Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Life in the Country!

Hello everyone. I'm now back in Indonesia. I tried one more time to post before I left Vietnam, but the internet cafe was busy hosting a computer test for students for the local school. I have much to share about life in Vietnam. So for the next few posts, it will be dedicated to my "Vietnam Adventures". The following is an account of one day in the country.

So a typical day in the country side of Vietnam starts out at around 5 am. Surprisingly even my wife gets up this early. Typically around 6 am, she goes to the local market to buy food for the day. Since fresh foods are available everyday and most locals don't have refrigerators (although we have one), they simply buy just enough for the day.

I get up around 8 am and by then, Anne (my wife) is back from the market with some things to eat for breakfast. I normally don't eat breakfast, so I just eat a little and wait for lunch for my first meal. Then we are off to town to check e-mail. It is a 45 minute motor bike ride into town. The road is small but the scenery is really picturesque.

Water is everywhere around this part of Vietnam. This small tributary eventually leads out to the mighty Mekong River.

A hand made bridge to cross over to the houses on the otherside. There are small "real bridges" but are far in between. So the locals makeshift this type of crossing where it is convenient.

Some water buffaloes along the road.

We cross over numerous bridges to get to the town. The water is really muddy and fluctuates with the tide. This is one of the bigger tributaries that leads to the Mekong.

The scenery is beautiful. Note the water buffaloes near the stack of dried rice stalks.

Once we got to town. I spent an hour or two on the computer at the internet place. Afterwards, we headed to a place to get my wife's shoe repaired. She had just bought the pair and the heal on one of the shoe had fallen off.

Here is my wife (Anne) while waiting for the shoe to be repaired.

Also while waiting, I noticed this cool looking electric bicycle! This thing is made in China and runs on a charge of battery. After the battery goes low, you can pedal and ride like a normal bicycle. Kind of cute looking and is very popular in Vietnam. I don't see too many of these though here in Indo.

A close up view of the "Robo" bicycle. Notice the springs. It must have a good ride!

Here is a picture of a motorbike made by the same company. It definitely has style!

After the shoe got repaired, we headed to my favorite pho noodle soup place. This place is it for pho! I've eaten at dozen's of places all over Vietnam for the traditional beef soup, but this place is the best by far. I live in the Bay Area where there are lots of Vietnamese pho places and can't compare. The trick would be to learn the secret recipe for the soup base and open up a place in the US. For sure, you would have lines out the door!

So here you have it. This is the normal size bowl for pho in Vietnam. For some reason when the idea of this soup went to the US, it became three times the size. So next time you order "number one" from the menu, think about this post:). But seriously, pho is a very competitive business. It is like having your own secret recipe. It is kind of like KFC's secret original formula or like Coca-cola. Oh man, makes me hungry looking at the picture! And oh yah, this bowl cost only $.65. Actually the price went up since the last time I was there. Two years ago, it was only $.45.

While we were waiting for our beef noodle soup, a grandmother came by our table selling these lottery tickets. I'm not sure when the lottery was implemented, but it was a great idea. Not that gambling is good or anything, but these tickets are sold by individuals. So it gives the umemployed, the elderly, the very young, the handicapped, people something to do to make a living. These people get commission for selling each ticket. They probably don't get much but hey still it is something to do to put food on the table. My wife always buy one or two if it is a grandmother or a handicap person that comes by to sell. Everywhere you go, these things are sold.

Each ticket cost a little less than $.30 and you can win around $8000 if you hit all the numbers! Nothing like the US lotteries, but hey that is still a lot of money in Vietnam. You have the option of buying multiple tickets with the same number. So if you buy two winning tickets, then you can win $16,000. The numbers are drawn daily and I guess people do win. My wife's younger brother won $800 from a ticket! That is a huge amount of money, considering that is what a family makes from one harvest of rice - if they are lucky- and there are only three harvests a year. And remember, growing rice is back breaking!

After slurping down the little bowl of pho, it was time to head back home. I stay with my inlaws in a middle income house. Down the road a little, my wife's older sister and her husband has a little business selling duck eggs called "balut". The Filipinos also have this in their cuisine. Basically what it is, is a fertilized duck egg that is boiled and eaten. The eggs are incubated anywhere from 10-15 days, depending on what people want. The eggs are not cheap and considered a delicacy. This family business has really taken off. I remember the last time I was there two years ago. Because of the bird flu scare, people were kind of avoiding the duck eggs. But now everyone even keeps chickens without being afraid.

Anne's sister's husband is an expert in this business. He has taught my wife's youger brother how to take care of the eggs. So these days, mostly he goes around buying eggs from farmers while the younger brother does the caring of the embryos. I'll have more information on this topic in a later post.

While we were at the "egg place", this kid came by on a bicycle selling Vietnamese sandwiches.

Soft French bread and barbecued pork!

He would roast the bread on this little plate and put the goodies inside.

And here it is. I like the soft bread instead of the hard crunch versions that is only available in the US in making these sandwiches. Want to know the price? The dollar fluctuates between 16,000 to 17,000 dong. This little snack only cost 2000 dong! You do the math while I eat three of them!

After stuffing myself with the sandwiches, I told my wife that I wanted to go fishing. We went back to her house and grabbed this little macheti to cut down bamboo trees for the fishing poles.

We walked along this little dirt path that leads us to my wife's uncle house down a little ways. He has bamboo trees and we could take some. There are lots of bamboo everywhere but they belong to someone and there seems to be a code of honor going around in the village. For example later you will see all the banana trees along my father in laws rice land, but no one touches the bananas.

One thing about Vietnam near the Mekong Delta is that each house is surrounded by a series of moats of water. These ponds are all connected to the main river system through canals and pipes. So the tide fluctuates daily. This tide is what keeps the water clean. The water is muddy because of sediment, not garbage or sewered. So the ponds are used to grow fish, shrimps, plants etc.. But each house does have a pond that is used as a bathroom. They have a certain type of catfish that I call "bathroom fish" that sit and wait for the "chunks" to fall from the sky! Of course they get fed daily and how much food they get depends on how many household members there are. But the water in these "toilets" never smell. They may look a little more green than usual, but a good portion of the water gets changed everyday with the tide! So there is a natural water change going on two times a day.

Here is one with lots of water plants growing. These makeshift toilets can be seen all over in the village. I will share a funny story with you later when I used this toilet for the first time.

Here is one moat with a boat. This channel of water must lead directly out to a bigger canal system.

Here you can see how the water passes from one pond to another. Notice the pipe is made from a hollowed out coconut tree!

We came across this bridge. Later on we will take a boat ride and see this bridge.

My wife Anne with her nephews.

Here is a view of the canal from the bridge. Later on we will be taking a boat ride down this path - very cool!

The path lead us to this clearing. The landscape is just beautiful!

Then we found the bamboos! Here I am chopping down one of them.

The guy in the background is my wife's uncle.

Here is Anne chopping off the branches of the bamboo!

And I am the proud owner of four fresh cut bamboos! I really look Vietnamese!

Here is the rig for fishing. A little bobber and a little hook.

A quick dig into the moist soil (it had rained the night before) for some worms and we are good to go.

That same canal we crossed over, runs right behind my inlaws house. Note the the clothes drying. Anne gets up very early to handwash my stuff!

We borrowed this boat from her uncle up the stream. My inlaws have a boat too, but it developed a hole since the last time I road in it two years ago. We will take the boat to my father in law's rice land and go fishing.


Ok folks, that is it for today. In a few days, I will post again and we will go up the stream and check out all the exciting things.

Here is a preview of what is coming up on the next post. I felt I was in movie filming the Anaconda series - way cool!!


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