May 1, 2008

Just like Vietnam

Here we are. This is the controversial country. While many Americans our age strategized and struggled to stay out of Vietnam some 40 years ago, Amanda and I have now converted our hard earned dollars to Vietnamese Dong to see its sights and live its life. Despite many battles in many wars with many nations; in spite of the legacy of unexploded ordinance, Agent Orange birth defects, and a severely depleted population; even though the communists took control of a united Vietnam in 1975, it has transformed itself into a thriving and beautiful capitalist gem in the heart of Asia.

It is a small and leaky wooden boat. The barefoot man standing behind us has just ignited his 6.6 horsepower engine. Attached to the engine by way of a five ft long rod is a small propeller. It is 5 o’clock in the morning and we are motoring down one of the many rivers that connect with the mighty Mekong in the Mekong Delta region of southern Vietnam.

Skip ahead 2 hours to the floating markets of Phong Dien. This is interesting. Someone decided to place the produce section of Safeway in old wooden boats. To our left a woman in the typical Vietnamese garb of loose pajamas and a conical staw hat stands on her small craft filled with pineapples as she rows past a 30 ft long wooden vessel. This particular vessel, along with every other boat, appears to have looked old before construction was completed. It also is motivated by a propeller at the end of a long steel shaft with a hand controlled diesel motor guiding its load of lettuce deftly through this crowd of edibles. On our right a floating cold beverage stand motors by. An ice cold sweet melon tea quenches the thirst of a young Vietnamese man on his break. Shortly thereafter he resumes tossing hundreds of coconuts from his small boat up to the larger one he is tethered to. It is huge and crowded and it is beautiful.

Fast forward another 2 hours. After motoring through the small canals Amanda and I now wander by foot in confusion. Our driver has pulled over and begun to sing karaoke at one of the small houses facing this busy route of commerce. And we can’t help but wonder if the world might be a better place if we all took a ten minute break at 9 am every day to sing a few national hits.

Then we are in Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon as most of the world knows it. Thousands, no, millions of scooters buzz around us. Rather that run, we train ourselves to deftly maneuver through the swarms of Africanized Moto Bees crowding the narrow streets. The key is to keep one steady pace and like a finger in a fresh bowl of jello, they move around us. The War Remnants Museum is wonderful and devastating all at once. The American instruments of war are scattered about in the form of tanks, bombs and airplanes. None of which could stop the north. To be an American has never felt so confusing after staring at hundreds of war images and reading dozens of sad stories. We feel sorrow to know that history often repeats itself.

Yet, this is in the past and Saigon is a bustling metropolis. It also has a slow bus to Dalat where the weather is cool.

Now place Amanda on the back of a motorcycle, her arms raised at her side as she copilots her craft through the strawberry fields, flower farms, coffee plantations, rice fields, and forests of central Vietnam. The Easy Riders have become world famous for their English spoken tours of Vietnam on the back of a motorcycle. It was a beautiful ride indeed.

Fianlly, as though tearing off yesterday’s joke from my page-a-day calendar, we race down the mountains back to the coast in the city of Nha Trang; one of Vietnam’s many beach resorts. We couldn’t resist spending $4.5 dollars to rent a motorcycle for the day. Today was very hot and wonderful, just like Vietnam.


D Craig said...

Takey leaky TUK-TUK! Leighton, all I can say is that only YOU would venture into the forgotten art of short-distance porcelain throne hopping in a tuk-tuk. You are a brave man. Cambodia sounds amazing; such an ancient civilization and so rich in culture. Glad to hear you have grown accustomed to dodging traffic (just wait until India ... heheh!). Amanda, thank you so much for the great photos. Your eye for that "perfect shot" seems to be getting better with each new place you and Leighton visit. Wish you both the very best in your coming adventures. Be safe and have fun!

- David
P.S. Did said rental cycle come complete with Easy Rider helmet as well???

alphasquirrel said...

You should post your joke a day. I can't handle the pressure of the comic relief around here.