I think most people consider the non la, the conical hat worn by everyone from rice farmers to trash collectors, the most easily recognized image associated with Vietnam. I disagree. If any object in Vietnam is iconic, by which I mean ubiquitous, irreplaceable and emblematic of the daily life of the vast majority of Vietnamese, it is the Little Red Stool. Oh how I love thee, let me count the ways.
Oh red stool, you are always an indicator of the best, and cheapest, food Vietnam has to offer. Any chair with a back and four walls to surround it is sure to increase the price and decrease the quality by a factor of four. It is you that shines like a crimson beacon on sidewalks across the length and breadth of Vietnam, pointing the way to delicious cauldrons of steaming pho or bun bo hue or bun thit nuong like a lighthouse to a wayward and starving sailor. Easily stacked and strapped to the back of moto, bike, or cart, you are whisked away at the end of every long day, free from the binds of taxation or permanant address or sanitation standards, only to return reassuringly with the dawn. Harbinger of streetfood, I salute you.
Oh red stool, you provide seating where there once was none, where many thought seating was never meant to be. In aisles and hallways of theaters, hospitals, nay! even "private" buses, you democratically and generously allow all the wretched comers to rest their weary haunches in numbers far exceeding pedestrian concerns of "safety." Some might consider the intrusion of an elbow into their back or a knee into their thigh for a 3 hr bus ride a burden too heavy to bear, but not I, red stool. Let the prols come, let them sit on your four flimsy pillars of communism, for they have been making French Fries all day for the gringos, and must dream fitfully of revolution.
Oh red stool, you are tool and toy, father, mother, secret lover. You allow us to reach objects five inches from our grasp and let us sit with our knees six inches away from our faces. You make tall white people look ridiculous. But soon the rains will come, and your sidewalk habitat will be made untenable by the vagaries of weather. But you will retreat, into the covered places, and you will bide your time. And in the spring, when the showers end and people emerge hungry and stiff from months of sitting in proper chairs, you will have your day in the sun.
Red stool, I [heart]