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Archive for the ‘Central Highlands’ Category

1/11/10: Central Highlands, Vietnam

It was our third jam-packed day in a row, and I think we all know by now that I hate jam. So as great as our Easy Riders tour has been, Zhou and I are both ready to get back to our bread and butter of getting nothing accomplished. Before we do that though, I’ve cut the crust off of today’s activities and have decided to present you with my favorite story.

Duc loved stopping along the roadside to let me take pictures of the scenery, so often times our bike would fall behind Zhou and Mui. Normally this was not a problem, as Duc drove a bit faster and quite a bit honkier (if I had a dong for every honk, I’d have at least a dollar). For this particular stop, however, our picture-taking breaks put us a bit behind. When we caught up with Zhou and Mui, there they were, hunched over, each with both hands wrapped around the bottom of a tapioca plant. With one Monica Seles like grunt, the roots came out of the ground, exposing the tapioca. At the same time Zhou came out of her comfortable standing position, exposing the soles of her shoes.

As you can see in the picture, this job is normally done by three small women (who all thought Zhou’s fall was the funniest thing ever). As far as I can tell, they probably work more hours than are in a day, pulling out thousands of tapioca roots. Zhou was doing it with Mui, a big (strong?) guy and they only had to pull out one! I couldn’t believe that this simple task made Zhou fall on her butt. How embarrassing! I thought about pretending I didn’t know her, but instead got coerced into trying one myself.

Oops.

I stepped up to the plant, dug my feet firmly into the ground, tightly clenched the lowest exposed part of the plant with both manly hands, bent at the waist (use your legs, not your back), and pulled. And pulled again!

On the second pull, the root tore from the ground a bit quicker than I thought, and I began tilting backwards a bit. Oh no! I can’t look bad too! No problem, I’ll catch myself on the plants behind me. I grabbed aimlessly for the next plant behind me, but at this point I was in full fall and there was no way the skinny tapioca trunks were going to break it. I held on for dear life with my left hand, and groped for one more plant with my left. Instead of prickly bark, I felt vinyl. It was Mui! For the last half second of my tumble, I had a handful of Mui’s jacket to take down with me. I would up five feet from where I pulled the root, with Mui in the dirt next to me and the three small ladies having a field day. Not the shining moment in my traveling career.

Mui got up before Zhou pulled out the camera, but here I am in my manly glory.

Here are some of the other things we saw and learned about today:

A forest of rubber trees.

A rice noodle maker's house.

A root carving woodshop.

A brick making factory.

The harbor.

The harbor again.

The beach in Nha Trang.

We did about 250 kilometers on the motorbike today, and that allowed for much brainstorming on my part. At one point I remember discovering the cure for cancer, at another I figured out how to beat the stock market. Then a rock hit my head and I forgot both of those, so I made up a song to the tune of “Stacey’s Mom” by Fountains of Wayne. I will leave you with the catchy chorus, and a final picture of our Easy Riders team.

Vietnam has got it going on
It’s silk is smooth, coffee is so strong
Too many sites to see
Such a beautiful country
I know we’re not here long so
We’ll come back to Vietnam

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Pictures of the Day: While Duc honks his way down the road, I take pictures of myself in the rearview mirror.

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1/10/10: Central Highlands, Vietnam

K: When you write today’s post, are you going to write about the kid peeing on the floor?
Z: I hadn’t planned on it.
K: Oh. I would write a whole post about that.
Z: I know you would.
K: So will you include it?
Z: I don’t know, it didn’t seem that strange to me.
K: Why, because you used to pee on the floor when you were a baby?
Z: Probably. You know babies in China just have holes in their onesies and whenever they need to go they just go?
K: Do they wipe after themselves?
Z: … I doubt it.

It’s funny how different things stick out to the two of us even when we have the same experiences every day. But back to the kid peeing on the floor.

This morning, Mui took us to visit a Mnong (one of the largest ethnic minorities in Vietnam) family that lives in a small village on Lak Lake. The Mnong build their bamboo and wood houses on stilts, with cracks in the floor. The cracks in the floor have many uses, we were told, such as allowing heat from the sleeping animals underneath to warm up the house at night, as an ashtray, and apparently, for small children, as a toilet.

We were invited into the family’s house and sat with the dad and Mui and learned about the Mnong culture and way of life. While the four of us were chatting, the youngest of the nine kids ran around the house pants-less with one of his older sisters chasing him and trying to catch him to put pants on him, presumably so as not to offend our modest Western sensibilities. She eventually succeeded, but a few minutes later, as Mui was in the middle of explaining to us how important their homemade rice wine is to the Mnong, Kevin poked me in the side and whispered, “Look over there!” I turned in the direction he was pointing, and there it was – a puddle on the floor of the house. And next to the puddle was the kid. And next to the kid, on the floor, were his pants. I guess he just couldn’t be bothered to climb down the ladder and go outside. And really, who can blame him?

The unhappy culprit himself and one of his older brothers. Whether or not he has his pants on will remain a mystery.

Other noteworthy things we saw today:

Farmers re-planting rice, plant by plant.

Crazy Mui with a crazy pomelo-peel hat.

Kids jumping from this bridge into the small river below.

As Mui so un-exaggeratedly put it, “one of the biggest waterfalls – in the Central Highlands of Vietnam.”

A couple taking wedding photos by the waterfall. Awwwww. Too bad there are these two creepy tourists watching them.

I guess in the end, Kevin and I are more similar than I think – because this whole post really did end up being about the kid peeing on the floor, didn’t it?
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Puzzles for Postcards

Is It a Buddhist or Hindu Anagram?

Grow a Tank
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Picture of the Day: On the open (and apparently deserted) road.

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1/9/10: Central Highlands, Vietnam

I ate a silkworm today.

I was debating ending the post there – it seems very poignant. It would be like George Costanza leaving a meeting after getting in a good one-liner. Perhaps it would have been our best post ever, but there’s just so much more to say that I’ll risk killing the silkworm-eating mood and continue.

The reason for the eating of the silkworm stems back to the end of Zhou’s post yesterday. Today we started our tour with Easy Riders Da Lat, a company that Smucker’s once called the best thing since sliced bread. The reviews for the real Easy Riders had been so good (“This is heaven on a motorbike” and “I’d trade my firstborn for another day with Easy Riders”) that we were bound to be let down. And when we made our first stop to watch a female pig get artificially inseminated, I thought we were in over our heads. (Although to be fair I didn’t know pigs could make babies that way, so I suppose I learned something right off the bat.)

I soon found out though that we really were in for an experience we won’t forget. We wound up learning more things in a day than I learned in an entire year of 8th grade English, although it did help that I paid attention today. With guides like Mui and Duc though, you couldn’t help but pay attention.

Zhou and crazy Mui.

Me and under-the-radar Duc.

Before leaving Da Lat, we toured a hotel that’s affectionately known as “Crazy House.” It’s hard to describe it in the space I’m going to limit myself to here, but I will say this: it was crazy! My only concern with the hotel would be that all the tourists taking pictures would severely limit the privacy of an actual hotel guest.

Each room has its own theme. This is the Eagle Room.

Our next stop was a flower plantation which I have to admit would have made Super Mario’s enemy hide under the nearest Goomba.

Duc Photography, Inc.

We learned how to make rice wine, and I re-learned why I don’t drink. That stuff is awful!

They use the husk from coffee beans as fuel for their rice wine fire.

We watched workers make natural brooms out of a tall grass. Like many people who use grass all day, they were surrounded by a fluorescent haze.

I'm not sure what this picture is of, but it was definitely taken in the broom-making shelter.

Our next stop was the silk factory. Just like at all our other stops, our guide (in this case Duc) explained in incredible detail the entire process. We saw every step from the silkworm cocoon to the loom creating the final product. We had only been with the Easy Riders for a couple hours at this point, but they had already welcomed us so warmly that when Duc offered a dead silkworm to me to eat, my heart overrode my stomach and I couldn’t say no. Zhou also tried one, but that’s not nearly as big of a deal.

They use chopsticks during the unraveling of the silkworm cocoon.

We saw perhaps the happiest Buddha in the world.

He's probably still smiling from the Buckeye's Rose Bowl victory.

Not only was he happy, he was huge!

We talked with a Chin family through the help of Mui. The Chin number about 500 and are one of the many minority tribes in Vietnam’s Central Highlands.

This elder Chin can make about one large bamboo basket per day.

We met three Mnong girls carrying baskets of vegetables the seven kilometers back to their homes.

Since today's loads were light, Zhou and I didn't mind trying on the baskets.

At our last stop, we watched a family build a new house on the water. Throughout the process one boy kept diving down what must have been over ten feet to the bottom of the lake to retrieve tools that had been dropped.

The view of the house from the bridge.

Not only did we see miles of gorgeous scenery today, but also the effects of the war over 40 years ago. Much of the land we drove through is just now becoming safe for reforestation after being destroyed by Agent Orange and other chemicals. Both of our guides grew up in southern Vietnam and told us stories of their lives during the war. Mui was unable to go to university afterwards because his family fought with the south. Duc’s village was destroyed, but luckily his entire family fled to safety just in time.

Whatever misconceptions I had about becoming dumber during our year of world travel I definitely have no longer.
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Picture of the Day: One of the many experiences from today that I failed to mention in the lengthy post was our driving over several hundred meters of tapioca laid out in the road to dry.

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