Archive for the ‘Vietnam’ Category

Coffee Please!

21 November 07

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Vietnamese Mokka Coffee – strong and delicious

Go Fish

14 November 07

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Phan Thiet, Vietnam 2007

Fish Tales

11 November 07

Mui Ne & Phan Thiet are fishing villages. Everyday we ate seafood at least once – fish bbq, seafood soup, fried squid, etc… (I’m drooling.) But the biggest export and most important local product is Nuoc Mam – fish sauce. Sometimes you can smell it in the air – the odor of drying and fermenting fish. It really wasn’t as bad as I’d read it was going to be. The smell of fermenting fish might make you gag, but to me it smelled like the sea. And fish sauce is so yummy who cares what it smells like! If you buy fish sauce, check the label, it might just be from Phan Thiet!

One day when there was no wind, we hired a motorbike and drove ourselves through Mui Ne Village and Phan Thiet City. We saw a lot of drying fish.

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Mui Ne Village fishing boat fleet

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Fishing baskets – used like small boats for fishing/setting nets out

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Baskets used for carrying fish

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Drying fish in Mui Ne Village

Driving down the windy streets of Phan Thiet, we were sure we’d get lost. But we didn’t, and somehow we ended up at the fishing docks. (Must be the DH’s homing mechanism, since he grew up next to the sea.)

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Narrow streets in Phan Thiet – usually filled with motorbikes

Contrary to what you might think, the fishing docks do not smell like fish. The fish here is fresh off the boats and fresh fish doesn’t smell. (Try saying that out loud three times.) There was a flurry of activity here, with some workers unloading the fish from the boats, some loading the fish into crates, others separating the crated fish by type into piles, and some arranging the fish onto drying racks. Some of the fish was packed with ice and carted off for shipping somewhere else.

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On the Phan Thiet fishing docks

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Fresh fish on drying racks

Further down the dock we came across a huge open pavilion where hundreds of people, mostly women, were cleaning and gutting thousands of small fish. And no, it didn’t smell there, either.

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We stopped to take a look for a few minutes when the DH spotted a food vendor. The DH is the king of street food. I’ve seen him eat more street food in more places than any non-local should. Once, I watched in horror as he ate barbecued mystery meat, cooked on a makeshift barbecue pit made from a tire rim, in the dark at 2 AM in San Jose, Costa Rica. That was before my street food adventure days really got started. He’s actually been sick only once in the entire eight years I’ve known him.

This street food vendor was selling Ban My – baguette sandwiches filled with…well, we’re not sure, but they can have just about anything inside. We used to eat them in Toronto’s Chinatown. The Toronto version cost $1 and had a filling of something like bologna and cheese. The real version was incredible. It contained boiled egg, cilantro, fish?, and a spicy-vinegary sauce.

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The banh my lady

The ladies in the fish pavilion just went crazy over my white feet. At least, I think that was what they were going on about. They kept pointing at my toes (I was wearing sandals) and calling their friends over to see. Like most Asians, Vietnamese women like to stay as white as possible. I might spend the rest of my life in Asia just so I don’t have to be chastised over my white skin ever again. (I don’t tan, people! I just don’t!!)

She was also selling these steamed dumplings wrapped in leaves. Again, we have no idea what they were made out of, but they were yummy. In fact, every kind of Vietnamese food I tried was delicious. (And no, I didn’t try any of those half-egg, half-baby chicken things.)

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Steamed dumplings

Fishing is a way of life there, just as it is in thousands of cultures across the world.

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Locals and fisherman pulling in nets on Mui Ne Beach

No War, Just Wind

9 November 07

So what did I see? I saw people going about their lives just as people do the world over. And a lot of motorbikes!

It’s not like I expected to see barb wire, mines and land scarred by napalm or agent orange (although evidently you can find that in the DMZ and other areas)… In fact, the only ones who think much about the war are the visiting American tourists. That’s right. For the Vietnamese, the war is pretty much behind them. And why wouldn’t they want to leave it in the past? They’ve got a bright future.

We chose to visit Phan Thiet and Mui Ne Beach not because it was the site of some fierce fighting in ’68** (rumor is there are still mines at nearby LZ Betty) but because Mui Ne Beach is one of the best sites in Southeast Asia for Kitesurfing.

There you have it. Our vacation was not a journey to discover the Vietnamese psyche. Nothing high minded at all. It was a chance to withdraw from reality and practice some fun water sports. (At least for the DH. Those of you who know me know that “water” and “fun” are not words I often use together. I’m terrified of putting my head under water, but I am getting better.)

Mui Ne Beach is a very long, half moon shaped bay that receives a fairly consistent wind 45 degrees to the beach, which is perfect for wind sports like windsurfing and kitesurfing. The wind is almost always good, except for the exact 12 days which we were there. Of course. We chose to visit during a sort of dead zone between the two big wind seasons. Who knew?!

Nevertheless, there was enough wind a few days for the DH to learn kitesurfing techniques and skills, which are a little different from those used for kiteskiing on snow/ice.

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Ivan and Instructor Steve setting up the kite and getting it in the air.

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The scene on the beach in front of Jibes, the water sports
center and restaurant/beach front lounge.

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Ivan in the water (on the right)

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The view down the beach – a light kiting day.

I kind of suspect that for the rest of our lives, our vacations and living arrangements will somehow be associated with good kitesurfing locations… 🙂

**LZ Betty is located south of Phan Thiet. We did not visit because the area supposedly contains buried ordinance, grenades and mines left over from the war. What was at one time a narrow ditch beside the runway has now eroded into a huge canyon, potentially exposing some of the ordinance. There is also talk of “quicksand” in the canyon. So we stayed away. Others, however, have braved the area and have the photos to prove it (along with photos taken circa 1968-1971). See LZ Betty, Rolando’s Photos, Currahees and the Battle of LZ Betty. For photos of Phan Thiet during the war see Photos & Notes of a Very Personal War (Let the page load and scroll to the bottom to see a large collection of photos. Warning – there are some shots of deceased VC soldiers.)

The Thoughts I Carried

7 November 07

I’m currently working on a bibliography project, two 10 page research papers, a cataloging assignment and a 5 page librarian interview project. I figured it is the perfect time for some glorious procrastination, wherein I share with you my thoughts on my recent trip to Vietnam.

Maybe it is a bit of a stretch for me to say “my recent trip to Vietnam”, since I only spent about 3 hours in Saigon and 12 days in one beach town. I should say “my recent trip to the Saigon airport and Mui Ne.” Obviously, I cannot make any sort of generalizations about the country or the people, since I saw so very little of the actual country. Still, I am absolutely certain that Vietnam is a place I would love to return to. The little that I did see I enjoyed.

I grew up with Vietnam very much in my awareness. Not the real Vietnam, but the Vietnam of Oliver Stone and Tour of Duty and China Beach. (None of which were actually filmed there.) War movies and TV series about Vietnam were among my favorites. Who didn’t love Platoon and Good Morning Vietnam? (You can buy a t-shirt with those words emblazoned on it at any souvenir shop.) That episode of China Beach when nurse Colleen (Dana Delany) was kidnapped by VC and forced to perform a chest tube insertion on an enemy soldier inside an underground tunnel…well, let’s just say I’ll never forget it. That could have been the subconscious reason I became a nurse. (I also watched a lot of MASH, but don’t confuse me with Hot Lips Hoolihan!)

Some of my favorite books are In Country by Bobbie Ann Mason (which doesn’t actually have any scenes set in Vietnam, but features the daughter of a dead vet.) and The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien which made Freshman American Lit class infinitely more interesting. People of my age were not even born during the war, but we grew up with all the war imagery.

So it was with these images in mind that I entered the country. And perhaps the only things that I recognized were the conical hats, long flowing Ao Dais, the thick lush countryside and the proliferation of old US Army jeeps. (Jeep-guts!*)
MS Word is calling me… More on Vietnam at my next work break!

Read journalist Ron Gluckman’s reports on Vietnam, including war tourism.

*A family joke

How About a Vacation?

30 October 07

Just imagine it is a Sunday morning. You are drinking coffee, reading and preparing to spend the next four days in relative isolation, writing grad school papers. The phone rings. It is your husband.

“Hey Heather, what are you doing?” he asks. You notice he seems strangely upbeat. He is at work on a Sunday, after all, he’s supposed to be bummed.

“Just studying. What’s up?” you reply.

“Don’t stress or anything, okay?” he says. Don’t stress? He knows you’re stressing at the mere mention of the word “don’t…”

“Okay…”

“You wanna go to Vietnam?”

“Yeah. We talked about it and I do want to go. Why?”

“We’re leaving this evening.”

“What?!”

“We have two weeks of vacation. I just found out.”

“AAAAAAAaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrgggggggggghhhhhhhhhh……..tickets! visas! packing! where to go! guidebook! short notice!!…papers to write! aaarrrggghhh”

24 hours later you are on a plane from Shanghai to Ho Chi Minh City. Two backpacks packed. Rush visas in hand (just barely!). Tickets bought over the phone. A flight into Shanghai during a typhoon survived. Papers written on airplanes, in taxis and on trains.

At 4AM you find yourselves in the Ho Chi Minh City airport. You thought you were unprepared for the trip to Cambodia last year, but now you realize you had everything planned to the last detail. Upon arrival to HCMC (hereafter Saigon, as most people refer to it anyway), you realize you have no guidebook, no phrasebook, no names of any hotels, no map of the city, nothing. All you know is you want to go to Mui Ne beach and there might be a train there.

At 12PM you are having lunch overlooking the ocean.

You have to admit that it was really easy. Maybe there is no need to plan ahead? Maybe you should just throw the guidebooks out the window?

I Need Some Time

26 October 07

This readjustment is difficult.

It is too painful to go from this view:

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Jibes – on Mui Ne Beach, Vietnam

To this:

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Foggy morning in Linyi, China

 

At Work Again

22 October 07

How quickly two weeks pass!

I’m back at work today, although my brain is still in Vietnam.

I have another paper due tomorrow, so I won’t be back until all that pesky homework is done.

As for the free wi-fi on vacation, it was indeed great, but I felt more drawn to the beach and the under-palm-tree-lounger than I did to updating the blog!

Now from Vietnam

10 October 07

Aaaaaahhhhh. It is so refreshing to be able to blog freely and surf the Internet without special proxies. It is so amazing to sit under a brilliant blue sky and chug fresh fruit juice. It is so cool to be blogging on the beach…in Vietnam.

We are at Mui Ne beach, close to the small city of Phan Thiet, a few hundred kilometers north of Ho Chi Minh City. It is supposed to the kitesurfing capital of Vietnam, but so far the wind has been weak. 😦 No matter. The view is gorgeous. The food is delicious. The people are friendly.

Wish you were here!

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Lounge chair view

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Full Moon Resort

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Room view

 

More soon… (free wi-fi is a beautiful thing!)

Operation Babylift

11 September 07

Do you remember where you were in 1975? I wasn’t even born yet! But if you were, do you remember the evacuation fights airlifting children and babies out of war torn Vietnam?

I’ve got two plugs:

Operation Babylift – a film by Tammy Nguyen Lee that tells the story of the operation and what became of the babies – the adopted children brought to America. The trailer alone had me in tears.

And a book, After Sorrow Comes Joy, that tells the story from the perspective of the author – a young nurse and mother who went to Vietnam to assist in the orphanages and was intimately involved in the babylift operation, who herself adopted 3 children and went on to work in adoption in India and Vietnam.

For those who lived through that era, or who want to know what it was like.

Hat tip to Preya at Dreaming of Hanoi!