February 19, 2014

Francis Parker - Vietnam 2014

Day 7: Mekong Delta Homestay

    It is a local custom in the Mekong Delta, foreign to many of us in our travel group. It is exciting and intimidating, providing us with a glimpse into a society that few of us had ever observed before. However, it is not the Mekong practice of beheading a dozen fish in the street or the selling of multiple fruit species off of boats that I speak of. It is the longstanding practice of bargaining, a practice that we had the opportunity to engage in when visiting a market just a few miles from our homestay. On our first full day in the Mekong Delta, we gained control of pricing and purchasing our own goods whilst competing against our peers. Yet while the activity itself gave us the chance to physically immerse ourselves in a new culture, it also gave us a parallel to compare our experiences of the day to.

    Stage one of bargaining consists of spotting the goods you are searching for, the primary stage in making any purchase. The first stage of our day consisted of a delicious breakfast made by our hosts, accompanied by fresh coffee and followed by a boat ride to a well-known tourist attraction that demonstrates local arts and crafts. We watched rice cook almost instantaneously in a pot full of hot sand and sampled coconut caramels prepared just moments before. We skimmed the surface of the Mekong Delta during this stage, still taking in and processing our sights, all the while in awe of the beauty that surrounded us. 

    Socializing with the local people and negotiating for a desired price make up the second stage of bargaining. After our visit to the tourist attraction, we set off towards a true local market to purchase a set amount of goods for our dinner later that night. Armed with the Vietnamese equivalent of $10.00 and innovative methods of communication, we attempted to bargain for the best prices of shredded coconut, bean sprouts, carrots, turnips, and pancake mix. Like the second stage of bargaining, we also began to associate ourselves with the people and shape the desired outcomes of our personal experiences, through trying new foods at lunch or volunteering to hold a giant python. The second stage made us more comfortable with the Mekong culture and gave us the opportunity to step out of our comfort zones in order to have the most enriching experience.

    The final stage of bargaining is the most satisfying, for it entails a final purchase and the acquisition of a desired item. For us, our third and final stage consisted of a calming sampan (small row boat) ride through the lush, natural landscape of the Mekong and a winding bike ride that took us through the streets running alongside the river. We viewed ourselves no longer as tourists in a foreign area but as individuals participating in local activities well embedded in the unique culture of the delta. We prepared dinner with our host family and watched them give an entertaining performance accompanied by traditional music of the region. We had completed our purchase of a culturally enriching experience, content with the outcome and in possession of many great memories.

    As participants on this trip, we bargain for an amazing experience to cherish and share with others. In many ways, we are in control of our enjoyment and what we take with us at the end of the day. The first day in the Mekong River Delta was undoubtedly a success, and I know that we will only get more than what we bargained for in the days to come.


Day 7 Photo Highlights

Today, we witnessed the creation of popped rice to be processed further into a sugar candy. After the rice was popped, caramel is added to create a brick-looking candy. We also explored the making of rice wine and coconut candy.

After watching candy being made, we went to lunch, where we held a massive snake. We then went to a local market to pick up groceries for dinner. We split into two teams. The winners were determined by the amount they spent: whoever spent the least amount would win.

We helped cook dinner after we had bargained the grocery prices down substantially. Of course the senior team won because we paid about $2.6 for the entire grocery list, compared to the juniors' $3. The dinner consisted of Vietnamese pancakes and soup.

After dinner, we were greeted with a group of local Mekong musicians to welcome us. After the musicians, Hannah and Chris had a good jam session; a perfect, relaxing end to a first day.


Day 7 Video Highlights

We watch the making of popped rice, a local delicacy in the Mekong. It was quite delicious! Afterwards, we saw other culinary operations, such as candy making, that use the popped rice as the main ingredient.

The juniors' team leader, Alfonso, bartered at a local Mekong market for certain ingredients that we were assigned to obtain there within an hour. The bartering was quite difficult at times considering there was a large language barrier and we were not completely aware of the standard price for each item, but in the end we managed to follow through with the exact criteria given to us. The juniors did end up losing to the seniors, but it was certainly a day well spent, as we got to eat the carrots, turnips, sprouts, and other items for dinner that night.

This video encapsulates all that we did after we accomplished what we were suppose to for the market bartering and lunch. Groups of four took smaller river boats, called sampan, down different channels of the river that we would normally not get to see had we been in a larger boat, because the water would have been too shallow for it. Going through different waterways of the Mekong, we got a better taste of the local culture by seeing how those who live around the river use it in their lives. It was also quite beautiful, as the environment is very lush and tropical.

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