Back in Vietnam
Cruising down the Mekong towards Saigon, we crossed the border last night and dropped anchor at a little burg about ten miles inside Vietnam.
This morning, we set out exploring. First, we went to a fish farm–actually, a floating village of them, each a floating house about 30 x 40, with a fish cage underneath holding 20,000 or so seething tilapia. They feed the fish 5 times a day; twice with prepared fish food, three times with a mix of water hyacinths and rice that they cook up for them. Towards the end of their 5 month growing cycle, the farmers use machinery to simulate a strong current, to make the fish swim against it and build muscle, improving both their taste and texture.
I have to say that the river is pretty darned ugly, the water is dirty brown and the sewage treatment in Vietnam is primitive at best–these fish are growing up in a sewer. I’ll be thinking long and hard about eating Vietnamese tilapia in the future.
Next we headed for a farm, promoted in the daily letter as “untouched by tourism”, although you might think that leading all those tours through the place might have an effect.
For the first time, I felt strongly propagandized. The little village of houses on stilts, swarming with cute kids in trendy outfits, might be sort of authentic, but the farm was clearly large, well capitalized, professionally run and not the least the sort of thing illiterate peasants would have.
This was a show farm, and it was promoted as “typical”. I’m not buying it. This was the farm of the future, not the present.
Something else of the future was the industrial park being built alongside the river–reputedly a joint venture between the city and a wealthy investor. Vietnam is following in the footsteps of China, seeking industrialization wherever it can.
The next stop was a factory producing flaxen sleeping mats, using some very old hand fed looms. The tour was followed by the mandatory gift shop experience, but we got some new place mats for a buck apiece, so it worked out pretty well.
I’ve ridden on everything from bullet trains in Spain to tiny horses in Ethiopia, from ski lifts in Austria to tuk-tuks in Cambodia, but I’ve never been on anything as scary as the rickshaws we rode today. Bicycle in front, uncomfortable open seat in back. No side rails. Designed for people half my size, and ghastly topheavy. We rode through the narrow streets crowded with people, animals and motor scooters, weaving in and out with little care for which side of the road we were on. The last time I drove drunk was my 21st birthday, and that was still safer than these silly contraptions.
Still, somehow we got to our next destination, a silk factory. Not the place where they unwind the cocoons and make the thread, but a place where they weave the thread into fabric. Thick, heavy, plastic-feeling silk, not the thin sexy stuff you’re thinking about. The machines are, again, ancient. So old that they run on the very first kind of programming–punched cards, invented in the 19th century to control looms just like these. Hell, maybe these exact machines, they sure look old enough.
The machines were intriguing, and then there was, no surprise, another gift shop. Scarves are the hot item this year, and they went fast at $5 each.
To my great horror, we now had to get back on the rickshaws and motate through town to the ship. Magically, we made it with no disasters, but I don’t think I’d care to write the insurance on the venture.
Obligatory cute kid photo:
The rest of the day was spent relaxing onboard, getting ready for the big evening. We had a fancy “gala buffet” dinner, where I wouldn’t eat the mushroom risotto and Mike wouldn’t eat the brussels sprouts but we all liked the leg of lamb and won ton soup. The crew is putting on a show as I type, and Don and Linda are preparing for the big celebration at midnight:
Happy new year to everyone.