Two out of the three words I have learnt in Vietnamese after five days have been Chap un Chap (100%) and Chaps un Quiee (cheers) and I have had to use them at nearly every meal since arriving as Vietnam is the kind of country where you order beer at dinner by the crate.
It is the perfect vindication for having been a UK student, as never have the ability open my gullet and chug a beer been directly linked to the effectiveness of my work. So far, that has mainly focused on building social capital with local authorities or field colleagues which I supplemented by trying to teach the Deputy Chairman of the district where we workthe song Down in One You Zulu Warrior, followed by a couple of Beatles standards with my colleague over the green tea digestif to seal the deal. Needless to say that after two dinners and a lunch (7 pints of beer and 17 shots of rice wine each) he signed the partnership document. I was also arranged to be married with the youngest daughter of the project manager, but at least the morning after everyone seemed to have forgotten that negotiation .
As student there were drinking rules in order to prevent us getting too drunk too quickly which is not the case here as instead, you just shout out Chap un Chap (literally: drink the 100%) and you have to finish whatever is in your glass in one go, and are then expected to return the sentiment to your drinking partner. Importantly, the Socialist government is a keen promoted of balanced gender roles, and so women are just as involved in the drinking challenge although I felt a little guilty as shouting Chap un Chap at the nice lady who had just helped to serve my rice before hungrily downing another glass of beer which I finished with a satisfying burp and turning the glass on top of my head. But fair play to her as she finished her glass too which would confirm my theory that there seems to be no Vietnamese word for shirker (someone who deliberately misses a drink and the one word which meant social suicide as an undergraduate). The whole table just keeps on drinking as the dinners only last for more than an hour so everyone is keen to get pissed as quickly as possible. Actually, I have the impression that people go for dinner as an excuse to get drunk of beer and rice wine.