Hello everyone! Hope everyone’s April is going just dandy. I have another blog post about our trip to Vietnam if you want to read it. The story ensues below.
I am sure I sound like a broken record, but Vietnam has a piece of my heart. Though we were only there a mere four days, the things we saw, people we met, and food we met will stay with me forever.
We started our trek into Vietnam by making a land border crossing, which was quite an experience in and of itself. We had to carry all of our stuff across by hand because they don’t let buses from Cambodia enter Vietnam. It’s weird, I know. So here we are hauling all our luggage, gallon jugs of water, pillows, and passports, waiting to talk with desk agents.
The whole process took about an hour, which is actually pretty impressive given the fact that there were over 20 of us who had to get through. Once in Vietnam, we boarded a new bus and took off for our hotel in a city called Can Thô. The views were absolutely breathtaking. Out the window, you could see endless green stretches of perfectly square rice paddies. The land looked lush and expansive. In Vietnamese culture, people are often buried very close to home, so the fields are littered with beautiful brightly pained grave-sites which speckle the scenery like wildflowers in an open field.
The city we stayed in is famous for its thrift shops, so of course we had to make a visit. I will never forget my first interaction with a Vietnamese shop owner. I showed him the shoes I wanted. He responded in Vietnamese, which of course I did not understand. I laughed and pulled out the 5 dollar equivalent in Vietnamese Dong (the local currency). He laughed and laughed and laughed, which I still do not understand. I decided to pull out my phone and type into the calculator how much I wanted to pay. He laughed again and brought back his friend to laugh at me also. I guess they thought it was funny I wanted to buy shoes, I don’t know. I ended up just giving them the five bucks and walking away confused (albeit satisfied) with my friend. We laughed about the interaction the rest of the night.
We did a lot of things while we were in Vietnam, including going birding in a wildlife sanctuary, going to a university student BBQ, having a fashion show in our dormitory hall, eating Pho, holding a mock UNFCCC convention on climate change migration, having a guest lecture from a Vietnamese professor, doing karaoke with my professors, seeing the Vietnamese War museum, drinking our first Starbucks coffee in three months, and visiting a world famous floating market. I have to say, however, that while there were many spectacular moments in Vietnam, my favorite interaction was with a small scale saleswoman in Ho Chi Minh City.
Walking down the street one morning with a coffee in tow, I felt jovial about the adventures our day off in Ho Chi Minh City would surely bring. While we were walking down a busy city block I chatted nonchalantly with Molly. All of a sudden she interrupted my sentence and screeched, “Sweet Potatoes!” In case you as the reader were not aware, sweet potatoes are my favorite food and I always stop to buy them when I see them in Cambodia. Hearing Molly’s howl, I whipped my head around in delight but I did not see what she was referring too. I scanned up , across, and then down until my eyes met my feet. In a small Tupperware container next to an elderly woman sitting on the sidewalk lie a pile of sweet potatoes. Maybe she didn’t sell them from the day before, or maybe she wasn’t even planning to sell them. The answer to that I’ll never know.
I stopped and gestured to her with my hands that I wanted to buy some of them. She didn’t understand me at all, but a security guard next to her noticed I was inquiring and came over to me in English asking cheerfully, “What do you want to buy?” Bewildered by this multi-layered transaction, I somewhat rudely retorted “No, no, I want to buy some potatoes from her.” He smiled and then took that comment and translated to her my request. The smile that swept across her face is one I will never forget. Her face was glowing with the thought that I wanted to buy one of her old cold sweet potatoes. Likewise, I had not eaten a sweet potato in nearly two weeks and was so I was smiling (and salivating) as well. Using the security-guard-turned-translator, I successfully bought three small sweet potatoes from this lady. She thanked me in broken English and I thanked her back in broken Vietnamese. I also thanked the selfless security guard who made this transaction possible.
I am confident her warm smile and his generosity will remain with me forever. It might not have felt like much, but making someone smile (especially at 7AM) is an incredibly gratifying feeling.
In general, Vietnam and Cambodia seem to me more alike than they are different. “Motos” rule the roads, clothing abounds in colorful arrays, sweet and fishy smells fill the humid air, and rice takes center stage in both culture and cuisine. In both cultures, it also seems the people are very kind and eager to talk (or sell). Market saleswomen and men in both places are quick to laugh at you, but even quicker to help you. I was excited to get back to Cambodia, but now I miss the sounds, smells, and sights of Vietnam too. I’m confident I will be back, that’s for sure.
Thanks for reading along! Lia sin huey (goodbye)