April 7, 2014

Westridge School - Vietnam 2014 - April 5th

Waking up to roosters screaming or bats flying while you're under a mosquito net is quite an experience. But it is a great taste of what life is like here. After getting up we headed to breakfast around the corner from our rooms and had eggs and french rolls, evidence of the former French occupation in Vietnam. Then we got aboard our boat, the alternative for our air conditioned bus we had on the mainland, and went to a floating market. The floating markets are so unique and so different from any shopping experience you could find in America. Then we boated over to experience the cottage industry. We stepped inside markets where the people made the products right in the same place where they sell them. We saw people making coconut chews, rice paper, which Hao explained is a woman's job because it requires so much patience, and also pop rice. In the U.S. we make popcorn but here in Vietnam they pop rice. We also got to see how people make snake wine. There a literally a bunch of snakes curled up in a large vat and they pour the fermented rice wine into the vat and let it sit with the dead snakes for six months and then it is good to drink, especially for those with insomnia, back aches, and arthritis. They also sold alcohol with individual snakes or scorpions in the bottle and even snake venom cream to help with muscle pain. Then to test our bargaining skills, our boat took us to Cai Be market, one that is on solid ground. We were given only 150000 dong, about $7.50, to buy 1 bag of pancake flour, 1/2 liter of cooking oil, 1/2 kg bean sprouts, 1/2 kg of carrots, and 1 kg of sweet potatoes. It sounds like a tiny budget for that list to us, but here we found out it was $5.50 too much. We were split up between juniors and seniors to see who could bargain the best, and after some quarrels with local vendors, the juniors came out on top spending only 44000 dong, about 2 U.S. dollars for all those five things. The seniors were just a few cents off spending 47000 dong. Hao was impressed with our skills, saying that we were able to spend less than locals sometimes can, quite a feat for tourists who the vendors know have plenty of money. Hao said usually locals pay about 14000 dong for the pancake flour but my team, the juniors only paid 11000 dong. This is the juniors' third victory in the competitions we've had over the last two days, the seniors have only won twice (at lamer games like breaking pots and popping balloons) but I guess I'm a little biased. After our win, our boat dropped us off to go canoeing. We had to walk through cacaphonous insects, it was as if we were at a bug concert they were so loud. But we made it to the canoes, equipped with rice paddie hats that we got to wear. There was one lady rowing each four person boat and they lead us through the jungle, thick trees on both sides of the waterway we floated through. The canoes dropped us off right at our main boat which then took us to lunch. We ate huge shrimp, assorted meats, french fries, vegetable soup, rice, pumpkin flour tempura, and even full fish still with all its scales and eyes attached. Right now we are on the boat again on our way to visit the Vietcong general, so I will blog about it after.

Meeting with the Vietcong General was extremely eye-opening and such a rare experience today as many veterans from the war have passed. He was so open, even showing us one of his two wounds he recieved while fighting in the war and shared that his last son was born with defects due to agent orange. When asked how he was able to be so forgiving towards Americans he said that it was necessary to forgive and love because if there is only hatred it will last forever and the countries will never recover. His wish for the future was for all countries to prosper, and all people to have food and access to a good education because that is the best way for a country to develop. After meeting with the former General we went back to the homestay and had an opportunity to go bike riding again. Whoever did not go missed out, we climbed over a few monkey bridges, met a local girl who knew a little bit of english and helped her practice, and even witnessed an aquaculture farmer feeding his catfish which was quite a sight. After the bike ride we were able to cook a little bit with the family using the products we bought at the market, so we made the traditional Vietnamese pancakes and also sweet potato fries. After enjoying our dinner we got the opportunity to listen to Vietnamese music. Each song told a story, from a man and a woman falling in love to what life is like in the countryside to a song about a mother teaching her daughter to be a mother and wife herself. We ended the day with a group discussion about our experience as a whole and now were all pretty ready to go to bed, but the excitement for visiting Korea and going back home is definitely becoming real. 

~Nicole Chrisney

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