Sunday, December 28, 2008

Vietnam through my eyes

This is Vietnam in my eyes. It may not be Vietnam as witnessed by others, and it may not even be the true Vietnam. I am writing this, about MY Vietnam.

Welcome to the land of familiar alphabets but incomprehensible words - Vietnam. A land of my favourite!!

Didn't really expect to go Vietnam, but I ended up there many thanks to the random impulsive decision for EB trip! And I never regret that.

Vietnam is a developing country and it shows full characteristics of a developing country. The characteristic that intrigues me most is the orderlessness. Nothing is ordered there. Take building as an example. The buildings here have no standard height per storey, so even within the same street of residential housing, you can see houses of different height per storey and different length. And the shophouses are not planned. You can see branded boutique on one side, art shop on the other, and cobblers and street waffle sellers (they made waffle by putting the maker directly on top of burning charcoal!) in front of the shops.  

Take the traffic as another example. Vietnam seems to have laneless roads. Thanks to the amazing amount of bikes on the roads, the vehicles (too many types of mode of transportation to put them to specifics) here do not follow proper lanes. You see motorbikes going everywhere in all direction, and taxis can take a U turn in the middle of the road. The best part of being a Vietnam tourist, is to cross the roads! I had so much thrill crossing busy roads flooded with motorbikes and other vehicles. You sink yourself into the roads, merge yourself so that you become part of the traffic picture, then somehow wade yourself perpendicularly to the traffic direction to get to the other side of the road. At first it seems to be horror, but very quickly we learn that you just have to be confident to cross and the traffic will take care of itself around you. I came back safely,  after crossing a dozen roads everyday, unscorched by anything!

Another thing I love about Vietnam is all the boat trips I had at Mekong delta. Over the 3-day trip, I took so many types of boats - double-row boat, motorboat, rowing boat, sheltered boat, unsheltered boat etc etc etc. It is a joy to cruise down the huge wide river or the quiet narrow stream, enjoying the scenery, the calmness, the wind, sometimes the bobbing water plant, and the bobbing feel. I have never taken so much boat rides in my life, and this mode of transport really interests me very much. I enjoyed the floating market, where people trade in boats, where you have coffee boats coming close up next to your boat to offer you drinks or fruits, where there are beautiful Vietnamese ladies in natural elegance rowing boats - posing wonderful shots against the scenic background. I like how I can extend my legs out of the boat to enjoy some sunshine, and how I can dip my fingers into the river water which is used by everyone for every purpose - bathing, drinking, washing, disposal of waste.

Vietnam has also shown me different ways of living - other than the urban living that we know and only knew. There are houses on the water. Instead of having different kinds of cars, people have different kinds of boats. Big boats, small boats, motor boats, rowing boats, all parked outside their water houses. We also visited a little island in the Mekong delta. Children there do not go to school. They have alternative means of childhood. Which made me ask myself the question - Who says education is the only way to learn to be competent adults?

The thing I like most about Vietnam, is that the culture it exhibits are not culture retained just for exhibition purpose. People are still living and breathing the culture that the world knows them for. Girls wear ao dai - the Vietnamese traditional costumes to school; many people still use the pyrimidal bamboo hat that people show at Global Village; they still sing the Vietnamese songs and speak Vietnamese.  Vietnam, is as true as it is to the world.

Last thing I can recall of, but definitely not the last thing on my mind, is its delicious chocolate and cheese. Vietnam has the heritage of being a French colony. Signs are globalisation is very slight in the developing Vietnam. Imported snacks such as M&Ms and Snickers are being carefully kept in the display cabinet, so you can't get it off the shelf on your own, but have to ask the shop lady to get it for you. But the thing that makes this yet-to-be-globalised Asian nation stands out, is its genuine cheese and chocolate products. Trust most of the chocolate and cheese things you buy in Vietnam, especially those locally made. Our first meal was Western buffet, and the lasagna served was so filled with good cheese. I bought another cheesecake off a random cake shop in a shanty town for 10,000 dong (equivalent to SGD1), and it was sooo satisfying.

Vietnam has a painful history of Vietnam war, where 3 million lives were lost. The worse impact to Vietnam, I feel, is the deformed generation the chemical weapons caused. These innocent victims are referred to as Orange victims, named after the chemical gas - Orange gas used by the American soldiers during the warfare. You can see many beggars in Vietnam, many of them have weak legs that cannot support them. They moved around using creative means, such as a own-made small wooden plank mounted on wheels, and they maneuver using their hands on tattered plastic slippers. They normally smile very happily, so happily that you start doubting the truth behind. Ok my bad for not trusting the surface. We visited the Cu Chi Tunnel (Its pronunciation is close to Gucci), which is an extensive network of tunnels built by the Vietcom guerillas to defend themselves and attack the American soldiers. We visited also an art piece manufacturing factory the Vietnamese government built to create employment for the Orange victims. It aches to see them working so happily in the fate laid out for them. While I am happy that they are happy, I feel that they should have had the choice to choose what they want to do, instead of following the path narrowed by their deformity for them. And who caused the deformity? While people justify war with various reasons cited, can they justify these impact that changed millions of lives thereafter? I have no position to say or impact, my emotions don't even matter, because it isn't my life that is changed, but the Orange victims.

Hmm I think I have reported enough of Vietnam, but this is definitely not an exhaustive description. I love Vietnam, for what it is, and I hope I can return there again, to explore more of other areas!

My Vietnam with friends - clockwise from above me: Long from Vietnam, Rach from Singapore, Joel from US, Li Jun from China, Siew Yik from Malaysia, and photographer Wei Wei from Singapore!

The motorbikes here are as many as the bicycles in China. 

And of course we took a ride on it! Feature An, a new Vietnamese AIESEC friend we met!

At Ho Chi Minh square, which is in front of the beautiful People's Community - a building with French influence.

A rose I bought because it is so pretty!

Learning the difficult language on a busy street.

The Vietnamese astonished us with their petite size. See how even a small tree can support them.

The Cu Chi Tunnel. See how small the tunnel is.

Beautiful artwork produced by the hardworking and artistic workers who are unfortunately the Orange Victim.

Street food!! Something we so insisted on eating till we get diarrhea.

Fruits! Rampant in Vietnam.

Best zi char stall in Vietnam! 

Sinh To! Vietnamese for fruit shake. Possibly the best shake in the world, being so genuinely fruity.

The cafe, by Vietnamese definition. The best sinh to comes from them. Taken with a 12-year-old lottery selling kid we met on the street.

We went to Mekong Delta.

Made interesting friends from different parts of the world. This is Daniel from Israel - a country Malaysians can't go. I told him that and he's so shocked to see that written on our passport. And I was shocked at their coins - say 1/2 shikil.

Beautiful Mekong River. Beautiful beautiful.

Cafe boats selling you drinks and fruits.

Monkey bridge! Something I suspect they made just to scare tourist. They succeeded.

The hammock. Well used by everybody to enjoy a lazy afternoon.

At a temple on a mountain overseeing border between Vietnam and Cambodia.

I have enjoyed Vietnam. Thank you!

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