Elena Thomas: Chinese University of Hong Kong
Upon our evening arrival to Hanoi, we immediately scouted out a well regarded hub for local fare. The streets were a frenzy of mopeds and open air commerce. Women balanced alluring displays of tropical fruits on large table like contraptions strapped around their hips. Dimly lit streets were lined with seemingly endless copy sneakers of the predominantly nike genre. We had an absolute feast of astoundingly economical dishes from crab to snail to blended tropical fruit beverages in gaudy glasses. On initial review of the couple million we had racked up, I had a brief panic before coming to the realisation that £1 equaled 31,694.36 Vietnamese Dong.
We departed the next morning at the strike of dawn to Halong Bay by van. I’d had extremely high expectations of Halong Bay from my prior google image search results. We pulled into a cluttered parking lot aside a concrete harbour. The initial spectacle was somewhat unappealing but after we had settled in our cabins in the boat and adjusted our upper deck lounge chairs, the topography was some of the most bewitching I’ve ever seen. Lanky island rock formations were scattered across the waterline as far as the eye could see. It felt as if I had been transported to where the film Avatar was set. The sun beamed down upon us and the light breeze of the vessel cruising along swept the hair from our faces as we gazed at our surroundings in awe. It was a frankly magical affair. Our time in HaLong bay featured anchored swimming sessions off the boat, a kayaking outing weaving in between the rock formations and arches, a cave tour, a cooking class on the boat, and an endless supply of superb cuisine.
We later departed for Ho Chi Minh City, a short flight south. My initial reaction of Ho Chi Minh was of the erratic collection of architectural styles. I later discovered that this was due to the extended presence of French colonists in the city. We popped into a sweet looking cafe and spoke to a lovely local lady with a thick French accent when speaking English. She recounted her childhood under French colonial rule being forced to learn and speak French as her second language. We asked if she resented colonial occupancy of her home and she responded without negative emotion that she thought there were many pros and cons of the city’s historical foregoings. We then located the War Museum. Never in my life have I felt so remorseful of my American citizenship than I felt looking at the boundless images of physical and emotional pain inflicted upon Vietnam by my country. We spent the majority of our time there at the exhibit on agent orange-the chemical poison sprayed across copious portions of the nation by US airplanes. Agent orange not only wiped out nearly all living plant and animal life where it was distributed but also caused severe abnormalities for innocent humans residing in the surrounding areas. Even today, many Vietnamese people live with physical as well as mental and emotional disfigurements caused by the chemical weapon.
We were picked up the next morning by the coach of an inclusive package trip to the Mekong Delta. We putted around the delta on a long canopied boat seeing the lives of people living in houseboats and those whose livelihood is based upon tourist attractions alongside the river such as beekeeping and taffy making. We were portioned into small long boats and drifted through a bog like stream beneath a ceiling of tropical foliage. We rode bicycles around a small village on the riverside and watched as men on vespas lugged astounding amounts of exotic looking fruits to boats to be further transported. The people we came across seemed to live such simple lives yet they seemed thoroughly content. They would smiley sweetly at us as we breezed past them. It made me consider the unnecessary stress and pressures placed upon me in my culture and society…