Sunday, July 21, 2013

Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

We couldn't leave Southeast Asia without visiting Vietnam. It was on the bucket list. Southern Vietnam was much more interesting to me than the northern part of the country, and so we jetted off to a weekend in Ho Chi Minh City.

We arrived not really knowing what to expect, and we found a hip little city full of contrasts:

200-year-old French Colonial halls side-by-side with modern office complexes,

Thrown-together cement "apartments" with several generations sharing a room in the shadow of the helipad of a glass and steel high-rise,

Delicious french restaurants full of cheap pastries and sandwiches across from the dried fish stand, amazing street waffles literally cooked over a pile of coals on the sidewalk in front of the entrance to Burberry and  Louis Vuitton, waking up each morning in our four-star hotel to a rooster crowing from an apartment balcony across the street... and so on.

Jonathan loved the War Remnants Museum with it's "ahPLANES!" "Holadotters" (helicopters) and "tanks" (that's an easy one to say).

He did not love the creepy water puppets show "for children" with it's shrill traditional live music and disturbing story line...

Until the dragon started breathing fire. Then he really liked the puppet show. And the steady stream of "All done? Okay."s quickly changed to "More Please? Yeah. Okay."

We also had plenty of near-misses with motorcycles. When people heard we were headed to Ho Chi Minh, they would immediate warn us of "all the motorbikes." We thought, "Please. We have lived in Asia for two years and traveled all over this continent. We know there are a lot of motorbikes."

And then we got there... 

I had never seen so many motorcycles in my life. It makes every other Asian city look like... well, the U.S. Hundreds and hundreds of motorbikes lined up ten or fifteen across whipped down the roads, only a third of them observing traffic laws. We felt like we spent four days living the Frogger game. Fabio and I would stand on the curb with Jonathan strapped to his back, holding hands so tightly our knuckles were white. Okay, there's a break coming... Run! Then a few seconds later: Stop!--one's coming down the wrong side of the road... step back... now run again! 

Seriously, if you go to Ho Chi Minh, watch out for the motorbikes!

My dad served two tours in the Vietnam War, patrolling the Mekong River Delta in a speedboat. Even though I wasn't born until years later, his time in Vietnam has had a significant indirect impact on my life. It was really important to me to say "hello" to a place that was so formative to my Dad's adult life, and therefore mine, so we booked a river tour from downtown to the rural outskirts of the Mekong Delta.

We stopped to shop at a local wet market...

And waved to little children fishing on the way...

We were struck with gratitude when our guide stopped along the way to give our leftovers from breakfast to the children living in some of the huts over the water...

And we smiled when we learned that they paint faces on their boats to frighten the crocodiles and river dragons...

At one point the canals were too small for our speedboat, so we took a walk.

It was hot and sunny, and our guide insisted that Jonathan wear this to protect him from the weather.

We admired the beautiful, peaceful scenery... and wondered how scary it would be to float down in less peaceful times.

Our final stop was an orphanage for lunch, where Fabio started a pick up game of football with the orphans and the other kids on the tour.

He was at a serious disadvantage with his little buddy in tow... 
so eventually they took over playing goalie together.

After the game we said "goodbye" to our new friends, gave all the cash in our pockets to the Buddhist monk who runs the orphanage and set off for home again.

Once again, better people for our experiences as we traveled--more grateful for our homes and food, more patient with our silly "first world problems," more aware that there are a lot of ways to live well, more appreciative of our family and the peaceful environment that we enjoy, more willing to help someone else.

Please never let us forget what we've learned from the people and cultures in Southeast Asia...

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