Posts Tagged With: scarf

Oi Goi Oi!

Again my eyes open early though I can’t capture a sunrise on my lens due to the fact that the hotel is in a very busy area of Ho Chi Minh City.  Not much of a sky to see here.

After our morning ritual of coffee, breakfast and climbing on the bus we are all set for our day-long trip to Chau Doc via Cantho.

A few hours in, most on the bus need either a coffee or a bathroom  break so we stop at the Vietnamese version of a Starbucks.   Much more relaxed atmosphere than the chain, with much better coffee!  They use this aluminum coffee filter and place it on top of a glass, one-third filled with condensed milk.  They pour hot water on the filter of ground coffee beans and when the condensed milk and freshly brewed coffee meet, the result is heaven to the taste buds! Don’t know how these people remain thin!     

There are hammocks all over and when you order your coffee they will bring it to your selected hammock.  We congregate around some low, small tables so we can chat.  Again, Vietnam unexpectedly is providing me a flood of memories of my childhood and my country.   Hammocks are a standard in Paraguay.  Rarely will you see a back yard that doesn’t have one.  The shade from the trees they are usually tied to, providing a perfect setting for a siesta and shelter from the brutal sun, while the hypnotic side-to-side swing helps keep the flies away and you sound asleep.  But no time to sleep now.  I do not waste the chance to go back in time and space and lie on one, nonetheless.  I recall, while I do so, that it takes a bit of balance to climb on!  

After a few more hours (observing daily life alongside my window)  

and a stop at a lotus plantation

we arrive to Cantho   and it’s time for lunch near the river.   

Lunch of vegetable soup,  steamed shrimp with mango sauce,

stuffed pumpkin flower   and crispy pork with mushroom sauce, is divine.  Heavenly coffee, divine lunch… there’s an out of this world theme in this post. 🙂

There is a market on the side and I buy yet another scarf and t-shirt.   Our guide has taught me to say “Oh my god!” in Vietnamese and when I exclaim:  “Oi gioi oi!” when a vendor quotes me the price, I get a look of total surprise and the most charming  of giggles  as she calls the other vendors and has me repeat it.  This was me just before I said it.  They are having a ball.  Didn’t get me much of a discount but it did make for fabulous interaction.

A short distance from there we climb on scooters for another of what my tour company calls UFE’s (Unforgettable Experiences).  Scooters and drivers wait for us to take us to a bird sanctuary at the other end of the town, Banglang.    Didn’t spot many birds.

They leave us and we walk through town.  My “inside quietness” surfaces as I photograph their faces, their houses, their town.   


Back to bus.   Karaoke or Internet anyone?  

Long Xuyen is our next stop where we visit the Cao Dai Temple.  Not a promising start…  

Then a surprisingly pretty building…  

Then puzzlement when I see the monument in front with a reverse swastika embedded. Turns out that the reverse swastika, which happens to have a Buddhist influence, is sacred to many Vietnamese.  The swastika (a Sanskrit word) is also a tantric symbol to evoke ‘shakti’ or the sacred symbol of auspiciousness.

Cao Dai is a religion that aims “to unite all of humanity through a common vision of the Supreme Being, whatever our minor differences, in order to promote peace and understanding throughout the world.  Cao Dai does not seek to create a gray world, where all religions are exactly the same, only to create a more tolerant world, where all can see each other as sisters and brothers form a common divine source reaching out to a common divine destiny realizing peace within and without.”  May get my vote on that premise.   I am mesmerized by its colors and by its principles.  About 2 million people practice it in Vietnam.  Persecuted by the communist rule, it gained in the ’80’s its acceptance.

Back on the bus.  Am really liking crossing the countryside.  We are taking this route so as to be near the Cambodian border.  Tomorrow we are cruising from Chau Doc, Vietnam to Pnom Penh, Cambodia on the Mekong River.

On the way we view a bit more of daily life.  School is out and some girls are in the traditional ào dái dress, used as uniforms in the school. They are heading towards the local ferry which will take them home.  A lot of life takes place on the river; they are so dependent on it.  

We arrive to the Dong Nam Hotel in Chau Doc.  I take a shower and again get on the bus to go to dinner at a local family’s house.  It’s actually a bakery by day and at night she hosts small dinners for tourists.  I try taro and rice soup –purple in color with what to me was a pretty strange taste.   Egg noodle with seafood –great.  Stir-fried morning glory (a plant not the same as the one in the US which is not edible) –delicious!   Catfish cooked in a clay pot –good.

When we arrive it was pouring. First downpour in almost 20 days of travel. It reminded me so much of the storms that hit Asunción and used to scare my mom so much. Ay Vietnam, what are you doing to me?  You have generated so many memories!

The rain brings in a visitor that was not invited to the table.    Mom did not like them; I liked them less.  She got accustomed to them; my aversion got stronger.

Back to the hotel.  The rain is steady and strong and turns into the prequel of dreams of times long gone.

Categories: BLT+ (Burma) Myanmar, Cantho, Chau Doc, Ho Chi Minh City / Saigon, Long Xuyen, Ramblings, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Day Sawng (Two) in Laos.

The day is only an hour or two past its midpoint and we have seen so much, felt so much.  I feel a bit spent, but adrenaline keeps me going.  Walking away from the village presents me with snippets of this village I doubt I could experience otherwise.  

The shield that comes up for protection when in an urban jungle is non-existent here.   There is no need of it in this village of hospitality, smiles and curiosity.  Somehow, a sudden hug or touch does not surprise me and I welcome and succumb to it.  Mostly, their sense of gratitude is shown with even-broader-than-usual smiles.  Not that they don’t try to sell and earn.  They do.  Lady pleeeease buy from me beautiful scarf.  Little kids add on the guilt thick with a sad look if you don’t.  But that doesn’t seem to cool the warmth they generate in me.  Wish you could see it in the photos, but I realize that when I point a camera the smile is modified.  

The town is dirt colored, peppered with burst of colors from unexpected sources.

Like a lime-green plastic rack with men’s boxers out to dry.  

Or corn on a cake-dried soil, out to dry for a purpose unknown to me.  

Or a cement house painted in a color that sharply contrasts with the straw used for most. 

But we must walk to the Hmong village.

Even as I go, this town calls me back in the guise of a confused, surprised, curious little boy that stares at us passing.

And then it happens.   That one moment I will cherish.  A little boy in the balcony of his hut,  as I pass by, joins his hands as if in prayer (the way they say hello and good-by) and I see the beginning of a smile.  He has given me his respect and his appreciation in that simple gesture and he did it with a shyness that is absolutely disarming. 

At the Hmong village we go into the home of the leader. His wife is already there.

He joins us once we are settled.  

Children and part of the village follow us to the door.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Music is important in Hmong life; we are joined by the village qeej player who plays for us.“A player must be trained; it takes years of practice to memorize the flowery language of the instrument. Its music contains the entire repertoire of Hmong knowledge and wisdom.” (Quote from Wikipedia)       

Villagers get a kick out of one of our tribe (aka: as the travel group) that gives it a try.

The village returns to daily life as we leave. 

We head down the hill where kids from our first village (Kia Luang Village) run along the waving good-bye.  I don’t think I have a heart left.  Been leaving a piece in almost every place I go!

Next is a cruise on the Mekong river “the mother of all rivers”.  The Pak Ou Caves, (which means Caves at the Mouth of the Ou River –Ou River is a tributary of the Mekong) is our destination.  But, as expected of this country, much to see before we board…

Another weaver and scarf vendor.  “Close your eyes!”  (That’s me talking to myself.)  I don’t need another scarf!  

An elderly woman looking at us pass.  Gosh, I am marveled by these faces.  

And the piece de resistance”: home made liquor stand.  I tried it.  The crystal clear one was my first taste and it burned my inside more than anything ever has!  Think it was 70% alcohol!  The cloudy one had a    slight sweetness to it and not as strong, but then anything would be mild after the first one!  The reddish one was actually not bad, much sweeter and passable.  And what can I say about the one with the snake?  No, I did not try it and don’t regret not doing so.  

Our captain and his boat.

  

There is a breeze that is refreshing.  The boat movements are just right, providing a “motion lullaby” that would put me immediately to sleep if it weren’t for the fact that I don’t want to miss the sights that the river offers me.

The Mekong glows.  The river is said to produce balls of light along its surface, which the locals attribute to the Phaya Naga, or Mekong Dragons.  I am starting to believe…    

Am I seeing orange?  Yes!  Monks bathing along the river.  

Are those cows?  No, water buffalos also enjoying the water!

  

And we arrive!  

Climbing.  Looking back.  Really just catching my breath.  Which the landscape takes away.

  

We head back. 

The Mekong shows its beauty. 

We arrive back to Luang Prabang.  Most of the group climbs on a tuk tuk to go to the hotel to freshen up before dinner.  I and other 4 head out with our guides to a local place to have a little appetizer and the local beer (of course) at a place where we will see no other white face but us and where they only serve duck in all its forms.  

The menu. (Not for the squirmish.) 20,000 Lao Kip to the dollar. 

The Westerners are brave enough only for the beer and the grilled duck –in that order.

  

Our tuk tuk driver, which has joined us, orders blood soup.  I try to look away.  Our local guide says he used to have it and like it but his cholesterol is high and was told not to order it any more.  Our Thai trip leader has never dared.  Two girls in the table next to us are merrily enjoying theirs.  Oh my!

We take a stroll along the riverside.  Luang Prabang is beyond quaint.  It is just a perfect combination of elements that produce a lovely peaceful “I want to live here” feel.

Riverside 

Side street 

Tuk tuk back.  Obviously there is no “hands-free” law here.  

Hotel pool looking mighty tempting now but no time.  Going to dinner with the group and then dragging myself to bed!

Tomorrow you must eat a hearty breakfast because we have a loooooooong ride ahead of us.

Ready?

Categories: Laos | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

I Get a Laotian Kid

I don’t usually start with an excuse but on this one I must.  Either this will be the longest post ever or I will have to do it in parts.  So much was done today, and I have so much to share, that as I write I am trying to figure out how I will do it.

Laos, as you know, has me prisoner.   Loatians or “Lao peoples”, as our guide so endearingly calls his countrymen, are gentle people.  There is no aggressiveness in their demeanor.  Even their smile is gentle: slowly, but steadily, corners of lips rise to remain in a smile for as long as you care to look.  Their eyes reflect the same.   I want to be awake as much as possible so I can soak up more of Lao.

Our tuk tuk driver has his headlight on.  It is pitch black outside but a convoy of 3 tuk tuks head out to the streets of Luang Prabang.

We woke early for we are giving alms.  Monks eat only twice a day.  They come out of their temples and collect their morning meal (around 5:30 am) from locals –and now tourists. Our guide has found a street away from most and in front of a temple.

There is a ritual that goes into our offering.  We put a scarf over our left shoulder, around our back, under our right arm and over our left shoulder again. We kneel.  We will offer sticky rice from a basket, still steaming hot, prepared by a local. They will not stop as they walk past us.  With our hands we will pick the rice and throw it into a basket they will open. We are ready.   We wait.

It’s light now and with it comes the river of flowing orange.        

I have finished my offering and concentrate on faces.  It is in observing that I see the children in some of them

the belief in their faces

and some generate in me cartoon-thought-blurbs, which change depending on their expressions.

I am not being irreverent or making light of it at all.  I was lucky to kneel next to a local giving alms and she gave me an insider’s look.  It has been special forming part of this daily ritual.     

Today we will have a “home-hosted” meal in a village in the mountains so, since we are up and in this daily ritual thing, we head to the morning market where Khamsouk gives us each a piece of paper with the name of the ingredient we have to buy for the meal.  

He also gives us the exact amount that we are allowed to pay.  Not that easy of an assignment when he refuses to tell us what we are looking for and where it might be sold in the market.   In Mission Impossible, weren’t they allowed to decline the assignment before the tape autodestructed?  Seems that’s not the case here.  Off we go!

The place offers such a wonderful array of colors, shapes, and textures, along with smells that could never attempt to be aromas, sounds of women bargaining, animals not yet silent, and odd noises –as that of a vendor keeping flies at bay by shaking a plastic bag at the end of a stick– all tangoing together in a not so graceful dance. 

 Yet this market is small and not quite as chaotic as others.

Am I buying carrots?  I say the name of what I want and the vendor shakes her head as she laughs and points further down the road.   Carrots are so big anyway I don’t think I’d have enough money.

Why does that bucket have a net?  Oh noooo, I’m not even asking if it’s frogs that I am buying.  Much less live ones!  So glad that Americans are known to be squirmish about such things and they wouldn’t expect us to buy them! 

Eggs, why can’t eggs be what I need to buy? 

I meet the others empty handed.  We go tuk tuking (freshly coined term) to the bus where our luggage awaits and a long ride, up a winding road to the village where the parent company of my tour supports a school.

The ride goes on for hours and the road is starting to look like the Death Road in Bolivia.  Thankfully, as I am starting to not like this much, we are directed to look to the right where our school children and their teacher are lined up with a little flower bouquet in greeting. 

One kid each.  

Each kid will give us a flower and take our hand and walk us to their classroom. 

We introduce ourselves writing our names on the board, then sit with them in class.  When I go to my kid he has written my name on his notebook and under it, his name in Lao.  I point at my name, then at myself.  He points at his, then at himself. 

They sing to us their anthem, we sing to them the Star Spangled Banner.  Then we sing “If You’re Happy and You Know It…”  They are having a blast.  We are too.  I look and at the window is a mother with her child observing us.  

He repeats everything I say and I thought he understood very little until we go to the library and he brings me a book “Do Kangaroos Have Mothers To?”  (Of Course they Do.  Just like me and you!)  It repeats, with the only variable being the animal.  At one point I take a breath after “Just like…” and he fills in –pointing at me-, “me”.  I say “and” and he says “you” pointing at himself.  I am smitten and want to take him home.

We say good-bye.  They go back to class as we head towards the meeting hall to be received by the village chief and the woman’s leader.  He will host lunch in his house for 8 and she will for the other 8.

On the way, these little girls captured whatever is left of my heart.  

The chief tells us about life here.  They support themselves by weaving.  I am fascinated.  Later I would buy a scarf at each of the vendors.    

For those interested in an authentic hand-woven scarf from Laos, just give me a ring.   Didn’t want any to feel left out.  Just tug at my heartstrings and I am putty in your hands.

Then off to lunch.   Our host is one of the warmest and joyful human beings I know. She is generous with her hugs and as solicitous as can be.

The meal is simple but really good!  Our main course is wrapped and cooked in banana leaves.

One more hug… 

And we say good-bye.  

We are headed a little up hill so that we can meet with the Hmong people in their village.  For that we must cross this village and go to the other.  You’ll see that tomorrow though, or this will never post!

Categories: Laos | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

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