Why “Why did the chicken cross the street?” is the most frivolous question ever formulated

There are questions about life whose profundity is worth reflecting about. For instance these three questions: Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where do we go from here? are very critical questions for the spiritual survival of mankind. The attempts to find the answers to them sparked the birth of specific bodies of knowledge such as metaphysics, semiotic, and ontology that can stand on their own right as an independent branch of philosophy.

There are questions that are asked because they require practical answers which, although not philosophical in nature, are still necessary to maintain civilization. For example: If the slope of the line is the tangent of cosine b, what is the angle of the line opposite teta as it approaches the asymptote of the 4th quadrant 28 degrees east northeast of that toilet bowl to your left, granting that the formula y=mx+b is half of the diameter of that circle whose pi is not 3.1416 but 2.3X10 raised to the 23rd power of the speed of light in a vacuum?

Questions like the one before this paragraph may sound pedantic but they have actual applications in the field of civil engineering, architecture, weather reporting, space technology, communication, etc. They are not meant to be answered by laymen not because they are not capable of answering them but because there are specialized groups of people who are paid to answer them. Answers to these questions make our existence on this planet more comfortable, our lives easier, therefore allowing as to pursue the answers to questions of the first type.

There are questions that keep the society in order, at peace, and well-functioning. How are you? How’s your day? Can I call you tonight? Do you love me? Can we make love tonight? Will you marry me? Can I have a divorce? are of this kind. These questions maintain human conduct, the foundation of an urbane, civilized, humane, and cosmopolitan living. Without questions like these, we are nothing better than wild beasts or members of a barbaric tribe who are yet to be tamed by what we universally refer to as ecumenical acculturation (I am literally clueless as to the meaning of this phrase, but it sounds good so I am using it anyway).

The last kind of questions, which, I believe, is the least studied but the most interesting, is where the Why-did-the-chicken-cross-the-street? type of questions belong. These questions are devoid of any spiritual, utilitarian, or cultural significance. People who ask these questions indulge in their own frivolity and the buffoonery of the questions they ask. Mankind asks “Why did the chicken cross the street?” because of a combination of boredom and unabashed narcissism.

Different societies around the world have their versions of jokes involving the innocent chicken. This particular chicken, however, did not even think of crossing the street because, as all of us know, there’s nothing to be seen on the other side of the street that can’t be found on that side of the street the chicken is standing. But man’s prying won’t give the chicken his peace. Despite the apparent absence of any laugh-inducing tales that are truly humorous involving our chicken, mankind doesn’t stop concocting stories that explain why the chicken crossed the street (or if our chicken indeed did cross the busy street).

But it appeared that on the other side of the street, the chicken in question is staring at the entire of mankind wondering why the most advance species in the animal kingdom is wondering why the lowly avian crossed the street, which in fact he did not.

“See what boredom can do!” The chicken exclaimed.

When we’ve grown too old to play ‘Snakes and Ladders’

This is a very simple board game that is dependent on nothing but sheer luck. Our mother introduced this to us when we were still very young. I was eight years old then. Playing snakes and ladders involves throwing of a die that will determine how many moves a player will take, and depending on his fortune, he may go to a safe tile, climb the ladder and go up several notches, or be eaten by a snake and go back a lower level. The player who reaches the 100th tile first wins the game.

I have three sisters and two brothers. The six of us grew up in a rather protected household. My childhood memory is replete of any friends from the outside. Although my parents did not prevent us from mingling with the neighbors’ children but still we did not go out of the house to play with any of the children our age. It was either we hated rough games or we thought that we did not need anyone because the six of us were more than enough to play hide-and-seek or tug-of-war or whatever game we could think of, and besides we used to think that our neighbors’ children despised us and thought of as us too snobbish.

And so snakes and ladders was one of our past times in the early nineties when Playstation and some other modern games were non-existent or, if they were already in the market, too expensive for our parents, who are both public school teachers, to afford. Oh I remember we had a Nintendo family computer where we had to insert a very big “bala” or cards to play Super Mario or a very rudimentary Motorbike race using our black and white television set as monitor. But it was only the six of us then – my eldest sister, myself, my two younger brothers and two younger sisters.

A decade after, we are already too old to play snakes and ladders or any children’s game.

I had a chat with my eldest sister two days ago. I reassured her that after I finished my scholarship I shall keep my promise to help support the schooling of my two younger brother and sister who are both in college now. I know it was difficult for my sister for she had been sacrificing for the past four years, setting aside all the plans for her self just to help my parents with the education of my younger siblings. I just thought that next year it’ll be a time for her to seek for whatever is in store for her. I told her that I am willing to postpone my master’s degree in Journalism at a university in the US because it is more important for me that she can also do something she really loves to do and not just because she feels obligated to do it.

I also feel the same for my brother who is next to me. He graduated from college a year ago and is now contemplating to go to Romania to be a hotel staff or do a job similar to that. I asked him if he has already made up his mind, he told me he has no choice, “It’s for the family, Yan,” he told me.

The Author, Mae Byrd (24), Sef Daye (19), Ojualyn (10), Gemini (17), Des Neil (20)
The Author, Mae Byrd (24), Sef Daye (19), Ojualyn (10), Gemini (17), Des Neil (20)

We’ve already grown up. Our concerns are not anymore about how to win a game of snakes and ladders but how to make our family whole. I used to think of my eldest sister as selfish and immature and my brother next to me as someone beyond my understanding. They are my siblings but I’ve never really known them, but through the years, I’m starting to see other sides of them that have remained hidden to me despite the number of years we spent together in South Cotabato and even while we were still in college.

It occurred to me that it was I who is selfish and who thought of nothing but the advancement of my career. Although my sister will never have the guts to tell to my face, but I knew she also wants me to do my share of the sacrifices. And I promised her I will. I will be turning 23 next year, in a time most crucial to my growth as a member of the academe, but I know it’ll never hurt me if I give up just two years of my life for my younger siblings and for my sister who also has to find her place under the sun.

I just want to share the ladders I’ve accumulated through the years and kill as many snakes as I can to help my other siblings, the children I used to play snakes and ladders with during our past times in the early 90s, reach the 100th tile together with me.

Smorgasbord of styles in Vietnamese architecture

Architecture in Vietnam is a melange of styles, a reflection of its more-than-a-thousand-year old history, French colonization, American influence, and the recent opening up of its market and culture to the world.

The types of architecture can be classified into five main categories – vernacular, Chinese, ethnic, colonial and modern.

In spite of the country’s extensive history, few buildings in Vietnam are more than century year old, there are some notable exceptions, nonetheless. Unlike Europeans, Asians do not venerate old place of dwellings or worships. Even in the recent past, when a house, a temple, or a pagoda fell into disrepair, it was either knocked down and replaced, or extensively renovated. When a Vietnamese person says a building is ‘old’, he or she means that its original purpose has been preserved on that site, not the building itself. Recent exposure to organizations such as the UNESCO World Heritage Site Program with a mandate to conserve cultural relics has led to a greater concern to retain the original integrity of old buildings, but most of the skills and knowledge of the craftspeople who built them have forgotten.

One of the pillars of the entrance gate of the Temple of Literature

Vernacular Vietnamese architecture

Vernacular Vietnamese buildings are distinctive- unlike most of the rest of Asia, they have a massive wooden framework, rather than the lightweight ‘stilt’ method used elsewhere. Good examples can be seen all over the country, and particularly in the villages around Hanoi. Larger public buildings, such as ‘communal houses’, are also of wooden construction. Stone and brick were reserved for royal or significant religious buildings. Nearly all vernacular buildings were single-storey, with heavy flat-tiled roofs to withstand typhoons. None had ceilings or chimneys.

Traditional Chinese architecture

The Chinese influence on Vietnamese architecture is seen most clearly in pagodas and palaces. The distinctive roofs with elevated hip rafters and half-round tiles, heavy ornamentation and lavish use of embellishments and motifs are distinctive features. However, although superficially similar to their Chinese antecedents, the architectural details of Vietnamese pagodas differ greatly. However, the layout, orientation, statues, steles and other external elements of pagodas are usually Chinese in origin.

Ethnic vernacular architecture

Vietnam has many distinct ethnic groups, and many have preserved their indigenous architecture, some of which is highly attractive. The 30m long sweeping straw roofs of the Ba Na ‘rong’ houses and the E De long houses that sometimes extend over 100m are particularly interesting.

Colonial French architecture

Vietnam’s colonial buildings are more than a straightforward replica of French architecture. Adapting to a very different climate led to many distinctive features, making the style into a genre in its own right. Good examples of colonial buildings can be found all over the country, but especially in Hanoi, Da Lat and Hai Phong. The General Post Office and the Town Hall in Ho Chi Minh City, the many mansions and the Opera House in Hanoi, and the interior of the Municipal Theatre in Hai Phong are all splendid examples.

A French colonial-style building

Modern architecture in Vietnam

Heavy taxes on the frontage of old vernacular town houses led to the long, thin ‘tube’ houses of Hanoi and Hoi An. Today, spiralling land values and status has placed a premium upon height. Narrow houses built on a handkerchief of land rise as much as seven or eight stories to overtake the neighbours. They are often built in a strange pastiche of French architecture with ornate balconies, cupolas and decorations fashioned in cement and concrete and painted in pastel colours. High ceilings, ceramic tiled floors and large windows reflect the climate, but the extensive use of wrought iron screens and shutters on windows, and metal gates and doors, are the response to a high level of burglary!

Residential houses in Hanoi usually range from four storeys and some reaching a high as eight floors

Houses and business establishments are equipped with series of locks that any ordinary burglar will have a hard time dismanttling

Modern public architecture

Outside the towns and cities, public buildings tend to be functional rectangular buildings with little architectural merit. Particularly in Hanoi, but also in Ho Chi Minh City and other cities, there are several interesting examples of Soviet architecture dating back to the post-French war period when the influence of the USSR was at its strongest in Vietnam. Good examples are the State Bank, a blend of Soviet and oriental styles, the People’s Committee building, typical of the Soviet ‘brutalism’ architectural period, and Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum. All three are in central Hanoi.

One of the narrow alleyways that connects communities in the city.

More recent public and commercial building architectural styles have varied from the pseudo-classical façade of the Trang Tien Plaza shopping centre to the futuristic Sofitel Plaza Hotel, both in Hanoi, and to the glass and concrete high-rise towers of Ho Chi Minh City.

With the coming of other religious organization, it is not anymore surprising to see Catholic Churches, dominating the skyline and looking totally detached from the architecture of surrounding buildings. These churches are found right in the center of the city imitating the Cathedral of Notre Dame in France.

A Catholic Church in Hai Phong, a port city north of Vietnam

The Parish of St. Joseph located right at the heart of Hanoi, just a few meters from the famous Ho Hoan Kiem

Source: Vietnam Budget Tour, http://www.asiarooms.com