Vietnam 100 years ago: passion for gambling

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Gambling is the greatest defect of the Annamese character; they seldom drink, nor are they quarrelsome or violent, but their love of this
vice is inherent in their natures. It is this which prevents thrift and results in a hand-to-mouth existence, even among the regular and skilled workers.

The Tet festivities tempt those who do not habitually gamble to give themselves up to it. And the unfortunate part about it is that the Chinese outsiders reap the benefit of this deplorable habit; they are cool-headed and always manage to empty the pockets of the more excitable Annamese.

In these few days the Chinese often make a greater profit than during all the rest of the year. They always trade on the native weakness, for though public and private gambling is prohibited by the French except during the Tet, the Chinese by setting up gambling booths encourage
the Annamese to evade the law.

In other dealings also they show the same money-making propensities.
It is the Chinese, and never the Annamese, who are the shopkeepers of Annam, and who make it their business to cater for the needs of Europeans.

They lend money at usurious interest, and have a hundred little tricks for extorting any hard-earned cash that the happy-go-lucky Annamese may happen to have.

Whenever a peasant has cut and brought in his paddy he is invariably visited by his Chinese neighbour, who sits and chats and accepts the drinks so hospitably offered him. He is careful, however, to keep his own
thirst within bounds, and finally proposes a game. Towards dawn, when the visitor takes his departure, the poor peasant has probably lost every grain of his harvest.

The most common form of gambling is baquan. This game is played on a camp bed, or even on the bare earth. A square divided into four compartments,
marked one, two, three, and four, is drawn in the dust, and the players stake so many cents or sapeks on one of them. The banker takes a handful of sapeks from a bowl and throws them on the ground. He then withdraws them again four by four. The number left on the ground at the end naturally corresponds to one of the numbers in the square. The lucky individual who has staked his sapeks in that compartment sees them quadrupled; the other stakes are pocketed by the banker.

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Text: Gabrielle Vassal
On & off duty in Annam, London 1910
Photo: old photo from internet

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