Monday, August 23, 2004

One of the benefits of coming to South East Asia are it's cheapness and its copyright laws. Either there is no enforceable copyright law in Vietnam regarding the selling of DVD's and CD's or no one cares enough to enforce them. In shops up and down Pham Ngu Lao - the travelers main hang-out in Saigon - and in the surrounding area, one can wander into stores and select from countless copies of the latest albums and films. In some cases, DVD copies of films are available before the film is itself being shown in local theatres. And here's the kicker: music CD's cost 30p per disc; DVD's 60p. In the last week I have seen DVD copies of Spiderman 2, The Bourne Supremacy, Elephant, Fahrenheit 911, and a number of others. DVD players can be rented for 24 hours and for less than two pounds. Quality is mixed of course; whether it was the player or the discs, some movies would stick, others were filmed by a camera at the back of a cinema (complete with occasional bobbing head off to the toilet), and some copied straight from an original DVD it seems.

The discs and their packaging are very well made although the English language explanations are often laughable in their naivete. A glance at the back of The Godfather packaging will show a carefully designed copy of the official DVD, but read it and the explanation of the film is actually taken from the Disney film Monsters Inc - printed in the Godfather's familiar typeface.

This freest of markets in the biggest city in a socialist country is not exclusively a digital medium thing. Salespeople (often children) carry around heavy stacks of photocopied books. All bound and packaged expertly but certainly not by the official publishers. I have a book called Sideshow - an excellent report on how Nixon and Kissenger's criminal indifference led to the near destruction of Cambodia and its people after the Vietnam War. One section of the book is upside down, in another part the black print become blue ink! Most copies are better though; I've just finished the superb The Life Of Pi, with few problems. Bought for 2 pounds from a lady who sold it to me whilst I was eating breakfast in Gon Cafe.

Across the road from said cafe is a shop specializing in selling reproductions of famous paintings. Not so dodgy or morally questionable perhaps, but a good opportunity to hang a copy of The Last Supper in one's bathroom. These reproductions are of excellent quality and go for between US$30 and $100. I'm not sure of the legality of buying copied books, DVD's or CD's, but westerners buy these goods in their droves.

Of more original interest are the communist propaganda posters that have decorated (or plagued depending on your viewpoint) the streets for many years. Nowadays the posters usually warn against HIV and AIDS or show the image of revered figure Ho Chi Minh. It is quite interesting to note that their is a shop in Saigon entitled "Old Propaganda Posters" - an attempt to pretend the posters are anything else would I suppose by folly. And these posters are really quite cool. Most date back from the Vietnamese struggle against the American's and encourage fighters to be brave or citizens to back up the country by working hard.

Let us not pretend that we in the west are free of copying and piracy. If you are reading this, you are online, and you must surely be aware of the ever growing mp3 collections on the hard drives of computer users everywhere.

Not me however. I've just come from Saigon...

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