The Glow from Within ~ Brick Making Along the Mekong

“No man ever wetted clay and then left it as if there would be bricks by chance and fortune”. ~ Plutarch

Vietnam Brick Factory

The minute we walked inside the brick making foundry near My Tho and Caibe, I was surprised that it was just us and the workers. No guided tour. No one to answer our questions.

On our own, we carefully walked around, cameras in hand. The glow of the kiln offered its own beauty and I was surprised at not feeling a tremendous amount of heat radiating, but I didn’t test it by getting too close.

Notice that it is fueled by rice husks being fed directly into the kiln through a metal grate situated above the door. I was impressed how nothing goes to waste and how this agricultural by-product from numerous rice crops is put to use. Rice, the staple of life in South East Asia and beyond is abundantly grown along the Mekong. Even the clay source for brick making comes from the river banks.

I notice that most of the workers are women. I was surprised. I could only imagine the long shifts of loading and unloading heavy bricks off the conveyors daily, let alone the heat, and the toxic dust that all the workers were subject to. Most of the Vietnamese simply ignored us and very few made eye contact.

Vietnam Brick Factory Vietnam Brick Factory

One can’t help but notice the small, simple shrine adjacent to the kiln asking Buddha’s blessings.

Vietnam Brick Factory

Not only are bricks molded, baked and cured, but pottery is made from concrete molds.

Vietnam Brick Factory Vietnam Brick Factory

I love the wooden carts which create an artistic design in itself.

Vietnam Brick Factory

We later learn that this is a small family owned factory and the patriarch had recently died. He wanted to be buried right here. Perhaps he is still watching over his workers.

Vietnam Brick Factory

After doing a little reading on the subject, I understand there are around 10,000 brick-making factories in Vietnam, many of which are tremendously big operations. Using traditional methods, one thing that hasn’t changed is the lack of modernization and mechanizing. Apparently, in the larger factories, they use coal to fuel the kilns, adding more pollution to the Delta region.

While life teemed outside on the river with its colorful floating markets and painted boats, another kind of daily life was going on inside a brick factory.

Vietnam Brick Factory

I felt humbled to observe this unique glimpse of life along the Mekong. Unlike some of the touristy stops along the river, this was authentic and genuine. No one to usher us into a souvenir shop (to sell us a commemorative brick to take home).

 

Posted in Musings, Travel, Vietnam | Tagged , , , , | 21 Comments

Floating Markets ~ Mekong Delta

“The river knows the way to the sea: without a pilot it runs and falls, blessing all lands with its charity.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Mekong Delta

Vietnam is an incredibly diverse country and while I enjoyed its large cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), our trip wouldn’t be complete without including a three day excursion up the Mekong River in sampans. What a unique, colorful, educational and even a tasty experience.

With its source in Tibet, the Mekong flows approximately 2,800 miles and runs through six Southeast Asian countries – China, Burma (Myanmar), Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam and into the South China Sea.

The fertile Mekong Delta Region forms the major food-producing regions of both Vietnam and Cambodia. Millions of people depend on rice, fruit and vegetables that come from this basin. A bad year like the drought of 2010 affected rice production tremendously as well as the fruit and produce harvests.

Our tour not only allowed us plenty of opportunities for observing daily life among the river dwellers, but also included the busiest floating markets in Cai Be and Cai Rang. We missed the sunrise buying and selling among the vendors, but weren’t disappointed in what we saw.

Large, colorful boats coming toward us are the first thing we notice with their distinctive prows painted with eyes to ward off the river monsters This isn’t a place for souvenirs nor will the tourists be hawked. This is serious commerce.

Mekong Delta

Local farmers often begin their day as early as 4:00 AM. Loading their small boats with fruits and vegetables mainly, they must leave their canals and waterways that feed into the Mekong and make their way to the larger boats (wholesale dealers) who buy from them.

Mekong Delta

Often, this produce ends up in Hanoi and Saigon. I understand that because trade is shifting more and more to the wholesale markets in the country, these floating markets are shrinking in size.

Wholesale dealers indicate what produce and fruit they are buying by hanging samples to long poles. In that way the small boats can spot them easily.

Mekong Delta

Just look at the rambutan, a tasty fruit we came to love.

Mekong Delta

Or dragon fruit, unusual because of its pink and green color and shape.

Mekong Delta

Plenty of pineapple and we got to sample some. Paper towel juicy.

Mekong Delta Mekong Delta

Watermelon to choose from.

Mekong Delta

Lots of vegetables that I really don’t recognize.

Mekong Delta Mekong Delta

This man is having engine problems and is trying to sell the remainder of his jackfruit or breadfruit. I would imagine he knows how to fix his own boat or he might have to pay a floating mechanic to come to his rescue.

Mekong Delta

And, of course, there are the floating soup kitchens delivering noodles and pho to the farmers and dealers. That in itself is a tiring business. This woman is paddling her way among the boats.

Mekong Delta

Most of the hotels we stayed in provided a basket of fruit in the room. It was perfectly ripe and ready to eat. Ron and I looked forward to sampling new fruits.

One last look at a picturesque canal before we visit an organic farm and have lunch.

Mekong Delta

 

Posted in Musings, Travel, Vietnam | Tagged , , , , , , | 30 Comments

Night Train to Danang

“Be like a train; go in the rain, go in the sun, go in the storm, go in the dark tunnels! Be like a train; concentrate on your road and go with no hesitation!” Mehmet Murat ildan

Night Train to Danang

After a three hour delay leaving Hanoi, we finally boarded the train at 11:00 PM, found our compartment, and tried to get some rest.

I was half-sleeping in my lower berth when the train abruptly stopped. Immediately someone pounded on our compartment door and began shouting. When I opened the door, we were told (in Vietnamese) to get our bags and get off the train. One didn’t have to know the language to understand.

“Why do we have to get off”? I ask. “This isn’t Danang”.

But the woman official didn’t understand me. Our travel companions, Robert and Paula, quickly began gathering their things and I was left with another matter. Ron, my husband, who had just taken half a sleeping pill at 3:00 AM, could not be aroused out of his slumber. I yelled and pulled and finally got him to a standing position, but it was clear he did not want to participate. I loaded him up with bags and looked around one more time to see if any thing was left behind. Robert’s boxed leftover supper was there in a plastic bag. I threw my journal and loose stuff in with it and guided Ron down the train steps.

It was now 3:30 AM

We were the last ones to get off and I could barely see Robert and Paula at the end of the line of people heading around the building. It was dark and a gentle rain was falling. I proceeded to try and catch up when I noticed Ron going in a completely different direction. It looked like he was trying to get a luggage cart which we didn’t need. I shouted to him and started to go after him, but the not so tiny Vietnamese uniformed women standing there would not let me past them. She ordered me to continue up the road. I tried to stay calm, but being separated from my husband in this bizarre nightmare only created more anxiety. I kept walking and there appeared Ron. He had merely gone through the building and caught up with us, but looked like a sleepwalking zombie.

There were three transport buses and everyone had boarded except for us four. The male official pointed to the first bus for us to get on, but then decided it was full. We pulled our wet muddy luggage onto the third bus, but there were no seats. They put folding chairs in the aisle at the back for Robert and Ron who dragged their luggage with them. Two men near the front of the bus were told to give Paula and me their seats. They too ended up on folding chairs in the aisle.

“Does anyone speak English?” I asked and there was only silence.

The man next to me looked at me and said, “Madam, I speak a little.”

With relief I asked him why we had to get off the train, board buses, and where are we going? He explained that the tracks were flooded and that we must go by land to another town so that we can reconnect with the train. Of course, this made sense.

I thanked him and relayed the information to Paula who was sitting behind me and she passed it back to our husbands. Ron had already fallen asleep with his head propped up on a Vietnamese woman’s shoulder who was also asleep. He said how well he slept.

I did not sleep. It seemed like everyone on this bus had a cold, cough or flu. The woman in the seat across the aisle from me was vomiting in a latex exam glove. I had to really use mind over matter to get beyond this. Her husband was holding their small son while all their belongings were stuffed around them. The mother looked feverish. I truly felt sorry for her.

We were on a hilly, curvy, two lane road dotted with villages. Our driver was trying to make up lost time and going fast for rainy conditions. He was also trying to keep up with the two speeding buses ahead of him. I just prayed we didn’t end up on our side like the buses we had seen along the roads in Tanzania.

When it becomes light enough to see, I try to get glimpses of the roadside between bobbing heads.

Amazing how village life starts early. The road is lined with bicycles of uniformed school children all heading in the same direction. Efficiently, the bicycle is carrying two to three kids, each with his tiny backpack stuck in the face of the one behind. The last child often held an umbrella over the group. Most were wearing plastic raincoats or ponchos in pastel shades of pink, blue, yellow and green, billowing like tiny sails.

Crude hand carts overflowing with produce were being pulled to markets. Out door kitchens were still busy making pho, a traditional noodle soup which is eaten for breakfast and lunch. I pretended to smell that wonderful aroma.

The country side is beautiful in the rain. Water buffalo are ankle deep in the rice paddies which are shrouded in mist.

I am finally relaxed and enjoying the sights and even thankful for getting bumped off the train.

After several hours, we finally arrive at a small train depot, gather our belongings and once again drag the suitcases through more mud. Ron is awake and actually a little chipper. We board the train and find our compartment only to discover it is occupied. We take another sleeper and now we are on our way. Our 11 hour trip from Hanoi to Danang has taken almost 16 hours.

Such is traveling.

I reach in the plastic bag for my journal only to discover that Robert’s leftover box meal had spilled. I remove the journal and clean it off and hand him his leftovers.

I find a spot on the bottom bunk and begin writing.

My journal smells like fish sauce reminding me of all the good meals we’ve had and the laughs the four of us have shared on this month long SE Asia trip.

Ron immediately goes back to sleep and all is right with the world.

Travel Memoirs: 2010

 “There is nothing like a train journey for reflection.”
― Tahir Shah, In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dream

Posted in Musings, Travel, Vietnam | Tagged , , , , | 25 Comments

The Gift of Rain

“Nothing reminds us of an awakening more than rain.” ― Dejan Stojanovic

Gift of Rain

I am standing on the porch watching the rain come. It is beautiful. It seems to dance on the glistening foliage before falling to the ground and then releases its earthy aroma. Last rays of sunshine filter through the canopy making the magenta bougainvillea even more vibrant. For having a small urban lot, we have created our own jungle paradise, I’m thinking, which brings us joy and much-needed privacy. The palms, banana trees, Schefflera (umbrella tree) tall white bird of paradise and four large mango trees hide us from the street.

The sound of the rain has its effects. It triggers memories of a distant rain forest.

My mind takes me to the wide veranda of the Asa Wright Nature Center in Trinidad, a Caribbean island lying off the northeastern coast of Venezuela. High up in the mountains, Asa Wright is located on a former cocoa-coffee-citrus plantation surrounded by lush rainforest. With binoculars, we watched the jungle come to life with colorful and exotic birds in their natural habitat. The toucans were my favorite.

We stayed in a cottage behind the main house and every night we went to sleep with the steady rhythm of the rain and smelled that same earthy aroma. Every morning we were awakened by a raucous cry of green parrots arriving in the mango tree by our window, telling us it was time to get up. The sheets we slept under and the so-called dry clothes we put on every morning always felt damp, but a hot cup of tea on the veranda while watching the birds through the misty canopy was well worth it. Ponchos were worn daily as we walked through the rainforest with our guide, who helped us identify birds on our lengthy Audubon bird list.

Vivid memories.

Instead of macaws and toucans flying through my yard, I settle for the cardinal that comes and drinks water out of the bloom of the white bird of paradise.

Gift of Rain

And I am content to watch the pelicans in formation, fly overhead to get back home. I am content to know the egrets, blue herons, and yellow-crowned night herons are tucked away in the mangroves by the dock and are safe.

It is time to go in, now. The rain is coming down harder and lightening and thunder are accompanying it.

But first, one last look at our little rainforest.

Gift of Rain Gift of Rain

 

 

 

Posted in Musings, Summer, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 38 Comments

Up Periscope

Manatee

“Fresh water. This is so great and all to myself.”

Manatee

“Hey! Where did you come from?”

Manatee

“I guess we can share. There’s more than one stream.”

Manatee

“Treading water gets awful tiresome.”

Manatee

“Aah! That’s better. This is the life. Florida living at its best. Nothing like floating on my back, no cares in the world, and getting a cool refreshing drink of water at the same time. Now if I could just get someone to rub my belly.”

Manatee

“The world’s finest wilderness lies beneath the waves …”
— Wyland, Marine Life Artist

More about manatees can be found in the following post:

https://onthegowithlynne.wordpress.com/2012/08/29/living-with-the-manatees/

***After boating and fishing, there is the routine of flushing the motor with fresh water, cleaning the boat and hopefully cleaning some fish. The manatees will congregate under the streams of fresh water and take long drinks, jostling for position.  They are fun to watch.

Posted in Musings, Summer | Tagged , , , , , , , | 36 Comments

Let’s Hear it for the Driver

“India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grand mother of tradition. Our most valuable and most astrictive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only!” Mark Twain

Our 1,122 mile road trip through Rajasthan, India, last year wouldn’t have been possible or remotely enjoyable if it weren’t for this man, Rejender Singh. He was the man behind the wheel, so to speak, our driver for 14 days, covering seven cities.

On the Road in Rajasthan

Of course, we visited many incredible, iconic temples, forts, palaces and museums along our route. The architectural legacy of the maharajas is this state’s signature attraction. Udaipur, Jodhpur, Pushkar, Mandawa, Samode, Jaipur, and then to Agra. There are plenty of large bus tours, but that isn’t out travel style. Having a personal driver and the use of local guides made our trip more flexible. And, having the same driver the entire time allowed for more opportunities to engage in cultural exchanges with each other that went beyond just pleasantries. We couldn’t have been matched to a better driver, and for two weeks you wouldn’t want to have a bad experience. Our personalities and travel styles clicked.

Driving through the cities and the rural roads takes skill, experience, and even guts. It also requires an emphasis on safety. Rejender has all that. He has been driving for over 25 years with this travel company. That says a lot. Knowing that we are passionate about photography, he would pull off for us to see something he thought appealing or would go back if we mentioned something we just saw. He is patient, knowledgeable and has a sense of humor. He also realized we have a sense of adventure.

Upgrading our mode of transport from a Tata to an Air-conditioned SUV Toyota made for a comfortable journey that was well worth the investment.

This wasn’t a trip for dozing off. There was always something of interest to capture our attention while driving through the countryside. A way of life. Long, windy, dusty roads, past small villages with their open air markets and women in their colorful saris.

Unexpectedly, we came upon a parade of villagers in route to a holy festival nearby. They looked somber, but this young lady greeted us with a smile.

On the Road in Rajasthan On the Road in Rajasthan

 

Rejender is an opportunist, and when he saw a man by his well, pumping water by using his oxen to turn the wheel, he stopped for us to see it and to make sure I got a chance behind the oxen. The water was being pumped under the road to irrigate a sugar cane field.

On the Road in Rajasthan     On the Road in Rajasthan

I loved the colorful trucks everywhere, but some were overloaded. See what happens. I hope the driver wasn’t terribly hurt.

On the Road in Rajasthan

On the Road in Rajasthan

On the Road in Rajasthan       On the Road in Rajasthan

Time to get the milk to market.

On the Road in Rajasthan

Road blocks are opportunities to stretch one’s legs as Ron is doing while waiting for a rather long train to pass by.

On the Road in Rajasthan

Sheep are just a way of life and also have to use the roads. Goats, too. Cows, too.

Trucks laden with marble. There are many quarries and the stone is an abundant building material.

On the Road in Rajasthan

We notice brick kilns dotting the landscape.

On the Road in Rajasthan

Another opportunity to stretch our legs. Our first encounter with a camel driver surrounded by wheat fields and another one loaded down.

On the Road in RajasthanOn the Road in Rajasthan

Farm trucks are interestingly home made.

On the Road in Rajasthan

This part of the drive was horrendous, but it was our only way to get to Mandawa. Due to unexpected road construction, the ride took much longer, and Rejender was quite tired when we finally arrived. Many trucks and machinery on the road including tons of red Massey Ferguson tractors.

On the Road in Rajasthan

I loved the arid Aravilli Hills, rocky mountainsides and ridges, including terrain that is harsh and barren. Pushkar is remote and we climbed a mountain pass to get there. Rejender is cautious as we go around the curves, but he seems to have a sixth sense when it comes to driving.

On the Road in Rajasthan

It was a treat to wind up a narrow road to get a glimpse of a lake.

On the Road in Rajasthan

Part of a driver’s time is not driving, but waiting. Here Rejender waits for us to finish touring the Panna Meena stepwell near Jaipur. Regardless of the dust and grime that covered the SUV each day, Rejender somehow wiped it down during his wait time and polished it spotless after each day’s driving. He also made sure the cooler was full of bottled water.

On the Road in Rajasthan

Working with Dream Vacation Pvt.Ltd., to customize an itinerary for us, was also rewarding. Ron had worked with them the year before while planning a trip to Kumba Mela. The team made sure our 50th wedding anniversary trip would be of the best quality and it was. Our thanks to Sudip Sen and Sanjeev Mehra, owners of the company, who came to our hotel in New Delhi to meet us. They referred to us as “the golden couple”. These men had planned our 26 day itinerary, which included Mumbai, New Delhi, Kerala, Munnar, and coordinated all the in-country flights, our overnight train ride to Varanasi, and of course, the details of our memorable road trip. Thank you, gentlemen.

And, let’s hear it for Rejender.

“So far as I am able to judge, nothing has been left undone, either by man or nature, to make India the most extraordinary country that the sun visits on his rounds. Nothing seems to have been forgotten, nothing overlooked.” Mark Twain

 

 

 

Posted in Bucket List, India, Musings, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 34 Comments

Saris in the Breeze

“It is the lives we encounter that make life worth living.”  ~
Guy de Maupassant

Saris in the Breeze, Udaipur, India

Standing on the raised platform of the ancient Sas-Bah temple at Nagda in Rajasthan, we looked once more at the barren landscape in the distance. We noticed a procession of women in colorful saris walking single file toward an area dotted with palm trees. Why? What were they doing? Where could they possibly be going? No crops in the field to harvest. No buildings around. We asked our guide. He wasn’t sure. Our curiosity was too great to just let this cultural moment flutter away in the breeze like the image of their saris. We asked him if he would take us to them.

“No! I won’t escort you. It would be better for you to go yourself. Just walk down that dirt road and you will come to a path, and then you can catch up with them.”

After a check with our driver and the time constraints we were under, it was agreed we could go. “Just don’t take too long,” they reminded.

Our escort would be little children that appeared instantly, hands out, smiling and saying, “ten rupee.” One little boy handed me a yellow dandelion. Getting to the path required us to climb over a crude rock wall, overgrown with vines and brambles. Ron first, then holding my camera and hand, I climbed over while holding my skirt up. Giggles from the children.

Once on the path, we realize we are intruding on a couple of women who are cooking on an open fire. No house, few belongings. We smile, bow and say, “namaste.”

Rushing to catch up with the procession was my priority, while not stumbling over rocks and twisting an ankle. There was already blood dripping down my leg from scratches encountered climbing over the wall.

Those at the end of the procession now see us and stop. The others slow down, turn, and just watch these crazy people approach.

What a moment. A mixture of shyness, smiles, cautiousness, curiosity and perplexity among the group.

Saris in the Breeze, Udaipur, India

Some gather with Ron and others around me. We ask if anyone can speak English and a few laugh. I point to women with gray hair and point to my gray hair and call them Mama and Grandmother and jester to myself. They seem to know what I mean and banter with each other. The group relaxes.

We ask to take photos and many allow us. A few are still cautious. I respect that.

And then, on cue, the women once again get in their processional and leave us to ponder the same questions we had originally.

Saris in the Breeze, Udaipur, India

Was this a religious ritual? Was it an observance to pay respects to the recently departed?

As we watched them leave, they began singing. It was solemn and spiritual.

They carried no babies, no food, and no water. No small children accompanied them. They were taking time out from their domestic responsibilities. Obviously, these women were bonded and committed to something of meaning to them. Hindu traditions and social identities are complex, and I knew we had witnessed something special.

Women, dressed in their finest saris, fluttering in the breeze.

Posted in India, Musings, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 28 Comments