A Travellerspoint blog

Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder

Cu Chi Tunnels-25th November

sunny 37 °C

So the other day (days are passing so quickly and they are blending into one) my friend Hanh, took me out to the Cu Chi tunnels for the day on her motorbike. Even though it is around 50kms away it takes almost 2 hours by motorbike to get there in the Saigon traffic and the 40km/60km speed limits.
It is pretty incredible, in the Cu Chi area alone there are 120km worth of networks of tunnels and visiting tells the story of how the American troops were clearing and poisoning the ground above forcing the Cu Chi people to move their lifes underground as well establishing a transport connection for the Viet Cong.

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The people living in the tunnels built houses -kitchens living and sleeping areas, hospitals, schools, bomb shelters, weapons factories and meeting and planning rooms for troops over the three levels. The bombings by the Americans above the ground left deep craters and would destory the upper floor so the people needed to be able to evacuate deeper to evade this. The third level gets down to 10-15m below the surface with the first level only 3m below.

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This is a typical entrance to the tunnel. The tiny hole. I thought I would be able to fit, but this guy on our tour managed to squeeze in so I think I probably would fit.
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They have opened up the entrances for tourists but the tunnel itself is a squeeze. I could not imagine living under there for a period of time. The temperature is soaring and complete darkness while moving between rooms.
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The lady travelling through in front of me is slightly shorter than I am and check out how much she has to bend down to fit through. This is one of the bigger sections of tubing. Incredible that they fit.

Nearby this section of tunnels is the memorial pagoda celebrating the many people who were casualities of the war. However photos are forbidden here. I managed to sneak a few outside.
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The booby traps they used for the Americans to avoid being found.
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Hanh and I even visited the shooting range here and did target shooting with the guns from the war. At least no kick back like Dad's guns.
-photos to come. Hanh has the copy.

Posted by breannamorgan34 23:29 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tunnels cu chi Comments (0)

You're off to great places, today is your day.

your mountain is waiting so get on your way - Dr SEUSS

sunny 39 °C

So last weekend, my Vietnamese friend (Hanh) who is studying at Victoria in Wellington also invited me out to her hometown. The little of town of La Gi, a small beachside town four hours North of Ho Chi Minh City near the resort town of Mui Ne. Anyways it really was a delightful place, a true Vietnamese Village. I felt like I was in a Vietnamese version of Opunake, where the people are all locals and very friendly, and travellers simply pass through or stop for the day rather than actually staying for a few days.

This sign literally says, Welcome to La Gi town - (because I speak Vietnamese)
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I met Hanh's family although not English speakers and they adored me. I did feel very big next to these tiny women. Notice the size difference.
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I could not stay with my friend and her family, but her cousins who happened to be English teachers invited me to stay with them at their place. This family, even though most of them could not speak English, are among the loveliest people I have met here. They went out of their way to make me feel welcomed and were continuosly worrying that their hospitality was inadequate. It certainly was not.

When I first went to their place, Lan Anh and Dung (the sisters) were in the middle of an English lesson but the opportunity to talk to a foriegner for these students was far more exciting than what they were learning. It also means I know all my basic likes. My favourite colour, sport, food, hobby, book, movie etc. all of the basic English questions.

However as fascinated as they were, it was to hear me speak not for them to talk. They indeed are very shy and scared to say anything.

This weekend was also all about food, starting with the Friday night. My and Vy (2 students) joined Hanh and I for beef hotpot. Well not hot for me since I avoided adding the chilli.
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Saturday, bright and early, was time to explore this little town. Down to the beach first where the locals were getting their swim in before school and work and the sun getting too hot.
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I have now worked out why the Vietnamese among other Asian cultures dress so conservatively and covered up. It is to protect their skin from the sun, the lighter the skin the better. The opposite to the western culture. So you will never see anyone sunbathing here and during the middle of the day the beach will be empty and the people will be sitting under the shade.

Nearby the local port was humming with fisherman to supply to the markets and town. It was of a different standard to what you see in New Zealand with both hygiene and boating techniques.
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Si I am not sure what that boat was doing, they were in the breaking waves trying to get their fishing nets in, by hand, and two fisherman had jumped in to try and pull it up. And I have never met a Vietnamese who knows how to swim so it could have turned bad.

While driving on the bikes you see some interesting sights, especially how commonly these are still being used.
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And I now finally understand where the rice all comes from...
We came across them drying and processing it on the side of the road.
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Off the local markets for breakfast, we had the usual pho, noodle soup, today with fresh fish. I cannot even count how many times I have had this meal, to the Vietnamese it really is a once a day meal.
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And when I look at my photos I didn't even get a photo, probably thought it was nothing new.

Coffee or caf├ęs are huge in this country. Big coffee drinkers. And there is a specially nice one we visited to try the local speciality tea.
Half Lipton tea/half sour orange juice and sugar. But it makes for a rich flavoured drink
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At Hanh's place, her mother has a big garden growing many fruits. The very strange jackfruit grows so big but is very delicious.
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So there really was so much food over the weekend. The lunch feast where I was staying was so good.
Fish and rice soup, boiled sea snails and tropical fruits. How good does it look?
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The rest of the day I spent with Lan Anhs English students. They wanted a chance to see if they really could speak with a foreigner and it made for interesting conversations. It was remarkable what a little confidence could do to some abilities.
That night my hosts really wanted me to experience the real La Gi town. They explained that since La Gi people have been very poor in the past they have now got a few dishes that are very unique or here which are cheap to make.
Among what we tried was fried spring rolls wrapped in rice paper with lettuce melon and cucumber also inserted. The next street stall we had squid teeth, BBQ'd on a stick. They were strange, they couldn't explain what it was until I got on the internet, so I was eating something blind. Don't ask which part of the squid it is because I just don't know. We moved to a fried rice paper stall which had egg, spices and sauces added and rolled up, they called it a fried pancake but I'm not sure if that is the correct translation. Whilst here they served us the quail eggs. I have heard about these before as a friend came across eating them. They are much smaller than regular sized eggs, and although they are boiled, they do not contain the typical yolk. instead they have been fertilised and inside is a embryo of a duckling. I gave it a go and had one, making me feel quite sick, there was no way I was going to have the second egg. The thought of it is quite overwhelming.
Luckily we washed it down with one of their many fruit desserts

The other beach we visited I think is a locals secret. If you love seafood, you will love this place. Out to see you can see the fishermen on their boats. Once they have a decent amount they board a little round boat with a tiny little engine in the back and ride the waves in to shore. From here they sort out what they have brought it and the locals literally walk along the beach buying what they want to have and they can take it to the local (street food) styled restaurants for them to cook it for you. It is the most fresh seafood there possibly is.
I'm not too much of a fan but it was amazing. Check out the photos. A foodies treat.
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The empty beach was also just as beautiful.
Although no one was enjoying the sun.
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Being such a locals spot I did stick out and had to deal with the steers or the Vietnamese pickup lines which I did not understand. Just like that last photo of a swimmer who badly wanted to have a photo with me?

Welcome to La Gi

Posted by breannamorgan34 20:14 Archived in Vietnam Tagged and the vietnam la real inside gi Comments (0)

Be happy with the little you have.

There are people with nothing who still manage to smile.

sunny 37 °C

So here I am, just passing the mid point of my trip and I feel very settled living here with the Vietnamese people. It seems like being at home was somewhere in the distant past. Days are passing very quickly and I am short of time to get online to post on here.

The 20th of November here is marked as Teachers' Day. A day to go to school not to learn but to thank and celebrate the actions of a students teachers, both current and past. So of course being here as a teacher I was celebrated.

My first class celebrated with a special shared lunch and sang songs in both English and Vietnamese as recognition of my work with them. How very touching. I was surprised about how genuine the gratitude they showed was.
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They other shelter where a group of us work together with the primary school children, invited us to a Teachers' Day Celebration. This was like a talent show where many children had practised routines to share with the group of teachers and visitors.
We were given flower sprays to wear and gifts. It was very special.
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After the many items, the teachers alone sat down for a 5 course feast. There were so many delicacies, especially seafood.

Posted by breannamorgan34 23:53 Archived in Vietnam Tagged day teachers' Comments (3)

Not all those who wander are lost - J R R Tolkien

all seasons in one day 26 °C

On Friday 15th November, I tiki-toured out to DaLat with another volunteer for the weekend. After teaching on Friday morning we caught the sleeping bus for the 6 hour trip, which in HCM traffic turned out to be over 8 hours.
The Lonely Planet describes DaLat as being a place to escsape the heat and humidity of Ho Chi Minh City and the Southern Coast. Being in the Central Highlands it has typical New Zealand spring weather year round, and over the weekend matched about what you would expect in the NZ summer. What a relief it was. For once when it was night time, it was almost cold.

As a popular holiday destination over the years, it still has the strong French influence, especially since it was untouched by the war bombing. The high altitude, fertile land and cooler weather makes it ideal for its agriculture industry.

On Saturday, I spent the day exploring the city which was within walking distance. During my wandering I found a few things of interest.

The radio tower, is attempting to represent the Eiffel Tower. I am not sure how successful this is.
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It had a very green feel, which was a good change.

Many traditional farming practises.
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It is known as the honeymoon city so very relevant is the Horse-drawn carriages and the Flower Gardens.
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A stunning Buddhist pagoda
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And a randomly caged monkey on the side of the road... Why not through him in.
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Pjotr and I, while out on Saturday night, found out except for the walking city, (roads closed in the central city for the markets) there is no nightlife whatsoever in DaLat that you would expect to see. We saw a nightclub that had 4 people sitting in it.
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But we did have a early start the next day. We had booked a motorbike tour for the day, and was joined by two other travellers staying at the same hostel.
What a day we had. They crammed so much into the day.

We started out visiting a flower plantation on the edge of the city to learn how flower farmers earn their livings.
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On the back of the bikes we traveled out of the city on clay roads and saw workers improving the road. They were literally mining the stone out of the hillside by hand. By hammer and chisel, they were cutting the stone into usuable sizes.
It looked incredibly hard work.

Our next stop was a coffee farm. The hillsides in the rural areas of the highlands are covered in coffee trees. Vietnam is very famous for coffee, especially weasel coffee. The coffee berries are picked and fed to the Weasels who through their digestive system process the beans, they are then excreted from the weasels and put into a machine to process them.
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The second protective layer of the beans are removed and it is thoroughly cleaned, before being sold as the very expensive Weasel Coffee.
The coffee was delicious, but I am no coffee connoisseur.

Next we learnt about the rice wine making process and tested the initial product. A sharp 60%
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The Silk factory was incredible.. The process to make silk is fascinating. From feeding the silkworm to taking the worm's cocoon and boiling it to kill the larvae and using the machines to unravel the fine silk threads and spun to form a string. It is then stitched into the material with a print by the last machine..
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And yes the boiled larvae is some traditional food there.. One time only...

The Elephant waterfalls and nearby Linh An Pagoda were great.
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We could almost get under the waterfall, but check out the size of that Buddha.

I did love the hand-sewers working on scarves near the water falls. The system seems very complicated.

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Further into the countryside, we were treated with a traditional meal in a local village with a family, and the guides. But did not get any photos in their home.
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We also visited a bizarre mushroom farm.
Grown in those huts from bags of sawdust.
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Other stops included visiting a Ethnic minority village, which is a hill tribe.
A meditation pagoda and a view other sights... I will try to get pics up one day.
While riding down the free way, we came across two elephants being ridden down the road. I got some impressive footage but struggling to upload.
So this post is to be continued.

Posted by breannamorgan34 06:06 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

If you want to be inspired, inspire others

sunny 35 °C

Sorry for the late post. Internet is not such a reliable commodity here in Vietnam, especially when out on the road.
So I began teaching this week and it was a great start. I have a regular class I will be working with for the next five weeks, twice a week. My group of around 15 varies in ages but all are of the similar basic level, the youngest member I have is 13 years old, majority of the class are around 16 years old and the oldest is 25 years old. The shelter is run by this organisation- http://www.poussieresdevie.org/ and offers opportunities for street children. The specific project is found here: http://www.poussieresdevie.org/project/tu-xuong-pointcom. As the link show these students are unable to afford to attend school and get an education and come from disadvantaged backgrounds. The volunteers are helping to provide basic skills for the students for a few hours a day on top of their normal working hours. I felt like it would be too intrusive to get any photos in these initial lessons, but will get some over the coming weeks to show you.

To give an idea of their level, the first lesson we spent learning dinner items and asking the question "do you like carrots?" and replying "No, I don't" or "Yes, I do". The students are of such a level where I can deliver a lesson all in English without a Vietnamese translator which makes it much easier.

The students are very enthusiastic about what you are teaching them and they are all very friendly. They are a delight to work with.
I am working with this group twice a week for the next 5 weeks so I should see great improvements.

On friday morning, a group of volunteers visit Primary School level children at a shelter for disadvantaged children, again those who cannot afford the regular Vietnamese Education System. A stage below a public school.
These classes are a different story. The three classes are at different levels. The highest class (grade 5) is around 13 and 14 year olds who have got the basics learnt such as "Hello, My name is Breanna and my birthday is on the ..." However these classes are taught by two volunteers and assisted by a Vietnamese speaker to translate all of the instructions. This is the highest class, the grade 4 class is a handful. All around 12 years old, this class is packed with 40 students who mostly can remember next to nothing in English. So as you can imagine it is very repetitive and there a huge emphasis on making sure they can speak it as well as reading and writing.
After managing to contain this session, there is one more lesson with the grade 3 class and they are very gorgeous. They all sit at their desks obediently, copying everything that you write down on the blackboard into their books. If only what they were writing would turn into words they could remember to speak. At least, we will be able to measure an improvement in the coming weeks.

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These photos are of the front of the school as they children are heading home. You can see them getting their hair cut in one of the pictures. A service the shelter provides for the students.

In general, I honestly look at the students and think they are about 4 or 5 years younger than they are. The 11 year olds look about 6 or 7, they are so small and short. But they are very cute.

The other volunteers and myself are in the middle of organising a interactive activity session at the friday shelter for this coming saturday. We have also been invited to a Teachers Day event on Wednesday, it is almost like a public holiday where students attend a special day at school simply to recognise their teachers. So I am not sure what this is going to involve.

I will try to find a wifi connection this afternoon to get my weekend trip to DaLat up :)

Posted by breannamorgan34 10:33 Archived in Vietnam Comments (3)

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