Vietnam Face - Unchained Melody - CycleBlaze

December 2, 2023

Vietnam Face

Our wonderful guest house owner.
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Vietnam Face

We're slowly making our way to Chau Doc, near the Cambodian border, where we will no doubt catch a boat to Phnom Penh.  We'd like to ride it but there doesn't seem to be much in the way of accommodation between Chau Doc and Phnom Penh and the distance is too great for us to ride it in a day.  

We had always known our time would be limited in Vietnam.  We loved the delta area when we were here in 2016 and wanted to see a little bit of it again.  And, we had never seen Saigon.  That alone was worth our short stay.  We loved it there.

But, wait, we aren't gone from Vietnam yet.  Today we rode alongside one of the arms of the Mekong, over a dozen canal bridges and past countless groups of men sitting around at tables drinking tea or coffee.  Saturday seems to be the day for socializing after their busy work week.  There are plenty of others who are still working on Saturdays, however, and the roads were again busy and downright dangerous since the one we are on is rather narrow.  We've seen many, (too many) outlines of bodies, motorbikes and bicycles sprayed on the pavement with white spray paint.  It's sobering.  I think I even saw an outline of a wheelchair!  

The road is like a continuous town with shops all along either side for miles.  It eventually gives way to countryside where there are lots of trees and green vegetation and of course the banks of the river which we enjoy riding next to.  It's beautiful and then it's back to businesses along either side of the road.  It gives us lots of options for food and of course coffee.  It's been really fun.  We've been getting going by 6AM everyday because of the heat.  Today was a bit better with overcast skies keeping the temperature down a bit.  We always seem to get to the hotel we've picked  out by noon.  

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A beautiful winter vegetable garden just getting going on the banks of a small stream or canal.
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I'm always stopping abruptly to take a photo of this or that and today I saw a boy sitting down in front of a tiny table with some very green bananas on it.  When I saw him and his little table I thought it was the Vietnamese version of a lemonade stand.  I had to stop and take a photo of him.  When I first saw the boy I thought he looked very serious so I pretty much knew what was going to happen.  Sure enough, I asked if I could take a photo.  He didn't respond at all but his parents, standing in the background, said sure.  The boy had the most horrified look on his face, like he was looking at a hot ghost, as he slipped off his chair and got out of there before I could take a photo.  I indicated that he was the whole point and his parents understood completely and forced him to return.  He sat there obediently but still horrified as I took the photo.  Later, when I viewed the photo, I saw that he at least got something of himself in the photo, a tiny secret revenge of sorts.  He was shooting a victory sign way down low.   

Look at his mother laughing!
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Rachael AndersonYou’re a meanie, making him have his picture taken when he didn’t want it taken!
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2 months ago
Bruce LellmanTo Rachael AndersonI normally don't do things like that but his parents insisted he sit back down!
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2 months ago
Ron SuchanekAt least he didn't give you the Finger of Retribution.
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2 months ago

We passed through quite a large area of sawmills and where wooden furniture was being made.  We heard the whine of saws and planers from each side of the road.  It looked like the banana boy's parents were also involved in selling furniture because you can see some of it in the left side of the photo.  The furniture made in all the Asian countries leaves a lot to be desired, in my opinion.  I think it's a travesty to do that to trees and wood.  Big hulking chairs so heavy you can't move them, so gaudily-carved you can't look at them.  But I do love wood and it was fun to ride while seeing all sorts of wide boards drying outside.  It's beautiful wood.  I also videoed a guy intricately carving a large chair.  He was so engrossed in what he was doing that he never knew I was there.  

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A bit further down the road I spotted some food that looked awfully interesting and good.  I had to stop.  They were enormous banh xeo that an old woman had made alongside the road.  Banh xeo are thin crepes filled with bean sprouts, small pieces of pork and tiny shrimp.  There is a dipping sauce and of course a huge tray of greens you can add as well.  The banh xeo crepe is made without eggs but is very yellow which means there is turmeric in the batter.  They were beautiful and we agreed we had to have banh xeo before leaving Vietnam.  They are one of my favorites.  We sat on tiny chairs at a low table right next to the road and ate as people literally came from across the street to stand and watch us.  When that happens you just eat and smile and act like it's really delicious, which it was.

Banh xeo stand
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Banh xeo
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Another time I had to screech my brakes was when we passed six old women chopping up some unknown plants.  They all had stumps of wood on which they were chopping with large cleavers. There were three kinds of dried plants they were chopping into little pieces and then laying on tarps next to the road to dry further.  They were all very surprised and happy for the diversion.  A foreigner wearing a fluorescent greenish yellow helmet stopped to take photos!  What a concept, I'm sure they were all thinking.  And I'm sure they speculated about me for a long time. 

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Then, after a long ride we had to have an iced coffee of course, so we found a place not too far down the road but before the one ferry of the day.  I will write a special post just on that iced coffee stop so that will be immediately after this post.  

People have been so nice.  We used to call it Myanmar Face from all the smiling and saying hello when in Myanmar but I think we have been doing just as much smiling and greeting here, thus, Vietnam Face, which means our faces hurt from all the smiling.  At the window where they collect the fare to take the ferry the man just waved us through.  Again, people have been so nice. 

As we rolled into the town where we figured we would stay (Phu Tan) we saw some good looking com tam (meaning; broken rice) which is quite common but we hadn't had any yet.  Like com binh dan there is a selection of prepared dishes you can choose from and it is put on top of broken rice.  Broken rice is of course of lesser quality and I think traditionally broken rice was eaten more by the poorer people.  But there are com tam stands everywhere so that makes me wonder why there is so much broken rice in Vietnam.  Maybe nowadays they break it on purpose because of com tam's popularity.  This is something I don't know but I do know that our meal was great, one of the best we've had.  I chose fish and green beans as my two choices and Andrea chose chicken and green beans.  It always comes with a soup broth and today's broth had large saturated carrot pieces in it.  Everything was great.  I just love that just about anything you order in Vietnam comes with a tray of greens and always there is basil on that tray.  The basil in Vietnam is the best I've ever eaten.  I've been kind of going crazy piling it on everything.  

Com tam
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When I was paying the dollar each for our wonderful food the woman asked me in Vietnamese if the food was delicious.  That is a word I have no idea how to pronounce.  I just said in English that it was really good.  She laughed, knowing what I meant but I constantly feel bad not knowing how to say anything.  I'm used to Thailand and Laos where I at least know something.

lovebruce 

Why, why, why do this to trees/beautiful wood?
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The most unusual ceiling of our guest house.
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Bruce LellmanWell, I thought this was a pretty cool shot but no one has liked it! Granted, the room was pretty weird. But cheap!! So there's that.
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2 months ago

Today's ride: 25 miles (40 km)
Total: 155 miles (249 km)

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Steve Miller/GrampiesWhen we pass through a country as tourists it can be hard to pick up on underlying social/political things that can be nonetheless very important to the people. So we know of course that Vietnam is a one party state, but how is the access to education and health care? And, could those old ladies get a small business loan and invest in a shredder and a dryer, tripling their output and going into national distribution of the dried blended product, allowing them to die in a nice assisted living as rich old ladies? Importantly, since you mention people smiling a lot, do they even care about the accessibility of shredders (and etc)?
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2 months ago
Gregory GarceauI am very impressed by your knowledge of southeast Asian food. If I ever get to that part of the world, I'll use your journal as a culinary guide.
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2 months ago
Bruce LellmanTo Steve Miller/GrampiesYou are right, as we are on bikes it's hard to judge a lot of things. Andrea had to go to a hospital last time we were here and we were impressed with their health care. We know that the kids go to school six days a week but we don't know the quality of education they are getting.

The value for these older ladies is social. The stuff they are chopping up has to be worth very little so in this case it wouldn't make any sense to develop the product/distribution further. As these women get older the assisted living situation will no doubt be the family. The family is everything here.

We have seen an incredibly industrious people here in Vietnam. I would imagine there are avenues for small business loans. And the Vietnamese can make anything. The do make everything and import almost nothing. I've never seen a more industrious people.
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2 months ago
Bruce LellmanTo Gregory GarceauNo, no, no, I know nothing.
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2 months ago
Lyle McLeodTo Bruce LellmanBruce,
My experiences left me with the firm belief that the quality of Vietnamese education was very very good. When we were in Vn I worked for a large western firm where my western colleauges were from Universities that would be instantly recognizable and very well regarded. Our local Vietnamese staff were equally well educated (and in general a lot more industrious!). My experience is somewhat dated , but this recent article from the Economist would indicate that this is still the case.

https://www.economist.com/asia/2023/06/29/why-are-vietnams-schools-so-good

Another anecdotal inference as to the quality of Vn education: in 2006 while we were there, Bill Gates and a Microsoft entourage paid a visit to Hanoi (and were feted like rock stars!) to scope out Vietnam as a potential MS research hub / campus. At that point MS had three research hubs outside of the US.

The Economist article also notes the gender equality of the Vn education system, something I can also vouch for. In fact, although many, if not most, businesses would appear to be headed by a patriarch, the real power and decisions, in particular the purse stings, were under matriarchal control.
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2 months ago
Bruce LellmanThank you, Lyle. This is great information. I had the feeling the education system was good but I just didn't know. I do know that more and more kids are trying out the English they are learning. Way more than when we were here in 2016. There is no question about it, the Vietnamese are really on the move in every regard. It's impressive.
And thank you for the good article in the Economist. I love the Economist.
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2 months ago