eyes and said "hi" in English. I don't recall displaying any outright revulsion or shock at the man's appearance, but my response was nothing more than a similar "hi," after which I immediately turned ninety degrees and walked away with Wife in tow, hoping she wouldn't have to see him. I don't know what reaction would have been better, and I'm sure others before my have seen this man and reacted with more obvious horror than I did, but I can't help but feel like I was horribly rude to this man whose nightmarish appearance was no fault of his own. Curt as my responses to every vendor in the market may have been, they were all accompanied by a smile. This guy only got a parroted "hi" and a quick look away.

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