May 2009 Archives

Vietnam - My Tho Market

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The market at My Tho was just as crowded and colorful as the others we had seen. The second photo, however, is one of the only instances of levity that I saw. Shopkeepers here tend to be serious -- or bored.


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Vietnam - Houses along the Mekong

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(click to enlarge) Typical town dwellings along the river. One wonders how they stay up.

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(click to enlarge) Land near the cities (we're not too far from Saigon) is very expensive, so people build up on narrow plots. No elevators.

Vietnam - On the Mekong

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(click to enlarge) Many bridges are being built over the Mekong in Vietnam. They all seem to share the same design, though the cables are painted different colors.

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(click to enlarge) Approaching the city of My Tho, we were confronted by this formidable armada.

Vietnam - In the Mekong Delta

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(click to enlarge) Cruising through the Mekong Delta from Vinh Long to My Tho we passed many barges like this, heaped to the brim with rice hulls (?) and painted in the front to ward off crocodiles.

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(click to enlarge) The towns along the rivers and canals look poor (and probably are) but TV antennas are much in evidence.

Viet Nam = Vinh Long Plantation House

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Near Vinh Long we visited a plantation that was part of the basis for the film "Indochine", starring Catherine Deneuve, which we viewed aboard our boat cruising down the Mekong. The plantation home was ornate in period style. The old mistress of the estate, now about 90, sat quietly off to one side.

Viet Nam = Vinh Long Brickworks

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We toured a brickworks and pottery factory in Vinh Long. I liked the shafts of light and the geometry of the stacked bricks. I was also struck by the petite women tossing the heavy lumps of clay around. A tough, hard-working people.

Vietnam - Vinh Long Motorbikes

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Vietnam runs on motorbikes. Not motorcycles, and certainly not cars: too expensive for all but a few. And bicycles are too slow, except for kids. Motorbikes are just right, and you'll see lots more photos as we get to Saigon and Hanoi.

Vietnam - Chickens and Pigs

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In the Vinh Long street market, the chickens don't get much sympathy or attention. The pigs, on the other hand, get a fair bit of good-humored attention. But people are not always kind. We saw one pig, about the size of those you see here, stuffed -- squealing madly -- into a small barrel on the back of a bicycle and trundled off.

Vietnam - Vinh Long Market

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The Vinh Long market provides most anything you need: tablecloths, whisk brooms, a pedicure, ...

Vietnam - Vinh Long Peppers

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Vinh Long was the third Vietnamese city that we visited on our cruise through the Mekong delta to Saigon. It was the first place that I became conscious of the prevalence of motorbikes in Vietnam -- something we'll see a lot more of in future pictures.

The face mask screens air pollution, but also -- along with the long gloves -- guards against the sun to maintain a valued pale complexion.

The peppers are anything but pale.

Vietnam - Sa Dec Fish and Snails

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The fish display may not look too sanitary, but they're very fresh, coming from the river just down the banks. (click to enlarge)

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I've never seen so many snails, or such big ones. (click to enlarge)

Vietnam - Sa Dec Market

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Like all the towns we visited, Sa Dec has a lively market scene. Here the conical hats that one sees throughout Vietnam (but not Cambodia) are much in evidence, as is the French influence in the French bread.


Click here to see my Blurb books.

Vietnam - Sa Dec School

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Marguerite Duras's mother was headmistress at a school in Sa Dec. We visited the school and talked with some of the students and teachers. The red neckerchiefs indicate membership in something like the Young Pioneers: high performance both in scholastics and in communist youth actiivities. One wonders whether the girls are aware of the Duras part of the school's history.

Vietnam - A Bit of French Indochinese History

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Our next stop cruising down the Mekong was Sa Dec. This is the town where the very young Marguerite Duras, who would go on to become a famous French novelist, had an erotic liaison with a wealthy and refined Chinese man. The liaison was described in Duras's novel "The Lover", which was adapted in a movie of the same name. We watched the movie one evening on board our boat. It's probably the most sensuous movie I've ever seen. There's a long review of the movie at
http://blogcritics.org/video/article/the-lover-duras-politics-and-lust/
that ably captures the many complexities of the film.

These two photos are from the house of the Chinese man's parents in Sa Dec. They give some idea of wealth and refinement of the upper class in French Indochina (not all of whom were French), but little idea of the emotional complexities behind the decor.

Vietnam - Moored at Chau Doc

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Our floating hotel, the Toum Teav, was moored on the embankment at Chau Doc. It's a busy place, as is all of Vietnam.

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Despite the busyness, there's still time to put yellow flowers on the tracks of a steam shovel, to celebrate the New Year.

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Depth markings on the side of the embankment.

Vietnam - Chau Doc Temple

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This Buddhist temple in the city of Chau Doc was colorful and crowded inside and out.

Vietnam - Material and Spiritual

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(click to enlarge) Floating village near Chau Doc. The planks are atop underwater pens buoyed up by floating barrels. The pens contain thousands of fish, one of the main products of this part of Vietnam.

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(click to enlarge) A Buddhist temple in Chau Doc, around the time of Tet, the New Year. Yellow is an auspicious color, and yellow flowers were everywhere.


Vietnam - Cham Village People

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The Cham are Vietnamese Muslims. These photos were taken in a Cham village near the floating village of Chau Doc. The woman works in a silk fabric store.

Vietnam - On the River

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The Mekong is so over-fished that even with three fishermen pulling up a big net, they caught very little. (click to enlarge)

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One of the many floating villages along the way. (click to enlarge)

Vietnam - Sunset on the Mekong

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Ferries take people from one bank to the other, and there are lots of small boats as well.

Vietnam - Starting Down the Mekong

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After some negotiations by the captain's wife with the customs officials at the border, our boat proceeded into Vietnam. The Tonle Sap joins the Mekong at Phnom Penh, so we were finally on the Mekong River. It's big and busy, though evidence of traditional farming on the banks, such as these water buffalo come to get their evening drink and bath, was plentiful. There was strikingly more activity -- commerce and construction -- on the Vietnamese side of the border, including many barges hauling sand. Vietnam is not as laid-back as Cambodia, and one got the sense that the Vietnamese are intent on catching up with the developed world.

A joke that local people tell about the differences between the four countries in the region:
The Vietnamese grow rice, the Cambodians watch rice grow, the Laotians listen to the rice growing, and the Thai sell rice.

Cambodia - Old and New Combined

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Two young monks in Phnom Penh (click to enlarge)

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As we were about to leave Phnom Penh and sail down the Mekong, we were treated to a on-board concert by Kong Nay, the "Ray Charles of Cambodia". He's a master of the chapey, the Cambodian lute, and a lively, gravelly-voiced singer with loads of charisma. It was a fine end to the Cambodian part of our journey.

Starting tomorrow: Vietnam.


Click here to see my Blurb books on Cambodia and Vietnam (and lots of other places).

Cambodia - Theater

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One evening in Phnom Penh our Elderhostel group went to the theater. The story was of a soldier whose wife betrayed him - and murdered his mother when she discovered the betrayal - when he went off to war, and who consoled himself with his faithful dog. The performance was a fascinating blend of traditional dance, puppetry, and modern theater. The flashing orange cloths represent flames from the soldier's mother's burning house.

Cambodia - The Killing Fields

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According to Wikipedia, "The Killing Fields were a number of sites in Cambodia where large numbers of people were killed and buried by the totalitarian communist Khmer Rouge regime, during its rule of the country from 1975 to 1979, immediately following the end of the Vietnam War. ... At least 200,000 people were executed by the Khmer Rouge (while estimates of the total number of deaths resulting from Khmer Rouge policies, including disease and starvation, range from 1.4 to 2.2 million out of a population of around 7 million)."

This is the best-known of the killing fields, Choung Ek, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. The ground is covered with shallow pits, which are excavated mass graves. The recovered skulls are housed in a commemorative stupa.

Cambodia - S-21

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Cambodia seems to be best known for two diametrically opposite things: the exquisite Khmer civilization exemplified by the Angkor temples, and the brutal torture and murder perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge (Red Khmer). These photos are from Security Prison 21 (S-21), now the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, in Phnom Penh. It's an appalling place.

Cambodia - Royal Palace in Phnom Penh

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Moonlight Pavilion, sometimes used as a stage for Khmer classical dance. (click to enlarge)

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According to Wikipedia, a stupa is a mound containing Buddhist relics. It may be a simple pile of dirt, or an elaborate edifice like this. (click to enlarge)

The grounds of the Royal Palace is a large complex of buildings, including the home of the King of Cambodia. It's been unclear for a long time just what function is served by the king, but the palace grounds are attractive.

Cambodia - History and Modernity

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As we approached Phnom Penh, I saw this image of a fisherman casting a net in the time-honored way, with a big bridge across the Tonle Sap under construction behind him. (click to enlarge)

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In a park in Phnom Penh, a sculpture memorializing the difficult struggles of the Cambodian people. (click to enlarge)

Cambodia - On the River Again

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About to get back on our boat/hotel, the Tuom Teav, I noticed these this cow and calf on the bank above. They seem even more emaciated than the usual cattle. (click to enlarge)

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One of the many gorgeous sunsets we experienced. (click to enlarge)

Cambodia - Good Guide

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Our guide on the Tonle Sap part of the trip was Soun Cheoun, shown here telling us about some temple carvings. He won everybody's respect and affection through his knowledge, intelligence, and sensitivity.

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Soun has made it his goal to get water wells into the villages he visits with tour groups. He argues convincingly that lack of convenient potable water is one of the things that most holds back Cambodian villagers. He had no trouble planting the idea in the minds of us Elderhostelers to contribute enough for one well, perhaps two. Recently he sent this photo of the lucky family standing with him (in the blue shirt) in front of "our" well.

Cambodia - Radiant Smiles

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On the grounds of a temple near Kampong Chhnang, a young girl and a monk.

Cambodia - Scenes along the Way

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Part of the purpose of taking photos is just to show what the place looks like, without attempting an explanation.

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