Did Vietnam's Tarzans want to be rescued?

WILD LIVING: Last week, Ho Van Thanh (not pictured), 82, and son Ho Van Lang, 41 - wearing loincloths made from tree bark - were taken out of the jungles of Vietnam, where they have lived since 1972.


    Aug 19, 2013

    Did Vietnam's Tarzans want to be rescued?

    The New York Times

    THEY'VE been called Vietnamese Tarzans - wearing loincloths and all - a father and son who fled the bombs of war in 1972 and were living in the jungles of central Vietnam.

    That was until last week, when the authorities took Ho Van Thanh, 82, and his son, Ho Van Lang, 41, out of their tree house to rejoin society after four decades in the wild.

    Relatives had tried to coax the pair out of isolation before, with no luck, and now fear they might return to their life of bamboo coats and crudely carved hunting tools.

    But people have asked whether officials rescued men who did not need, or want, rescuing.

    "Ask a wild bird that's being kept in a cage if it's happier than when it was free in nature?" one reader said on Voice of Vietnam.

    The less poetic pitied the men for no longer being able to urinate or bathe in the open air.

    On another site, a commenter quipped: "Living in the forest must be great for your health, because Thanh is 82, but his hair still hasn't greyed."

    Putting aside such wistful fantasising about al fresco life, the discovery of Thanh and Lang has triggered a flurry of questions about modern life in Vietnam, especially the downsides of industrialisation and urbanisation.

    Some Vietnamese are comparing the fresh air of the jungle to the pollutants and particulates of urban life. Some cities in Vietnam rival Beijing in poor air quality, prompting many people to wear surgical masks every day.

    When journalist Dao Tuan wrote on popular news site VnExpress that Thanh and Lang had the luxury to "eat when they were hungry, but didn't worry about poisoning", he was voicing a common concern about food safety.

    Vietnamese people joke that farmers do not eat what they sell - and, apparently, that is sometimes true.

    This week, while enjoying a street-side meal with a friend, I reached for leaf-wrapped beef and noodles. He asked: "Are you sure you want to do that?"

    He was referring to recent news that most noodles, even those sold in supermarkets, contain a banned and cancer-causing chemical.

    Upon hearing of Thanh and Lang's boundless access to the woods, some Vietnamese bemoaned losing their property.

    In 1993, as the country moved away from collectivism towards privatisation, many people received 20-year leases to farm or develop tracts of land.

    Those contracts are expiring this year, making land grabs one of the hottest flashpoints between the state and the public.

    There are problems outside rural areas, too. In cities and towns, there is an unmet demand for affordable homes and an oversupply of high-end dwellings.

    Thanh and Lang's re-entry into mainstream life has observers feeling sorry - not just for the two men, but also for the uncomfortable realities of their own existence.