Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Cruisin the Delta

This trip has been exhausting so clearly I got super behind on the blog updates, but I shall begin them again. We woke up early and began a long bus ride outside of Ho Chi Minh City into the Mekong Delta.
View at the beginning of our journey 
We floated through the river and saw a floating market. It's a wholesale market primarily of produce, the merchants buy the food from the farmer and then float up the river to sell to merchants on land. The sellers put what they are selling up on the top of a bamboo pole so customers know who they can go to. 

Floating Market 
 We then got off the boat and ventured into a little town. We stopped by a gorgeous Catholic Church built by the French in the early 1900s, visited a rice paper factory, coconut candy factory, and popped rice and noodle facility. We then had the opportunity to try some of these snacks and I of course bought some coconut candy how could I resist. While we were there we also caught a glimpse of a local specialty snake wine. It was some scary looking stuff. We didn't get to try it because our guide basically said no, but we did try banana wine, not great but not terrible. One of the best parts of this venture was when our guide, Phuong pulls out a python kept as a pet and begins to play with it. Our professor took the snake and pulled out a little Southern Religion move pretending to snake handle. Those of us who have taken that class all died. It was hilarious.

Coconut candy production 

mushroom wine, snake wine, banana wine

Phuong and the snake 

Dr. B and the snake

After that venture we climbed back into our boat and once again floated down the river. Next thing we know Phoung announces it is time to row. We all didn't believe him, and even Dr. B said thought Phoung was joking once we saw the row boats pull up beside our boat we knew he was serious. I got in a boat with Melissa E. and Andrew K. and thus began one of the best journeys of the trip. We paddled down a canal and got to see how people in the Delta lived on the canal. In addition we just got to be in the quiet of Vietnam and just take it all in. In addition we got to wear some pretty cool hats. 

After our venture we got back on our big boat and headed to lunch. We went to this little place called a homestay and ate really awesome food. After our meal we got to hear some local performers sing and play traditional Vietnamese songs. A welcome song, two love songs, and then a goodbye song.
Delicious Fried Fish that became part of Spring Rolls at lunch 
After lunch we returned once again to our boat where there was a whole coconut waiting for us. Coconut water straight from the source and man that stuff is so good.

Coconut water from the source
After we got back to Ho Chi Minh some people wanted to go to the market. That is not our thing we were on the hunt for some traditional Vietnamese Coffee. I don't know if we ever be able to return to the way I drink coffee in America. They drink super strong coffee with some sweetened condensed milk, mix it, and then pour over ice. So good.
Vietnamese Coffee!! Hybrid between french press and  pour over. 

Iced Coffee
We finished our night with a motorbike tour around Ho Chi Minh City. Motorbikes are the way to get around the city. In a city of about 10 million people there are 6 million motorbikes. They are the only way to get around the city. 

On the Vespa 

Me and Phoung my motorbike driver 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Tunnels, Palaces, and Museums...Oh My!!

Today has been an amazing first full day in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).
Melissa and I started out by heading to the one and only Starbucks at 6:15am. We had to wait outside for about 15 mins for them to open, but spent our time taking pictures. I was able to try the Indulgence Asian Dolce Latte, and it was so delicious. I also got a BBQ Pork Wrap which was one of the most delicious food items I've ever gotten from Starbucks. I also fulfilled my mission of getting a Vietnam Mug and we admired the inside of the store before heading back to our hotel to meet up with our group who was at breakfast.

We then began our 1 1/2 hour journey through Ho Chi Minh, a Rubber Plantation, and the countryside to the Cu Chi Tunnels. They have turned the infamous system heavily utilized throughout the French and American Wars into a tourist site. We got to crawl all around the tunnels which had been widened for tourists.

The view coming out of a tunnel 

Dylan descending into one of the tunnels. 

Photo-op with the mannequin

Cassava with a salt, sugar, and peanut blend

Northern Vietnamese performing surgery in a tunnel.

From there we headed to a firing range that was part of the tunnels. I got to shoot 5 rounds in an M-16 rifle. 

Cody (who is blind) giving me aiming tips, hilarious and helpful

We headed back into town for lunch which had oh so many courses that were incredibly delicious.
For the afternoon portion of our day, we headed to the Reunification Palace (Independence Palace) where our guide Phoung took us around and showed us the highlights.

Reunification Palace

 After the palace, we headed to the War Remnants Museum. This museum is clearly telling the story of the French and American War through a communist lens by using photographs and some artifacts. They strange part about most of these cultural locations is that they are very open air. Which as a museum professional kind of freaked me out, but the galleries were climate controlled to some degree. The objects are also essentially used to the crazy humidity here. The three levels contained different exhibitions that were topical to the war. I chose to go to the Effect of Agent Orange gallery which looked at how the ten year period from 1961-1971 that the United States dropped NaPalm on Vietnam has had a lasting and horrific affect on the Vietnamese people. It was incredibly sad. We then journeyed to the Historical Truths gallery which definitely used sensationalized language to tell about the events that led up to the United States entering Vietnam for war. The final exhibition that I liked was about the various protests that happened around the world against U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Not only did anti-war protests happen at home but in just about every major city and country you could name. That was eye opening to me, to see how many people around the world were rooting for Vietnam to just be left alone and free.
War Remnants Museum 
 We left the museum and headed back to the hotel to freshen up before a delicious dinner. After consuming a lot of food, several of us decided to head out and explore a night market, Saigon Square, and other aspects of night life here in Ho Chi Minh. We ended up at a lovely establishment entitled the Drunken Duck which we all thought was hilariously named. After consuming a drink we split off with part of the group going back to the hotel and four of us decided to go look at a couple really cool architectural buildings. I was able to get a really nice Filipino man to take a group shot of us and then we headed back to the hotel.

It has been a crazy full day and I cannot wait to see what kind of shenanigans happen tomorrow. Vietnam is pretty awesome.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Epic Flight!

Well we have completed our epic 24+ hour journey half way around the world in order to arrive in this beautiful, muggy, rainy, hot country.
We started out by leaving Flagler College at 3am. About 15 minutes after we left, our professor received a phone call from another bus driver wondering where we were. Apparently our group had accidentally been double booked with bus companies. The hilarity continued as we realized that we not only had one coach size bus for 10 people, but two. Crazy things happen.
The craziness continued on our flight from Orlando to Los Angeles. We had a winning moment when a group of us realized we were sitting in the two emergency rows in the middle of the plain. Hello glorious leg room! About 10 minutes into the flight at the tail end of take off an older woman behind me threw up and then appeared to be having a stroke. They called for any doctors or nurses on the plain, and about half the plain seemed to be so including an ER nurse, anesthesiologist, and some other kind of doctor. Well the woman wasn’t having a stroke, but through out the flight continued to receive medical attention, and about 2/3rds of the way through they gave her an IV. That has never happened on a flight before!
Melissa E. and I on the Plane 
We landed at LAX, paramedics took the older woman off the plane and we proceeded to our next gate, we had 20 minutes before the plane began to board for Tokyo. This was our longest flight about 16 hours. I watched parts of 3 movies, Gangster Squad, Guilt Trip, and Quartet. I also attempted to sleep and took SleepWorks by Advocare, it definitely knocked me out, but because it was a plane I wasn’t able to sleep in a super long stretch of time.  I ended up missing a snack and a meal, but they give you a lot of food that is not particularly great so no harm done. I sat in front of my friend Melissa E. and had a window seat. We tried to sit together, but the women on the aisle seats of our row didn’t seem to keen on the idea, so we dropped it.
View from the plane in Tokyo going to Vietnam 

We arrived in Tokyo, went through security again, and connected to our next flight to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. From here we switched from flying American Airlines, to one of their affiliates, Japan Airlines. Flying international airlines is awesome, because the food is so much better. For our dinner we had the choice between Chicken and Fried Rice or Pickled Plum and Seaweed flavored rice with grilled Spanish Mackerel. I got the latter dish and it was surprisingly delicious. The dinner also came with two side type boxes of food. One contained a potato salad type concoction with salami, shrimp, and another fish piece that may have been squid. The second component was noodles, tofu, spinach, and perhaps crispy tofu. The dinner ended with Haagan Daz ice cream and coffee or tea. Yum. Also they were the first airline to provide us with actual metal utensils and even a hard plastic cup for tea as opposed to the paper or foam cups of other airlines.
Japanese Airlines Food 

While we left at 9am from Orlando on May 21st, we arrived in Ho Chi Minh on May 22nd at 10pm. With the time changes and the amount of time it took to travel, we have essentially lost an entire day, and my brain is very confused. Tomorrow our journey of Ho Chi Minh begins.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Preparing for the 'Nam

Tuesday I'm leaving on a very long journey to Vietnam. I have the amazing opportunity to go on a Vietnam War study abroad trip to Vietnam with my lovely undergrad institution and my favorite history professor who I went to Europe with 3 years ago.
Many people are shocked when I tell them that I am going to Vietnam. They look at me and wonder why in the world I am going all the way to this southeast Asia country. Well because I have done most of my undergraduate and a lot of graduate school research and projects related to the Vietnam War. My first project examined the roles of women in the Vietnam War from nurses, to the women's army corp, red cross workers, and other civilian organizations. In addition I continued to further examine this War and women's place in it throughout grad school.
Second  Lieutenant Kathleen Sullivan treating a Vietnamese child 
All of this research was spurred by a conversation that I was fortunate to stumble upon in undergrad. I was conducting oral history interviews with woman veterans when I found a woman who had been a nurse in the Vietnam War. Since that day I have essentially become obsessed with finding out more about this war and time period.
Enter this lovely study abroad trip with my favorite professor from my undergrad, Flagler College. It will be a fast paced trip through a country that is comparable to the size of New Mexico in land area.
Our Itinerary has us in Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) and surrounding area for about 3 days. We will explore the Cu Chi Tunnels, Reunification Palace, War Remnants Museum, and a floating market. 
Tour guide demonstrates a secret entrance into the Cu Chi Tunnels 
From there we will begin our journey north stopping in Da Nang and the Cham Museum, followed by Hoi An where we will visit the iconic and famous My Khe beach which was nicknamed "China Beach" by the English, and the Marble Mountains.
My Khe Beach aka "China Beach"
 In addition to these we will get a change to explore Hoi An including a bicycle excursion into the countryside. (I haven't ridden a bike in a couple years so this will be interesting). After a full day of exploring we will begin our journey to Hue which was a former capital of Vietnam and full of the ancient history of Vietnam. We are scheduled to explore the Tomb of Tu Doc, Khai Dinh, and Minh Mang. That afternoon we will get to ride down the perfume river exploring the 200-year-old Citadel and Imperial City.
Imperial City 
 Our final stop in our tour through the country will be in Hanoi, the capital of North Vietnam during the war. Our major stops will be the Ho Chi Minh Complex and the Hoa Lo Prison, aka the "Hanoi Hilton" which became famous when American POWs were held there. This trip will be eventful and amazing. I cannot wait to see all that Vietnam has and visit the first and only Starbucks located in Ho Chi Minh! 

(all pictures come from Wikipedia)