I once plugged in an appliance and accidentally blacked out my whole school. I was an instant hero. I later told the head teacher that jumping around yelling “woohoo” was how we expressed deep sorrow where I come from, but he wasn’t buying it. My achievement was eventually topped by a friend who dug a hole in his garden and short-circuited his entire street.
Yet both of us have to bow to workman Ngo Tan Thao. He recently damaged a cable and managed to fuse much of his country – AND the country next door.
The guy was moving stuff with a crane when he hit some wires in Binh Duong, Vietnam, the Thanh Nien news website reported. With a loud ZAP, he killed the electricity supply in multiple provinces of Vietnam, plus a big chunk of neighbouring Cambodia. Both countries’ capital cities were blacked out.
Ngo must have learned how big his foul-up was in stages. First, his fellow workmen would surely have noticed that their equipment had died. Second, complaints must have come from further afield. “Ngo, you idiot, the whole town is without electricity.” Third, the mega-scale of the problem must have become apparent. “President Truong is on the phone and he’s not happy.” And finally the cross-border nature of the disaster would have become apparent. “Ngo, there’s an angry president calling from the country next door.”
Poor Ngo. Paying for lost productivity out of his salary is going to take him eight and a half billion years. I wonder what he replied when he got home and his wife asked if he’d had a good day? “So-so. I’ve had better.” More importantly, could this incident on May 22 go into my files under the important title of MFU (Major Foul-Up) of the Century?
There are other contenders. In March 2011, a woman named Hayastan Shakaryan, then aged 75, found a cable and stole it to sell as scrap. It turned out to be the internet link for Armenia and Georgia. She was charged with several offences, which can be summarised as Stealing the Internet and Causing the Populations of Two Countries to Abruptly Return to Reality.
Yet she merely shut down the web for two countries, while Mr Ngo shut down the internet AND halted ALL OTHER important electricity-dependent activities, if such things exist, which I personally doubt.
Europe has one entry in the Major Foul-Up stakes. Two nuclear submarines, one French and one British, crashed in the Atlantic in February 2009. If they had exploded, World War III would have started.
This was an impressive foul-up, considering the difficulty of getting two objects to bump into each other in an ocean measuring 82 million square kilometres, a space equal to the combined volumes of China and India’s land masses, plus Kamal Rashid Khan’s ego.
On the plus side, big foul-ups can be helpful. The next time warmongers in India or Pakistan or China or North Korea start to get their missile systems ready for launch, all we have to do is to assign Mr Ngo of Vietnam to do the wiring. “Oops, sorry, I touched the wrong wire and sent your country back to the Stone Age. I’ll get it fixed in a year or two, probably.”
(Nury Vittachi is an Asia-based frequent traveler. Send ideas and comments via www.mrjam.org)