I just arrived back to Sai Gon after a two week excursion to the Mekong Delta and Dalat with a short visit to Cat Tien National Park in between. I’m happy to be back but it was an unforgettable couple weeks. Mekong Delta is a rural, agricultural area where we visited many farms, went to the floating market, and studied rural development and culture. I’m attaching a video of our time there, which hopefully will speak for itself. The local students we met at Can Tho University where we stayed were fantastically enthusiastic and friendly. They invited us to play sports and we had a talent show/cultural exchange on our last night there which honestly was the best time.
Dalat was incredible. Let me just set the scene: it’s seated in a valley forested by pine trees, there is a lake at the basin around and upon which you can find tourists, flowers, lovers, and swan boats. The climate is moderate to cool, San Francisco-esque, which is a relief after the oppressively humid heat of HCMC and Mekong. The Dalat area is also agricultural but caters to an emerging high end market for luxury products like coffee and macadamia nuts. Historically, the region was a colonized by the French who negotiated/pushed the local ethnic minority people from their homelands and built a center for education. This is history is ever present in the architecture, food, and tourist culture of Dalat. We did an epic peak climb at the Lang Biang mountain nearby and afterwards had the chance to speak to some of the Lach K’ho ethnic minority people.
In the last weeks, we’ve spent a good chunk of time looking out bus windows so the rest of this blog post will be dedicated to the things I saw.
Things that might happen in the middle of the road
- Water buffalo crossing
- Clowns on motorbike
- Rollerbladers with light up wheels
- Food stands
Things you probably will see on the side of the road
- Live cows
- People sleeping
- Houses on stilts
- More telephone lines than you would believe
- A massive cliff
- Jesus/Mary/Buddha/Bodhisattva statues for sale (probably at the same vendor)
Thank you for reading that’s all I got besides this short video!
Mekong Delta from Kate Woodall on Vimeo.
Today was the first morning I went to school from my homestay. My host mom, Cô Lan, takes me to school but she leaves early for work so I got up at 6. She prepared me a big bowl of pho with green beans and an egg on top. It was so delicious I ate it all but I could feel it sloshing around in my stomach the whole time. It was so worth it though. She asked me about what my name means in English. I didn’t really know what “Kate” means but she said hers was a flower. I found out from my friend in language class that Lan means “orchid” in Vietnamese. I like that most Vietnamese names have a meaning beyond just being people names. I was early to school so I went out on the fire escape and listened to the city wake up. It was clear and sunny, but there was that faint misty quality to the air that only happens in the mornings. I admired the pastel mosaic of rooftops as roosters crooned and motorbikes revved their engines. A woman practiced tai chi on her balcony. A man watered the plants on his rooftop garden. It feels a little surreal, like I’m an imposter in someone else’s life at times.
In language class we practiced basic conversation questions and pronouns. In the Vietnamese language there’s a whole array of personal pronouns based on the age and gender of the person you are talking to and your relationship to them. For example, if I want to address a woman who is older than me by a decade or two, like my host mom or teacher, I use the pronoun “cô” for her and “em” for myself. But if I’m talking to a friend or peer that is close to my age I use “ban” to address them and “tôi” for myself. Okay so here’s the revelation: your OWN pronouns don’t only reflect who you are but also WHO YOU’RE TALKING TO. You explicitly acknowledge your relationship to your conversation partner practically every time you open your mouth. Perhaps this is a reflection of collectivist culture in language? The other point to get from this is that language is really hard and I literally am still struggling over the ABC’s after two weeks of being here. But, you know, I can count to three and use sign language to order food and drink so I would count that as a success.
Today I went out to lunch with a few students from my program, as we do most days. We walked a couple blocks through colorful alleys and a street market to get to an open-air food stand. Most stands here only sell one item, which makes ordering simple. We each got served a plate of broken rice, fresh vegetables, and crispy (potentially free-range?) chicken. It was the most incredible meal and cost a little over 2 US dollars; I may never be able to go back to US food again. After the chicken, I accompanied a couple of my lunch pals to a coffee shop where we lounged on the rooftop and enjoyed the time we had before class in each other’s company. There’s a whole other pace to my life here and It’s the most amazing thing to not be rushing from class to meeting, meeting to meal, meal to homework and gulping caffeine in between. The days are still full and tiring for sure, but the difference is that at the end of the day I feel like I was actually awake to experience it all.
I was going to write about this gorgeous fun exciting excursion we went on to the Can Gio Mangrove Forest, but I was too overwhelmed with where to start, so I’m just posting this short cute video.
Can Gio Mangrove Forest from Kate Woodall on Vimeo.