Sunday, October 16, 2011

off the boat

We left the boat a number of time for planned excursions. Our first off-boat trip was to the coconut candy-making factory, which was kind of cool. We first stopped for tea and a bit of hard sell to buy some local honey and Royal Nectar, then we walked down to the factory.

these are coconut toffee and they're so very delicious. every little thing is done by hand.

fresh rice paper drying
puffing rice for puffed rice candy. that's black sand in the bottom of the pan.
this is an elephant ear fish. we ate one of these for lunch our first day. real ugly, right? :) but quite delicious. this guy was in a tank at the coconut candy factory, i think.
she fetched the bee hive when her mother was trying to sell us some honey. We bought some.
these are empty rice husks, and they're used for fuel everywhere. you'll see giant boats floating down the Mekong nearly overflowing with rice husks.
Lunch was at this gorgeous place hidden away in the jungle -- you'd never have guessed it was in there. We rode bicycles to get there, about 30 minutes I guess. It was an amazing thing, riding bikes in the back woods along the Mekong, squeaking along on rusty old bikes, under sunny skies but with the threat of rain looming. Just as we got to the restaurant, it started raining hard. We had a giant lunch: vegetable soup, fried spring rolls, fresh spring rolls prepared for us at the table with fried elephant ear fish, caramelized pork, mixed vegetables, and rice, followed by watermelon and pineapple in fresh yogurt, with coffee and tea. I was glad we didn't have to bike back, because I was stuffed. Instead, we walked a few yards and there was our boat, waiting for us.

The first full day we were on the boat, we were going to visit a brick-making factory but a big storm came up so we had a slight diversion. We docked at this boat-making factory, and it was really incredible. It takes 100 days to make one of these big river boats, and 10 men. The cost for a finished boat, complete with engine and all decked out, is $40K USD (~800million Vietnamese Dong). It was pouring rain, and we got to walk around and peek into the boats as much as we wanted. We sat and had tea with the shop manager, who learned how to make boats from his dad. His own son is at the university, learning refinery engineering (as best we could understand). I just wished Marnie were there. She'd have loved it. Marc and I indulged a fantasy of buying a boat and just drifting through the Mekong.

made quite seriously BY HAND. you wouldn't believe the tools and rigs. i didn't have my camera because it was pouring rain, so Marc just took these shots from our boat. too bad.....
they were working on these 2, and had 4 more in the back, ready to start working on. the wood comes from a tree that grows in the water, very very tall:

these aren't big ones, apparently.
Marguerite Duras wrote a book called The Lover about her young life in Sa Dec, a small town we visited in the Mekong. Her father died when she was young, so her family was poor; she fell in love with a Chinese boy in Sa Dec, but because her family was poor his family wouldn't allow the marriage. Her heart was broken, and she went to France vowing never to return. He married a wealthy Vietnamese woman and had five children. Well, when you're in this area of Vietnam you hear about Duras and her book (and the movie) quite a bit. The Chinese guy's house is on display and it's so funny because everyone refers to it as "The Lover's house." But with their Vietnamese accents, it sounds kind of like that old SNL skit about "the lovah."

Just inside the door you see this image of a famous Chinese hero. It's quite ornate, obviously.
"The Lover's house" -- Mr. Le
Duras' mother was principal of this primary school in Sa Dec. We got to visit and walk around. The students were charming.
paying attention, mostly. :)
On our last day, we stopped at Tiger Island, where tigers lived 100 years ago. It's the childhood home of the 2nd president of Vietnam, Tôn Đức Thắng. It's now a memorial, and the setting was just beautiful:

beautifully landscaped canals
this was a HUGE mural made of small chips of wood, representing Duc Thang's dreams for Vietnam. Our guide said they'd all come true, and now Vietnam needs a new dream.

The Vietnam war was not as big a part of my life as it was in Marc's life; our ages are just different enough that he was eligible for the draft, and I was just afraid my daddy would have to go to war. So I just forget that it was basically a civil war between north and south, and tend to think of it as yet another terrible war of American aggression. I foolishly asked our guide, when he was talking about unification day, if people were glad that day. SILLY FOOLISH ME. He hadn't yet revealed that he'd been a soldier, and he kind of shrugged his shoulders and said people felt all different ways. Soldiers in the south drank in celebration that they were still alive, he said. Soldiers in the north drank in celebration of victory. Of course. When he told us later that he'd been a soldier for the south ("on your side," he told us) I wanted to cry for my thoughtless question.

Marc has lots of pictures like this -- me and our dear guide, walking and talking.
It wasn't all heavy, of course -- our guide had a great gentle sense of humor and a way of covering his mouth when he giggled. This one really got to him:

this beautiful wooden case, with inlaid mother-of-pearl, contained the certificate documenting the Mandarin status of the owners of a house we visited. What made him giggle, nearly uncontrollably, was the electric incense in front of the case. Electric incense. I laugh, remembering him covering his mouth and giggling.
Also, on Tiger Island, there was a covered patio filled with these enormous sculptures. Artists take root structures of trees and carve into them, preserving the root structure. It's cool. We stopped to look at one of them, which featured fish and dragonflies. Our darling guide giggled and said, "but they didn't carve the mosquito." Giggle. Hand over the mouth. Giggle. Love.

1 comment:

  1. I'm enjoying reading and catching up on your trip...see and the Vietnam War pretty much changed my life, as it was the beginning of the end of my parent's dad served and it still affects him to this day...


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