Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Catching up

Its hard to settle back into the routines of everyday life as it seems like we've been away for a really long time. I guess 3 and 1/2 weeks is a really long time being away from regular habits, schedules, normalcy, especially for a three year old. There is so much to catch up on, especially at work, but it all still feels a bit surreal. I know I'm back home, but it feels strange, and when I wake up in the middle of the night (or rather 3am) I think I'm in a hotel somewhere in Southeast Asia. Kien's body clock is scrambled too. He isn't tired until 23:30, and for the first 3 days he slept in until well past midday. The last couple of days we've had to wake him for daycare. I've put him to bed every night at 21:30 since we've been home, and oh boy, have there been dramas! I'm hoping that with being back at daycare he will just click back into his regular routines again.

I've tried to regularly post while we've been away, and since we've crammed in so much I haven't been able to keep up with blogging everything. Now that we are back it seems silly to pick up where I left with the last blog post. So much has happened since then! For instance, the day we got on the train from Danang heading back to Nha Trang my dad felt terribly sick. He went to the doctor who said it was just a viral thing. We were in Nha Trang for 3 days and he didn't feel better so when we got to Saigon we took him to the hospital. It turns out he was inflicted with Dengue Fever. This basically put a halt to any further travel plans until we sorted him out. He was hospitalised for 5 days, and I had to arrange all insurance coverage for him, and speak with doctors back in NZ, and relay messages back and forth to my dad. The scariest part was if his platelet count dropped in the middle of the night when we weren't around and my dad couldn't tell them that under no circumstances were they to give him a blood transfusion. But that didn't happen, much to everyone's relief.

When everything was under control and all looked good we left my aunt, Pauline and my dad in Saigon to recuperate and Jef, Kien and I jumped on a plane for Cà Mau to join my stepmother with her family. The last time we were in Vietnam we spent quite a bit of time with them, and they welcomed us like family. It was no different this time around.

Hanging around home

We did a lot of hanging around and not doing much at all. It was great! It also rained for a few days, so we couldn't really go anywhere anyway. When it rains it pours - heavily.

We were fed - oh boy were we fed by the family. No sooner had we finished a meal and they are already asking whether we are hungry, or even worse is when they serve up yet another course as a "snack" or they've sent someone off on the scooter to buy more food. It was hard work keeping up with all the eating, and I'm not even being sarcastic either.

Sea snails - they are so so good!

The crab that jumped around inside the pot as it was being boiled to death shocked my westernised heart when I walked into the kitchen. I asked why they don't boil the water first and drop the thing in to kill it quickly. They all looked at me like I was an alien. I guess I am in this place. Life is cheap after all, and when there are starving people littering every street outside why the hell would anyone blink at creatures that are going to be served up at your next meal. I told them I felt sorry for the crab, and they laughed and said it will die soon enough. Then they pointed at the thing in the pot and said, "See, it's dead now." It was dead, and then I ate it 10 minutes later.

We ate it dipped in salt, pepper, fresh crushed chilli, and lime juice. We had some cockles to compliment our snack.

I got over the so called "cruelty to creatures" thing pretty quickly. It's just the way of life here, and that's that. Here Thanh was grilling a type of creature that was a cross between an eel and a mullet. Those things were still writhing when she stuck a chopstick down its throat and chucked it on the grill. Yes, it's just the way of life here.

Also a way of life here is to eat anything and everything. I'm pretty sure these guys have eaten pretty much anything that moves. They asked us if we wanted to try a dish of dog or cat which we promptly declined. Everyone here thinks dog flesh is very good for them, and delicious. They persuaded us to try it and see. I saw one BBQ'ed at the markets. No, I didn't take a photo. It made me feel nauseous. Same with rats, and yes, they eat those too. We saw a lady who had cages of live rats for sale at the river, and she would prepare and cook rat for us right there and then. No, I didn't take a photo of that either.


The last time we were here we tried fresh banana liquor, and it was divine. So An went and got us 2 types - machine pressed (in the bottle) and hand pressed (in the bag). Both were great, but the hand pressed definitely tasted better. Funny that, it was more expensive (if you call a few cents to us expensive).

Meals are served on the floor. There is just no room for dining tables and chairs. All meals are served with lots of vegetables. They all love vegetables, and so lucky that the greens are completely fresh and straight from the market. As there are hardly any storage spaces in their homes they go to the market often. Good thing the markets are really close. I remember my grandmother doing exactly the same thing. She would go to the markets every day at noon while we were napping.

Out and about

Speaking of markets, they are bustling and lively, where people can ride straight up to the stalls on scooters and purchase fresh produce for their next meal.

Also just down the road is an amusement park. We took Kien and his next door neighbour friend a couple of times.

We also went out for "snacks" a few times, mainly after we've gone somewhere (like the amusement park or just riding around on scooters for fun), and usually after dinner. I know, like I said, they are either eating their breakfast, lunch, or dinner, or pre breakfast, lunch, or dinner snacks, or post breakfast, lunch, or dinner snacks.

That's a frog's leg, and I ate it.

On the river

Cà Mau is surrounded by rivers. These rivers snake all around the south as part of the Mekong Delta. We took a boat out to observe life on the water.

These peoples' lives depend on these rivers (or is that just a consequence of living here?). It is so interesting to watch as they go about their business; women (some men, but mostly women) row passengers back and forth across the river, and produce being transported and sold.

The young guy helming the boat we were on is the son of this man. This man has so much expression written all over his face and I just want to cry looking at him.

I took so many photos of our river ride I can't post them all on this blog, so I picked out a few more which I've put into the below slideshow. If you are receiving this blog post via e-mail and are interested in seeing some images of reclaimed land, giant engines, life in/on/around the river, fuelling on the river - come to this blog post online.

  • 1. Just like roads on land forking out these are forks on the water.

  • 2. We pulled up here to refuel. I had to pay for their services at this point since they had no cash - $VND300,000.00

  • 3. The river bank that has been filled in.

  • 4. Engine repair shop - there were some giant engines inside that place. The mechanic casually smoking a cigarette while working.

  • 5. A boat being powered by a giant engine. It was fast.

  • 6. Swimming in the murky water. I didn't even want any of it to splash on me let alone bathe in it.

  • 7. Day to day tasks, like doing the dishes.

  • 8. A beautiful entranceway.

  • 9. A little girl fishing for something in the water.

  • 10. Propellers in the sky.

  • 11. Getting ready to pull up to the river bank to let his customers off.
We enjoyed our river boating experience very much.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Exploring Đà Nẵng

We got a taxi and told the driver to just drive - we will tell him where to stop. So we drove along the coast and saw a small place off the beaten track so we told him to stop there. "Don't you want to go somewhere else? This place isn't for tourists.", he said. I told him it was where we wanted to be, and he gave me his number to call when we need a ride back. That's what all taxi drivers do here; they all want your business and are willing to wait around for you all day if need be. They'd probably make more money from our one single fare than to drive around trying to find people looking for rides.

So here we are. This is "China Beach", but not as you know it. Jef and I needed to see some real life, not how it's presented for tourists. This place we stopped at was pretty real, and awesome in its realness.

This is a fishing village, where the locals go out, get their daily catch to (hopefully) feed their families. Where we stopped was a place on the street opposite where they live. There are some block buildings, but mainly there are shacks and makeshift housing.

The young dude who ran this place was so laid back it was ridiculous. We got some warm beers, and sat under the shade of the tent. He went off into his little storeroom and came out with some watermelon which he offered to Kien and a cigarette which he offered to Jef. We thanked him and took the watermelon piece.

He was selling live seafood there, and he went down to the beach and brought up fresh seawater occasionally.

After a few beers we decided to head off. We tried giving him a tip but he wouldn't accept it! So we left it on the counter instead. It's funny, I noticed that everywhere we've been people have accepted tips, except for Danang.

The young dude and his friend called a taxi for us, and this place is so off the beaten track that even the taxi driver had a hard time finding us.

We were finally in a cab and asked the driver to take us along the coast for a bit. We then decided to go back into town. He drove us over the dragon bridge and stopped so we could take photos. Can you imagine doing that on the Auckland Harbour bridge?

We were feeling pretty hungry at this point so we asked to be dropped off at the river. We walked down one of the side roads to find a place that sold rice. That was Kien's lunch sorted.

Then we walked up the road and I saw a place that sold some traditional Vietnamese dishes.

Bánh Nậm

These are flat rice flour dumplings with shrimp and spring onions, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. They are delicious.

Bánh Bèo

A variety of small steamed rice cake usually filled with chopped dried shrimp, spring onions, mung bean paste, crispy fried shallots, and eaten with blended fish sauce and fresh chilli. These are one of my childhood favourites.

Bánh Bột Lọc

Translucent shrimp dumplings - these are a speciality of the central region, specifically Đà Nẵng and Huế.

Doesn't the food look great? I can't help but take lots of photos of food on this trip!


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