July in Vietnam: Out on the Mekong Delta

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My next short jaunt out of Ho Chi Minh City was a tour of the Mekong Delta. The Mekong flows through much of Southeast Asia and is of utmost importance to the livelihood of those who live along its banks. When it reaches the sea, the mighty river breaks into many distributories flowing over the vast expanse of the Mekong  Delta, stretching at least a 100km along the coast of Vietnam. Even its distributories are vast, taking some effort to cross.

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At some places, the river was narrow enough to build a bridge across.

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At others, the opposite bank was a bit too far away for a bridge.

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We had to crowd with the motobikes in the ferries to get across. Aside from the usual chickens, ducks and vegetables, one even carried live fish in a makeshift waxed canvas tank.

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The river was their livelihood and people lived along the river even if it meant building their houses on stilts. No matter if there wasn’t land in the front, a hanging garden did the trick.

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Others grew their garden on the balconies, like this house with its dragonfruit cacti creeping down towards the water.

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Further away from the river were places of worship, like this Khmer temple that looked like it had been transplanted from Cambodia.

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This area being close to Cambodia, there was a significant Khmer minority here. Some of the Buddhist temples I saw in this area were of quite a different style from the other Mahayana temples I’d seen in Vietnam. This was definitely closer to the Thai and Lao style temples…

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… even down to the saffron-robed monks running the temple.

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There was also a scattering of other places of worship, like this church here. It looked a little incongruous rising elegantly from the rather scruffy stilt huts along the river.

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As part of the tour, we were taken to see some of the cottage industries. One of them was food manufacture. Here, ladies patiently worked over wood fires making rice paper by hand.

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Others tempered melted coconut sugar to make rich caramelly coconut candy.

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And men did the grunt work of pressing popped rice into blocks which would then be coated in syrup and cut into crispy-crunchy sugary snacks.

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It was lovely wandering through the little hamlets in the area, passing under gardens and other topiary.

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And also chancing on a wedding banquet, where the happy couple was happy to let tourists take pictures of them on their big day.

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There were also some quiet backwaters…

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… which weren’t so quiet when children popped out of nowhere screaming “hello hello!” at passing tourist boats.

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It was lovely to wave back at them…

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… their smiles were such a lovely lift to river experience.

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August in China: Ciqikou

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Ciqikou a historic street that has been very authentically and unobtrusively restored. The narrow streets of this former porcelain making district is full of old world charm.

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Off the main tourist stretch, this place is surprisingly untouristy, with all sorts of old shopfronts. One of them was of a fortune teller, with signs on the outside extolling its virtues and mindful of its fame, also warned potential customers that only those who sincerely wanted their fortunes read were welcome. The sign also warned tourists not to take pictures, otherwise a dire fate awaited. I, of course, didn’t want to tempt fate and took a picture of this doctor’s traditional remedies for everything from common quotidian illness to fertility problems and more.

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Heading back to the main drag, I ducked into one of the little family-run eating places for a pot of jizha (literally: miscellaneous chicken parts), a local speciality recommended by my guesthouse. This was the smallest pot available at ¥25. Be glad that the photo is slightly out of focus because it’s a mixture of two kinds of chicken giblet and liver. No light meat, dark meat here, it’s all about the innards. Making up some bulk was some daikon, onion, carrot, leek and river kelp. It was all covered in chilli oil and had dried chilli and szechuan peppercorns floating in the mix. The first few bites were good. Gradually it got spicier and spicier and the rice in my bowl worked more as a blotter for the oil than a staple to accompany the food! I fished out all the liver, which I like, and vegetables, leaving the giblets and chillis behind. It was a great experience though.

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I love taking pictures of children.  Here are the restaurant bosses’ kids waiting for lunch to be served after most of the guests had left. They’re so happy playing at having lunch while waiting for everyone else to turn up.

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It was a mistake to cool down with this odd bowl of pudding with weird local toppings. Hygiene-wise, it was fine. Check out the red fly-chasing ribbon swirling about. The soft yellow pudding was sweet yet strangely bitter. It was one of the few things I threw out after one bite on this trip.

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There was a temple with a gazillion steps leading to it. Ever one for a challenge, I leapt for the exercise and bounded up.

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Great architecture and carvings here, but I wasn’t completely impressed until…

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… these massive joss sticks turned up. That was a pretty cool sight. I wonder if there’s more reason than impressing the gods to the size of these things.

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August in China: Children in a Dong Village

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Children at the village certainly did live carefree lives. Walking through the paddy fields,  we saw these girls  taking their bath in the river. It was accompanied by lots of jumping, splashing and falling backwards into the water. Their mum washing things slightly downstream didn’t compel them to help out with the chores. I liked that they had so much of their childhood intact.

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There was a basketball court in front of one of the drum towers. Most of the space was taken up by rice laid out to dry, but the little space leftover was very well utilised. These boys had lots of fun showing off their shots.

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As Willy and I sat watching, some of the kids came right up to us just to stare. I guess they were quite shy and weren’t comfortable talking to strangers from outside the village. It was funny though how they happily grabbed Willy’s pack of airline crackers and took off with it, gleefully grabbing as much as they could. The sad part was that they weren’t good at sharing. Never mind offering us some, the small girls here didn’t even want to share among themselves.

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The boys were horsing around while we took photos. They later gathered round the camera, staring raptly at the screen. They pointed and laughed at each other and their images and then horsed around some more. The horsing around didn’t stop until some watermelon emerged from somewhere and they quieted to wolf it all down.

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