Thursday, April 3, 2014

In the Sketchbook: Life on the Mekong Delta

"Life on the Mekong Delta"

Up and at 'em early for a trip to the Mekong Delta. This river dominates multiple countries, running from Tibet to the China Sea (the Vietnamese call it the East Sea). We would stay on the river in Laos, and travel near it in Cambodia.

Life on the delta is so different from what I know. The river is the highway of the community. Boarding a boat after a lengthy bus ride, we feasted on the sights. Floating markets pass us: large boats carrying produce, the wash hung out, small vegetable gardens on the prow, usually with a husband and wife on board. There are always eyes painted on the front of the boat, to ensure a safe journey. Learning the beliefs of the culture is a daily task for us. Many Vietnamese who identify as Buddhists or demurely say they have no religion have beliefs that mingle Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism with ancient animism.

Houses cling to the shore on stilts and hug each other. Some are ramshackle, others more solid, a few downright prosperous. One feels the ancient life that continues today. We stopped at a local village and walked the roads. I am amazed by the versatility of the commerce. Little mom and pop businesses sell food, make furniture, carve statues, fire bricks, and cut lumber. We visit a few businesses that are very profitable and obviously making money with tours as well. We visit one where women are making and packaging crispy rice papers for sales to city markets. Everything is done on the floor or small stools. We Americans should be so limber. People squat or sit on their haunches. One woman making the rice papers said she makes 3000 a day. A half dozen people did the packaging. The woman who started the business is doing well, judging from her substantial home across the narrow path, squeezed in with more modest dwellings.

In the next shop a women had a more comfortable setup (from my Western perspective). She stood at a slab while making traditional rice papers, steam rising in the 98 degree heat. Everything is open to allow air to flow. Life is lived en plein air.
"Making Rice Papers"

The next small business made delicious candies by hand. We tasted the luscious coconut gems that were like caramels. On to another factory with some cooking done over rice husks. Here we were treated to tea and nibbles. All of this industry was going on within the equivalent a couple city blocks.

Next we take one of the tributaries to visit a gorgeous old traditional home and have lunch served in a lush tropical garden. Fish were swimming in tiny waterways on the property and one made it onto our table, fully intact, and served in a rack in his natural position with a heavily salted outer skin. He was delicious. Leaving, our guide wished to continue through to the main river rather than backtracking. The boat crew seemed concerned and not far down the way, we all had to shift to the front, with Bob pushing up against the underside of a bridge for us to pass. Along the way we saw furniture and brick making businesses lining the water. This day tour was one of my favorites.
Some of our group enjoying lunch

1 comment:

CrimsonLeaves said...

So much to see and to take in!! People are so clever and it is awesome to see these people making a business of selling their talents!