Corner

A sunny day, a hot day, and the far side of the river, which I can see from the prospect of my 20th floor apartment, is obscured in a haze. "Summer is icumen in", which means my fan is icumen out of the cupboard and I am not iguen outside.


Not for the first time I envy the fan's industry. It works like a dog, without ever taking a break. When I was a child I would have felt sorry for a fan, if I'd had one, just as I used to feel sorry for my shoes being left all alone on the other side the room at night. Now I'm an adult I'm merciless and don't give a hoot about the fan or my shoes (although now writing this I do feel a twinge of guilt).


Today, I note for posterity, I manage to sell my spare mattress and office chair to a Canadian! I have been trying to sell them for weeks, and I have stubbornly held out against all the buyers who wanted to pay less than the asking price. I'm so pleased I give the Canadian a 10% discount.


The Canadian sends a resourceful man from a removal company called "Ride on Time". When he arrives he calls up - he needs a document from the building staff for permission to enter. This is new. I go downstairs to fill in the form.


As usual in the morning, the spacious foyer is busy with children on tricycles being shoved about by bent-backed and grimly silent grandmothers, all under the noses of the building staff and security guards. And why not? I've seen yoga classes and badminton matches in the same space - all virtually unthinkable in the UK.


A grandmother pushing a tricycle bears down on me like Boadicea on the Romans, so I hurry off to find Mr Ride on Time. The building is under new management, I explain, hence the form and my lack of knowledge thereof (I do not use those words). These new managers are far more organised. The small admin room, which housed two cramped desks, has been turned into a tool room, and the large tool room, which housed a rack of tools on the wall, has been turned into an admin room, with new desks and cabinets making lavish use of their new space. This makes sense. They need a larger room for their new policies and forms.


Anyway, I stand at the counter, participating in the elements of bureaucracy - the pen, the form, the questions, the signature, the date which I can never remember - while behind me the children and grandmothers participate in each other. Forms, I gloomily think to myself, have cousins, called Notices and Signs. Soon, I suspect, the new managers will look about for something else to manage, they will see the disorder before them, notices will go up, and the playing and the yoga and the badminton will stop - the paternalistic instinct fundamental to all management will assert itself, children will wonder why... the shoes will sit against the wall at night... nobody will care about the poor fan, and then "the spring will refuse to come into the garden" ...


It's the same at work, minus the children. The old system of the scribbled parking ticket and the guard under the umbrella has gone. Now I swipe a magnetic entry card against a sensor on the side of the hut where the guard sits, beholden to a monitor, no longer able to gaze out at the day. When I first came to Viet Nam I had one of these cards in my wallet. Now I have three. There is probably a correlation between magnetic entry cards, the policing of public space, the prevalence of forms and notices, heartlessness towards fans and shoes, children wondering why - and economic development.


Still, the form works, Ride on Time removes my mattress and chair, and now I have my own issues with the management of space - a vacant corner, resounding with a sonic boom of emptiness. What shall become of it, this corner, this poor, hungry corner? It is too small for tricycles, grandmothers, children and yoga.


I feed it a beanbag for now. But corners cannot live on beans alone. Something else is required! Later I give it the fan too. Then some shoes.


Be good to each other, I admonish the fan, the bean bag, the shoes, and the corner.


Then I sit down to fill in the six forms I need for my Covid vaccination, which has arrived, courtesy of bureaucracy and management, from the UK.



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