Haven’t written in awhile. Sorry about that, classes started (last Monday?) in full swing at Ho Chi Minh International University which I can only really describe as high school-esque on a larger scale with worse landscaping. There is, however, really cheap coffee and food (I can eat and get coffee for the equivalent of $0.80). Also, if one feels so inclined to walk around the nearby village there’s 3,000 VND / liter beer. Home-brewed. You can even get the beer to-go… in a 4 liter plastic bag. The to-go method of choice for smoothies and such is a bag with a straw in it and a rubber band around the straw and top of the bag. I just had this great mental image of someone walking around with a straw in 4 liters of bootleg beer.
I swear, I do so much more than drinking beer and coffee in street kitchens.
I also drink freshly-made smoothies and questionable-meat sandwiches from street kitchens.
On an unrelated (ehum) note, we have apparently hit the part of the semester where everyone is getting sick. There’s 13 of us and oh, about six (?) of us have been sick. Probably more if I could more insignificant cases of food poisoning. I’m including myself in this, as for the past few days my stomach and I have not been on good terms. Plus a weird case of lethargy and random bursts of hunger for sugary things that I haven’t eaten a lot of recently. I would go into further detail, but no one wants to hear about that end of things. I’m pretty damn sure it’s a parasite-worm, which is common enough and easily treatable by just walking up to the pharmacy (no prescription necessary in a developing country! You’d think that’d be an easy enough thing for the communists to regulate.) and asking for the right drug. Or you can do what I did and contact one of the guys in my program who bought a double dose (it also works as a preventative measure, so a lot of people take it in order to prevent getting worms) and taking that. We’ll know if I definitely have worms if I start being sick in the process of worms being expelled.
There is a reason why my grandmother is not reading this blog. The rest of my family members are just going to have to pretend they didn’t read that last paragraph.
Anyway, so our weekend trip went well enough despite the relative illness of a few of us.
The 13 of us, plus four administrators from the University and the two CIEE staff members all piled into a bus with pitiful air conditioning and drove five hours on Vietnamese roads1 to Cần Thơ, which is the largest city in the Mekong Delta.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Cần Thơ is a nice little town. But there’s simply nothing to do for two nights. Maybe one night. But two? We got everything there was to get out of the city between 6:30am and 11am (floating market, pagodas, bad history museum). The pagodas and floating market were interesting, but again, we didn’t need that much free time in Cần Thơ. It’s also really hard to find a decent cafe/food shop – there are not nearly as many of them as there are even in Thu Duc.
It might be hard to find a decent cup of cà phê sữa đá there, but it is really easy to find a street kitchen with amazing, warm, freshly baked goods. I had a whole meal – meat and hard-boiled egg stuffed in flaky baked goodness (I threw out the egg) – for 4,000 (~2 5cents). Straight from the oven. Oh man.
Aside from not having anything to do, the hotel was infested with ants. There was just no other way to put it. I counted over forty in the bathroom. I lost count of the ones I shooed off my bed and I don’t want to think about the ones that might have been crawling around in my sleep. I would lift up my shoe and there’d be a significant number of them crawling around in the dark going after one hidden crumb that fell off my shoe.
There’s one thing about Southeast Asia – it’s not for those with OCD or those who have qualms with sleeping on a hard mattress that is possibly covered with ants and then waking up and taking a cold shower with water you
can’t shouldn’t get in your mouth.
Frustrated with the options, four of us opted to eat at Gà Rán Kentucky which is – you guessed it – KFC. I don’t even eat at KFC in the states, folks. A few things about Gà Rán Kentucky. First, there is a woman in a bright pink skirt-suit with “KFC” embroidered on it whose only job is to greet you and then wander aimlessly around the store making sure none of the tables wobble. She doesn’t even clean, she just smiles and gestures toward the front where you order. Secondly, the food is hella expensive for Vietnam. And by hella expensive, I mean you’re getting a lot less and paying about the same in USD. And you have to eat surrounded by small children. Think 39,000 VND when I normally pay 30,000 VND for a nice meal and a good sit-down restaurant.
Speaking of food – which only seems to be a major topic on my blog, I had the most amazing thing ever the other day. The flower from a squash plant with little bits of fish inside the flower and then fried. Amazing.
The most significant thing out of our trip were some of the photographs that I took. I’m rather proud of a few of them.
One of the problems I’ve been having with my photography here is that I hate, hate, hate invading people’s lives like this. This is their life – just another day – and I am just another Western tourist shoving a lens in their face.
Subsequently, I’ve avoided taking many pictures involving people. When they are there, they are not normally the subject, or their face isn’t in the picture. I console myself a little bit with that. I want to get some pictures of the Vietnamese people, because portraits are what I do and the people here are just so – photogenic. I am thinking about making up a little card that says something along the lines of me being a student photographer who is studying at Ho Chi Minh International University and may I respectfully take some pictures? In Vietnamese, of course.
Coming back from Cần Thơ and driving through Saigon was nice. It was very familiar and welcoming to me, almost a sense of coming home.
I could live here, pretty easily, if it weren’t for a few things about the culture and government that inherently go against my own values. Maybe on a short term (and by that I mean longer than this but perhaps with only a vague ending in the future)?
1 South Vietnamese roads are actually not that bad, relatively speaking. Apparently the North Vietnamese roads are worse because during the war the North couldn’t afford to update the roads but in the South the Americans did it. At least, that’s what I was told but really, why haven’t they updated them since the 70s?