April 15, 2007

Good Morning Vietnam

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We had a fantastic time in and around Ho Chi Mien City (Saigon), our 8th port on this crazy voyage around the world. Like so many places we have visited, we see countries in rapid transition between the so-called Third and First Worlds. Vietnam was an especially poignant example.

Approaching this port was exciting. Just after dawn, for an hour and a half, we cruised up the Saigon River to reach the city. The morning rays illuminated a few small villages (without running water and electricity), oodles of small wooden fishing boats that were both home and "office" for families, and then the HUGE container ships that were sharing our lane on this aquatic highway.

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The photo above helps underscore that rapid transition from Third to First world as well as the diversity of vessels in our path. These adolescent or emerging economies are on a no-turning-back trajectory: from small scale to large scale, from nature to technology, from renewable energy to fossil fuels, from an organic pace to that of an "advanced" society. In almost all of the ports we have witnessed an awkward juxtaposition between past and present that highlights incredible changes of scale, pace, technology, energy use, population, and accompanying demands on the planet. Businessmen still riding bicycles while talking on cell phones, shantytowns next to skyscrapers, family businesses operating under neon signs advertising multinationals, and a thousand more manifestations of "globalization." It's the same story in Brazil, South Africa, India, Malaysia; and now Vietnam.

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The city was CRAZY and SO much fun! We had a great time sampling the delectable food of Vietnam, being mesmerized by the daily life on the streets, and delighting in the differences that make our cultures unique. There must be more motorcycles in Saigon than tea in China. Everywhere you go, most anytime a day, you are surrounded by a locus swarm of motorcycles (they just call them Hondas although there are many brands). It's a giant game of motorcycle ping pong. How it all works we will NEVER know. They carry families (4 at a time), office furniture (three chairs, a table and a lamp), mobile restaurants, street stall market goods, and a wide variety of fruits, trees, and domestic animals. They put more stuff on motorcycles than most Americans could pack in their SUV. And crossing the road either by foot, bicycle, motorcycle or car is a magnificent feat; you simply walk (or ride) out into oncoming traffic, and assuming you can keep your cool and maintain a steady predictable pace, the locus swarm moves around you (but not without the honking of 100 horns).

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After a wonderful dose of urban insanity we headed out on a public bus to a fishing village and beach town (Mui Ne, a sailboarders paradise). The five hour ride cost $3.50 for an air conditioned modern bus and a snack. Ryder was a trooper as usual. Even though we didn't arrive at our accommodations until 1:30 am, we never heard a complaining peep. We enjoyed swimming in the South China Sea and watching the daily life of the fisher people who call this place home. Below you can see the round "rub a dub tubs" that they use to fish from at night while on the open sea! Fishermen are towed out in the tubs strung together by "put put" boat and then they float and fish through the evening with a small lantern light to drawn in the fish. Looking out to sea a night you see these twinkling lights appear as a long string of pearls.

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We also visited the Chu Chi tunnels, made famous during the war as a hiding place and strategic tool of the "enemy." It was both fascinating and sobering. We put that word in quotes with complete respect for our vets, but also with the acknowledgement that the Vietnamese people, the so called American "enemy" of the past, have been nothing but gracious, loving, caring, and respectful people to us (their former "enemy") while we were in their country. The Vietnamese people make it a point of distinguishing American people from the American government, and given the atrocities that have occurred in this country, this is a humbling distinction. Agent Orange is still causing serious birth defects after three generations. Shawn rode a motorcycle taxi to the War Remnants Museum (once called the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes) where nothing is held back. Haunting images of war atrocities are well documented and graphically displayed.

Rocky had the privileged of leading a field trip to an elementary school. The school has 1,800 kids. They attend school for only half-a-day shifts in order for each child to attend. Parents are charged a fee (that many cannot afford) and class size, even for K-3, was 40-50 kids. In spite of these challenges, the kids were happy, thankful for the opportunity to be educated, and a barrel of fun! They sang songs in English, taught us games, and loved Rocky's amateur magic tricks.

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Like each country we visit, providing a summary analysis is just beyond words. Let's just put it this way: we can't wait to come back to Vietnam! We loved this place and we loved the people. Ryder would agree, and he also loves the pool!

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Next stop? Hong Kong!

Posted by rohwedde at April 15, 2007 11:25 PM