Sunday, January 24, 2016

Up the Mekong Toward Cambodia

Up the Mekong Toward Cambodia

After our short stay in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), we embarked on a several day trip toward Angkor Wat -- an opportunity to spend some time cruising up the Mekong, ending the cruise in Phnom Penh, with a land trip from there to Siem Riep, the site of one of the world's great marvels, Angkor Wat.

Just as our guide to the Cu Chi Tunnels in Saigon had his own complicated and difficult personal history, our guide for the Vietnam part of the Mekong Cruise had his:  He was a former "boat person," who had been unsuccessful in getting to a safe place that would take him in as a teenager, and spent several years interned along with thousands of other people.

In recent years, he was able to lift himself up and get an education and become a tour guide.  This gentle man had to endure a great deal in an earlier part of his life.

A rice field between Ho Chi Minh City and the launching point for our boat  In this part of the country, people make beautiful graves for loved ones in the rice fields.  Venerating one's elders/ancestors helps to bring blessing on one's crops.
Our guide explained that because of the rainfall differences and number and length of growing seasons, the burial customs are different between north and south.  (If I remember correctly,) the weather in the south allows them the opportunity to bury and maintain these graves more auspiciously.  The graves in the north are more temporary (in the rice fields) and then reburied elsewhere in more permanent locations.
Our boat for this trip was called the Pandow.

The first evening on the boat included a concert by local musicians demonstrating their musical culture.

We weren't aiming at a fabulous luxury cruise -- just an effective and safe way to get up the river.
But the Pandaw was quite lovely.  Pretty new, well maintained, and its staff and crew
were proud and anxious to please and provide.

Certainly a nice break form our dorm-style living in Hanoi.
My sister Carol and her husband Steve are also on a sabbatical trip.  But CAROL's sabbatical is a YEAR!
Steve recently retired from his work with the Minneapolis School System.  They are traveling the world for
7 months -- many different places.  And it was great that they were able to connect with us in Vietnam
and for our trip to Cambodia/Angkor Wat!

The first morning after boarding the Pandow, we visited a candy business along the river.  They make those little
square sugary candies that we discovered on our last trip to Vietnam.  And. . . 

In addition to demonstrations of how they make some of the products, we got to try our hand.
I've got a nice photo and video of Susan doing what this lady's doing.  But it's not currently in the photos I've uploaded
to the blog. . . It WAS on Facebook, I think.  I'll try to add it later.

The picture of Carol and Steve with a big boa constrictor?  THAT one I've got handy. . . 

They showed us how they make puffy rice. . . 

and then I got to take a turn.

Featured on the boat was a movie called "The Lover," important to the locals because it tells a story about some local people -- the illicit love story between a Chinese man and a European woman, based on a real story from 1929. 

The 1992 French film was actually the first movie filmed in Vietnam by the west after the Vietnam War.  

Interesting because we were passing through some of the places where the film took place.  A little less so because the story was of incredible importance to its author (Marguerite Duras), a Frenchwoman who recast what in my view was a rape/seduction experience into a lush romantic tale about how what passed between her and her older Chinese man lover was something significant and enduring.  

After a year or so of philandering with her, his family compelled him to marry another wealthy young Chinese woman.

The movie was considerably more graphic than any of us expected.  In retrospect, the idea was for us to see the PLACES.  We kept waiting for the story to get better, be touching, etc. -- but it all just kind of felt creepier and creepier.

At the site of the home which is (at least theoretically) featured
in the movie is this photo of The Lover and his actual wife.
She was "but a child of 20" -- while the French girl with whom he
had his dalliance was less than 16.

This photo shows the author (right).  She was a successful novelist.
If I'm not mistaken, this story was one of the last things she wrote --
as a memoire in her 60s.

Perhaps most eerie was that, after seeing the unsettling movie the night before. . .
we saw this young teenager at the house the next day -- and she bore more than a
slight resemblance to the teenager in the movie.

It certainly WAS at one time a beautiful home. 

We also visited a fishing village and a community that is a minority ethnic group....
One of comparatively few Muslim communities in Vietnam.
It's mosque was donated by foreigners....from Qatar, if I recall correctly.
A pretty shot from the mosque's perimeter.
Heading back to the boat.
We had beautiful sunssts pretty much every evening.
This colorful dude (right) (I should say colourful, he was from Australia) seemed to be anxious to amuse. When you've got someone like this traveling with your group, you can relax about how much you stick out. His wife was explaining to us at the mosque about the differences and similarities between Jews and Moslems. Though she was neither. sigh..
Like I said....
Lots of nice sunsets!

After the fishing village, a walk through the town markets. You could get frogs skinned....
Or not.
Many nice spices, rices and foodstuffs.

And more pretty sunsets!

The boat trip ended for us in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where we will pick up in our next blog post.

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