I often wonder how many months the pollution and dust in Saigon will take off my life. For this reason, I can’t imagine living here long term. Hell, I imagine that living here long term is akin to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day! That may be an exageration, however no one really knows what a toll this environment is taking on people’s lungs and life span.
As you have seen, I have a little mask that I picked up from a local street shop here. In reality, it doesn’t do much to keep cargcinogins from getting into my lungs, which may be why I have developed a ‘smoker’s cough’. However, it does help me fit in when I’m driving and people don’t stare quite as much. Last week though I decided to invest in my health a bit more by purchasing a proper pollution mask.
I found it in a grocery store and the box said – “Pollution Mask” – followed by a bunch of Vietnamese. It was enough to catch my eye. It has a carbon filter and valves so that it has a tight fit against your mouth ensuring that the air you breath in is going through the filter. Granted – I look like Darth Vader, and probably sound like him when I actually have to speak through the mask! This kind of negates my quest to blend in, but I figure it’s all in the name of health!
One thing that amazes me here is the local’s tolerance to these harsh conditions. You’ve seen my commute to work after it has rained and the road is like driving over a giant waffle! However, when it doesn’t rain then it means that the little, heavily traveled dirt road is a giant Grapes of Wrath dust bowl!
I stare out the window in amazement as the locals drive behind these dusty trucks inhaling the dust and pollution without much of a care. In this vido the guy was so calm about the poor and dangerous driving conditions that he was chatting on his cell phone.
Just last week there was a fatal truck/motorbike accident on this road. I was coming home from work and was stopped by the mass of people that were trying to rush to see what happened. The accident was tragic, yet not surprising. Traffic was stopped for hours as the police tried to make their way out to the countryside to investigate. I ended up walking by foot for a while with my students until I could get another taxi. I was able to get a close up look at the family’s dusty lives and homes along this trecherous road.
My ‘Pollution Mask’ costs me 85,000 dong (roughly $5 USD). It’s not expensive, but certainly not cheap in local standards. However I often find myself staring out my car window in disbelief that more people don’t have proper masks – or masks at all for that matter. In fact, many times I see couples on a motorbike where the woman is on the back with a mask and the husband is driving with no mask. She consideratly places her hand on his face and cups it around his mouth as they drive down the dusty highway. Even though proper masks are seemingly cheap, I know that the answers as to why more people don’t have them are complicated. I only wish I could get one for everyone, but that of course doesn’t guarantee they would wear them.
The children’s helmet laws went into effect this month. I have seen a slight improvment in kids wearing helmets; however, the fact is that 50% of them still don’t wear anything. Something I will never understand.
This country will continue to baffle and confuse me, but it’s why I moved here to see a different way of life. Hopefully it won’t shave too many years off my life!
By Anil July 23, 2009 - 9:13 am
The pollution has got to wreak havoc on your lungs and health. I wonder how the masks are designed and if they’re effective against all of the pollutants.
By Tony July 23, 2009 - 11:14 pm
You probably do lose some of your life due to the pollution, BUT how much appreciation for the world / whatever you love about living abroad have you gained by living there? =)
More than enough to compensate for the last years of life correct?
By Ba July 24, 2009 - 6:45 am
Happiness (laughter) will not only negate the lost years due to pollution but also will increase your lifespan. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laughter#cite_note-5
By Dave and Deb July 25, 2009 - 10:26 am
I understand how you are feeling although I was only there for a month. But my entire time in Vietnam, I had a terrible cough. I like the looks of your old mask better, but alas, I know that for health reasons we all have to give up the stylish things and give into practicality. Kind of like high heels in exchange for flats:)
By Steve Jackson August 14, 2009 - 10:25 am
Great timing – I’ve just quit smoking a pack of cigarettes a day and am due to return to Hanoi in September.
By TW August 14, 2009 - 5:39 pm
I don’t wear a mask precisely because the regular ones do so little for you. I believe women wear them for the further protection of their skin more than their lungs as well. But I like your Shredder mask, my friend had one as well and it seemed to do the job. I still prefer to go without…after living in LA I don’t think I’m losing any health points with the switch.
By Erin August 19, 2009 - 7:05 pm
Wow it looks like a tough environment to be in, dont know if I could cope with that. Obviously the poeple that live there dont see the problem with it because they are so used to it.
By Marie September 17, 2009 - 9:21 pm
Ugh! That’s the one thing I don’t miss from HuCaMuCa! I’ve just come across your blog and I love it! I lived in Vietnam (HCMC) a few years ago and really miss it so this is an exercise in nostalgia for me. Can’t wait to read more:-)
By admin September 19, 2009 - 1:02 am
@Marie – you lived here a few years ago and some things never change! They still haven’t built enough roads!! This road that I go on to work is getting worse and worse – it now takes me about an 1 1/2 to arrive to work. However – I still thank God that I”m not one of those poor motorbike drivers!
By Anna October 16, 2011 - 10:58 am
i just got to HCMC a few days ago and i can’t breath in without coughing. i was literally just having a conversation with a friend about how long each day in this city cuts off your life… true, it is a very interesting and unique place, but i feel like im putting my life at risk every second im on my motorbike breathing in the fumes and almost getting run over every 5 minutes. ANYWAYS, can you please email me and tell me where i can get one of the darth vadar masks? i dont even care how it looks. i cant handle this cough for another day. oh, i just realized you posted this in 2009. ill have to go on a hunt tomorrow
By Sherry October 17, 2011 - 1:16 pm
I got it at the big fancy department store near the cathedral in Destrict1 I can’t remember the name now. But it was up on the 3 or 4th floor where they have a small grocery store. Ask around at grocery stores and you may find them. Good luck! It does take a while to get used to – and it’s probably why I only stayed a year!
By Jeremy May 19, 2013 - 2:13 am
“I got it at the big fancy department store near the cathedral in Destrict1 I can’t remember the name now. But it was up on the 3 or 4th floor where they have a small grocery store.”
Diamond Plaza? I just went there yesterday for the first time (4 weeks in HCMC/Vietnam) but I didn’t see a small grocery store on the 3rd or 4th floors, just overpriced clothing stores. Maybe things have changed…
By Sherry May 19, 2013 - 5:30 pm
That was 4 years ago so it very well could have changed! Sorry!
By Bill April 1, 2013 - 8:42 am
I’m being interviewed for a teaching job in your city and did a search, which brought me here. How many years do you think you might stay in this pollution?
By Sherry April 1, 2013 - 10:24 am
Hi Bill – I lived in HCMC for a year – in 2008/2009. The pollution was really tough – I needed a break! However the city is really cool – great food, chaotic culture and always full of surprises. Good luck with the job search!
By David November 13, 2014 - 6:22 am
I will be visiting Ho Chi Minh in a few weeks, do they sell those masks everywhere or can you tell me where you got yours?
By Sherry November 13, 2014 - 7:31 am
I got my carbon filter one years ago at a grocery store/variety store in a mall. The filter ones are harder to find – but if you ask around you’ll find them. The little cloth ones are everywhere though.
Enjoy your trip!!