last thoughts on the Red River

Xi chao!

Because internet access is spotty at best, we have done far more than I could write about since my last communication. I would like to offer some random thoughts on our Red River Delta experiences.

Photography: is not something Vietnamese have access to! I assume it is because cameras are very expensive and developing is far more costly than most people can manage. Toby became the official photographer at the festival in Khanh’s hometown. Once we learned that it was not only not offensive to take photos, but that people were desperate to have their photos taken, Toby went generally nuts. And because the camera is digital, it was very connecting on my fronts to show people their photos on the screen. As he left me off at the last internet cafe and walked back to the village, he was accosted and physically dragged to someone’s backyard, where he was the honored guest at a cockfight. They put black electrical tape over the spurs so it is not as gruesome as it sounds. Photos of that, photos of the ceremonies, photos of wrestling, photos of children, etc, etc. etc. We will mail them prints and also load them on the web so that our guide can print them.

I developed a friendship with a 12 year old girl that was fascinating. Her name was Dong (pronounced Zoon) and she was enthusiastic about practicing her English. We got pretty far in language and did many things together for 2 days. She even rode on the back of my bicycle, it was the first time I ever transported a person on the back little shelf. We rode for miles on rice paddy dikes, some people actually take turns peddling. The front person lifts their legs straight out and the back person peddles for awhile. Dong and I did not do that, as I was terrified she would get hurt but it was fine. In the end, I left her with a book and some pencils and a kiss. She was endearing. She spent a lot of time teaching me Vietnamese. She was ruthless and would only say YES when I really got it right. That meant sometimes 50 times!

The language is quite a challenge. In addition to the 6 tones for every vowel, there are many, many consonents. There are little symbols that make various consonents sound and behave differently. I struggle much more than Toby and am slowly deciding that helping people practice English is better than trying to say something innocuous like hello but saying it wrong and having it mean something else entirely.

Air pollution. No matter what we may think about the deterioration of the Clean Air Act under the current administration, it will not erode that much in 4 more years. Here, the sky is rarely clear. No blue at all, we have not seen a blue sky even once. There is smoke in the air at all times and the sky brightens by noon sometimes. Sunny would not be an accurate description. People burn everything. Each day they sweep the trash up in piles and burn it. Plastic or paper, you name it, it gets burned. They litter constantly so there is a lot of trash. Smoking piles of ash are everywhere. Many people cook on coal or wood. There is a room attached or separate from the house where there is a constant fire going. Only a few have gas. Plus here in the mountains slash and burn agriculture is widely practiced. It is no wonder we can’t see the sun! And unusually enough, there is another practice that contributes to the air quality. Go to Google and do a Ha Long Bay sear
ch. You will see photos of incredible limestone rocks jutting out of the water. Very scenic and beautiful. In the Red River Valley, these same rocks jut right out of the soil and the rice paddies. We ride under them and through them and around them. Well, to make cement which is a primary building material, they extract the lime from these rocks. They do this by taking these big stones and putting them in a pit. Maybe 6′ by 6′ square and 4-5′ deep. They fill the pit with wood, bamboo, coal, anything that is combustible and set it on fire. It burns for days and creates a tremendous amount of smoke. Eventually they are left with a pit of limestone powder that becomes the mortar for construction. Many homes have such a pit that they use. Bricks are also made here as there is quite a lot of clay in the soil. Brickmaking creates lots of smoke as the kilns are outside and burn for 7-14 days. Whew!

Well, I need to go as everyone is waiting for me. There is lots and lots to say but the next email will be about the mountains where we have spent the last 3 nights. For those with a map: Mai Chau.

Love to you all,
Barb and Toby