Friday, January 08, 2010

Reflections on our trip by Carol.

For months we looked forward to our trip to Vietnam. Well, we're back and it seems like a dream -- a very, very good dream, however. Marjie took her best experiences from living there for 1 1/2 years and consolidated them into a very full and complete 3 1/2 weeks of adventures for us.

We experienced the motorbike madness of Ho Chi Minh City; enjoyed meeting Marjie's roommates, Katherine and Franco, and her good friends, Thuy and Thanh; sailed a junk on beautiful Halong Bay where we stayed in huts with attached full bathrooms on Monkey Island; visited cultural museums in Hanoi; stayed in two resort towns, Nha Trang and Hoi An, where we soaked up the sun on the beaches and swam in warm ocean water; had clothes and shoes made; visited Marjie's school and met many of her students; shopped in her neighborhood market; and ate many, many meals of delicious Vietnamese food. It was all wonderful, but I think my favorite was her neighborhood which I am going to write about next.

We stayed in a hotel about a five minute walk from the "castle." It wasn't a fancy hotel, but it had air conditioned rooms, tiled bathrooms, a refrigerator and TV, comfortable beds, and was very clean. The cost was $11.00 per night. Leaving the hotel we could walk down the street and purchase a dish of spring rolls and fried noodles, a bowl of pho', rice cakes, rice and chicken, or any number of dishes and drinks at the stands along the side of the street. Turning a corner and walking down an alley brought us to the morning market. There we could buy anything we desired from individual vendors. Along one side might be fresh fish, rice noodles, a stand selling pho', underwear, kitchen utensils, cosmetics, Thuy and Thanh's fabric stand, bananas and other fruit. The other side might be beef, grains, fresh rolls, children's clothing, toys, and a stand selling cooked clams and scallops on the half shell. The market opened at 6:00 and closed at 1:00; it was very crowded with people doing their shopping for the day. Then for two hours the streets became fairly empty as many people rested during the hot part of the day. Because it is so warm there, many of the homes are open to the outside. The living area of homes include the street in front of the homes, where you see many people relaxing, visiting, and children playing. It is noisy, friendly, crowded, and inviting, and makes me realize that we in America live in a very isolated, sanitized environment.

One day I asked Thuy if she would teach me to cook pho'. She agreed and we met the next morning to purchase the ingredients. At the first stand we bought the spices, the next we bought the rice noodles, then the beef, the herbs, the bean sprouts, and the sauces. That evening we cooked at Marjie's. She showed me what to do telling me to "taste and think" about the flavor throughout the cooking until I got it right. The pho' that night was delicious; hopefully I can replicate it here.

We couldn't have asked for a more unique, eventful, or wonderful time. We loved Vietnam; it is easy to know why Marjie decided to stay for another year. Thank you, Marjie, you were an excellent tour guide!


Brian Bowker said...

Great post, Mom! I love the picture of you and Dad in the pedicab!

I'm most intrigued by your statement that we in the US live very isolated lives. That's relatively very true. Why do you suppose that is?

Is it because we put such a high value on independence? Have we perhaps forgotten the advantages of being interdependent with the community around us?

Is it because we have created a culture of fear about our neighbors that we don't know? And is that partly because we choose to commute to work and thus don't meet our neighbors daily on the street?

Of is it because as a culture we fear rejection, and knowing fewer people translated to less chance of rejection, thus we keep people at arms length, and avoid growing our group of close friends larger than a small few?

Or are we just anti-social?

Now I'll be thinking of this all week. :)

Carol said...

Probably all of those things have an impact. Of course, Vietnam being such a warm climate is conducive to being outside. Several times I was brought back to living in small town America as a child. Everybody knew everybody and we pretty much stayed in our community for our needs -- much friendlier.

marjie said...

Nice post, mom. I'm glad my parents chose the $11 hotel in the alley rather than the five star one down the street. That's the kind of parents I have...they enjoy roughing it for the sake of food, culture and adventure.

Brian, I suggest that you, Kristi and Ava begin eating bowls of noodles in your doorways. Mabye that will draw your neighbors out a bit more. And perhaps you can set up a stand with frogs for sale - tied together in a bucket. People will really like that.

Michelle said...

I loved reading Carol's post because it reminded me of my visit with Marjie last year. Marjie - you are an exceptional hostess! I am so happy your family loved Viet Nam too.

Ravenous Couple said...

wow, what a great post on some of your experiences in VN! The neighborhoods, called hang xom, are very close knit, everyone knows one another and most doors left open for friendly visits during the day. what type of school is Marjies??

Carol said...

Marjie teaches at the American International School.

Mungocial said...

Even our little neighborhood in Lynnwood as a kid in the 70's was much more open and friendly... Not even any fences between the houses. Slowly, however, one-by-one, the fences started going up, and everyone became very isolated...

Let's ALL eat noodles in our doorways!

Thanks for the great post, Mama Bowker!