Sunday, November 7, 2010
The hardest thing for Americans to realize is that they are not better than other people
November 3, 2010
GOODMORNING VIET NAM. What a morning! we woke up at 5:00 AM to watch our ship sail through the Mekong delta, I have never experienced something so beautiful in my life. After two hours of navigating through the Mekong we found ourselves in Ho Chi Minh City. A few tricky hours with customs later we were off the ship and in the downtown area. It took us a few minutes to orient ourselves before we figured out how to get the famous Vietnamese coffee, a few coffees later we grabbed a taxi and headed towards the tailor. My group of girl friends-Loryn, Heidi, and Shannon all planned to get dresses made while in Vietnam for our Ambassadors ball in December. At the Tailor’s shop we spent two hours getting measured, picking designs, and battling the language barrier BUT when we left we were happy and so were they. The next stop was the Ben Thahn market which was a short walk from the tailor. The market was an absolute maze everywhere were you turned these tiny Vietnamese women asked “what are you looking for?” and grabbed your arm. It was hectic and crazy BUT AMAZING. Everything from t-shirts to chopsticks, food, bags, watches, sunglasses. Ben Thahn was an absolute maze and you could spend hours there, and we did. After a couple of hours of shopping I figured it was time to try some local Vietnamese food. Pho(pronounced faa) is the traditional meal AND IT WAS TERRIBLE. Or to say the very least not my cup of noodles…but it was a good experience and to coat the terrible flavor I ordered a fresh pineapple smoothie. The traffic around the area was out of control, at first we would wait to cross with the locals to avoid getting run over but after a few streets we figured it was time to take a few chances and cross the roads solo. The four of us spent the remainder of the daylight wandering around the city’s little streets with millions of shops. As the sun started to set we returned to the busy square with all the traffic and they dynamic had changed completely, the square was filled with locals playing with a sort of shuttlecock. I am not sure exactly what the game is call but it is more or less hacky sack with a shuttlecock. My next move was to buy one of these contraptions and make friend with some Vietnamese locals. It turns out that all you need to do is buy the shuttlecock and everyone jumps at the sight of a white person. I spent about 30 minutes shamefully trying to master the game but failed greatly. After playing the game I retired to watching the locals and eventually university students who wanted to practice their English surrounded Heidi and me. The next 3 hours were spent chatting with students who asked me every single question they possibly could and we enjoyed it. Before we knew it, it was time to head to dinner and to say goodbye to all of our new friends. After our dinner we walked around the night market entertaining ourselves before our adventure back to our ship. On our walk back to the ship we picked up a few of the traditional triangle/cone hats that a lot of women wear in South East Asia. The hats were hilarious and every single Vietnamese person we passed on our way home laughed at us. What a great first day in Vietnam, it reminded me of Thailand, which I love!
November 4, 2010
Another extremely early morning, we were up and off the ship by 6 am to head to Cu Chi, Vietnam…the place where the Cu Chi tunnels were built in the 1950-1970s. The entire area of the tunnels is a bout 250 kilometers and they are insane. When we finally go to Cu chi-about an hour outside of Ho Chi Minh, we watched a short documentary about the tunnels. It was weird and eye opening to watch a documentary in which the enemy is Americans and how they gave out awards for who was the most creative in killing Americans. After the short documentary our guide brought us to part of the forest and told us to find the entrance to the tunnel, there were 25 of us and after 10 minutes not one of us could find the entrance. Finally she showed us the tiny entrance that was about the size of the shoebox, it was the entrance that the Americans discovered in 1966. Some people took turns trying to fit into the entrance, which was the typical size used during the Vietnam War. We spent about an hour going through the “museum” which consisted of the different traps and killing techniques the Viet Cong used. FINALLY we got to actually go into the tunnels, they gave us a short briefing before we made our way down into the tunnels…they also gave us the option to exit the tunnel at 20-40 or 120 meters into the tunnels. We made our way to the 1st level…it was insane, I couldn’t see a thing in front of me and after about 40 feet I felt like I couldn’t breath anymore, I almost ducked out but figured that I needed to go the entire way. I couldn’t believe I felt so claustrophobic even after the tunnels had been made 3x bigger than they were in the 60s—the ceiling was still touching my shoulders when I was on my hands and knees. I had the opportunity to go through several other parts of the tunnels including the bomb shelter area which was the only place the Viet Cong could actually stand up in. We left Cu Chi, Vietnam after a couple of hours, but it was one of the most insane experiences of my life. The tour bus go back to the ship right around lunch and a group of us went out to explore more of the city. We ended up at Saigon Market, which was basically like the other market we had been in the previous day. After a couple of hours we decided to take a rest, we hoped on some motorcycles ( with helmets) and they took us right back to the ship, it was awesome BUT SCARY weaving in and out of the traffic on a motorcycle. Later on we were back at the night market where we had been before and WE NEEDED these shirts that said “same same but different”…probably the quote of the trip. Almost every lady we came across in any market would explain her price by saying this and eventually we would say it back to them-and they loved it.
November 5, 2010
The next morning was early as well…the day started with no plans really and then soon enough we had plans to go volunteer at a shelter for young women who have been exposed or subject to human trafficking. Before we left for the shelter we went to the market to look for little gifts and trinkets to give to the girls when we got there. Around 1 pm a group of 12 young women from the ship left for the shelter. When we got their we were informed that the children would be at school till five (they go to school in shifts) but 3 of them were home from the morning shift and they wanted to hang out with us, after about 45 minutes we all left to run a few errands before returning again that evening to have a girls night with them all. The group of 12 of us pulled enough money together to buy a LaserJet printer for the business side of the shelter…and they were grateful. We went to a different part of town were we found ourselves in a coffee shop for 3 hours (VIETNAM HAS AMAZING COFFEE) making friends with the owners and their children. This is when the rain started, and didn’t stop for about four hours…but it gave us an excuse to drink more coffee. A little at 5pm we started making our way back to the shelter to spend the evening with the girls. When we got there, it was a bit strange at first, we were starring at them and they were starring at us. The ice was quickly broken and since a majority of the girls were about 12 years old we decided to play some games. Most of the games resembled something we play in the states but they were called strange names. The games lasted for a couple of hours and we were running around and laughing the entire time. When it got closer to their bedtime we settled down by making friendship bracelets and painting each others nails, it felt like one huge slumber party with all the of us girls together in a huge room spread across the floor. The night basically ended there, it was amazing to see a shelter specifically for young girls/women like this. I wish the women in charge had been more comfortable explaining some of the girl’s stories but it was understandable and amazing just to be part of it.
November 6, 2010
This day was basically a relaxing day. Loryn, Shannon, and I woke up early (again) to go to the War Remnants Museum. The entire outside of the museum is filled with old air force and army equipment from the Vietnam/American War. There are 3 floors that explain the details from what essentially caused the war to what actually happened during the war. The most moving part of the exhibition was the Agent Orange part, it explained how many chemicals the Americans had used and how we basically destroyed the Vietnamese soil/water etc. As bad as it seemed, we sounded like terrorists to Vietnam. After the museum we found a coffee shop and spent some time talking about how the museum made us feel and if it is weird for our grandparents and parents to see us here exploring the country and loving the people they grew up hating. About mid afternoon we went back to the tailor to check on our clothes and we reached that part of Ho Chi Minh just before the rain started for the day. After our fitting at the tailor we went BACK to the coffee shop we had been at the day before and the woman was so excited to see us! We ended the day relatively early and headed back to the ship around 5,
November 7, 2010
The last day in Vietnam =(. The morning started early again, we went straight to the tailor to pick up our dresses and to start our day being productive. We finished quickly and decided to go back to our new friends coffee shop. The owner of the coffee shop had her little daughter with her, and she was adorable. The littler girl and I had basically matching outfits on and we took some fabulous pictures together. She was so cute and thought that the henna on my hands would make her hands dirty. We spent a good 45 minutes playing with her before walking through ho chi minh one last time. The remainder of the day was spent popping in and out of shops and eating some good food before the next few days on the ship before china. We got back to the ship around 2 and said goodbye to Vietnam.
What an amazing country! I am sure it sounds like I say that after every port, but Vietnam was truly amazing…I really appreciated every minute of it and the people were so friendly and welcoming it made the experience that much better. I felt myself wondering the entire time if in 40 years my kids will be traveling to Afghanistan?
SAME SAME… BUT DIFFERENT?