(No.6, Vol.3, July 2013 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

According to Vietnamese Dictionary Vietlex, a whipping cane is ‘a long, tough, and durable object which looks like a bar or stick that is used for whipping.’
Because of this, whipping cane sellers in Saigon are very conscientious and responsible, and their products are made of rattan, which meet the standards of length and toughness.
Selling whipping canes might sound like a joke, but if you travel long enough you will see peddlers selling chicken feather brushes and brooms for sweeping houses or yards, and you can buy rattan whipping canes from them. Each cane is about a meter in length, the size of a finger in width, and can cost less than half a US dollar. They are made from rattan, which is cut in the forest and brought from the countryside into the city. In the city, the search for whipping rods is not an easy task. Meanwhile, the philosophy of ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ to teach children remains fashionable. But if one looks for a rod during a moment of anger and finds none, one may grab whatever objects may be within reach to vent their frustration. Thus, a rattan cane to store in the home is a perpetual demand that must be supplied.
Seeing a woman selling rattan canes, I asked her whether the products sold well recently. She just smiled. Then she said as: ‘These canes are not only for caning naughty children, but also used to beat bad mice, cats and dogs.’ I asked jokingly: ‘Are there any men who bought the canes to whip their wives? Or have there been any women who bought them to “teach” their husbands?’ She just smiled again. ‘Probably not. Hopefully not.’
Looking at the rattan cane, I recalled some memories from my childhood, when I was punished with whips or canes. Each time, my buttocks were bruised with horizontal and vertical stripes. And, after each caning, the only ‘remedy’ for my bruise was to be rubbed with kerosene oil. The memory of my childhood lashes become an obsession that carried over into adulthood. When I had children, I promised myself that I would not apply canes for discipline. But then, once when very angry, I nevertheless ran outside to find a stick suitable for whipping. Fortunately, (or perhaps unfortunately,) my house was in the suburbs. And I still have not settled the question whether we should or should not buy a rattan cane.

Text by Tran Nha Thuy, cartoon by Duc Lai