Thursday, February 07, 2008

Vietnam 08

I was so taken aback by the beauty in the midst of poverty in Vietnam that i was compelled to express my emotions in writing. I wrote each night and day about my wonderful experiences so that every drop of my enlightenment might be safely sealed. I wrote also in a hope that others might get something out of my experiences in that land of ravishing beauty. Here's what i wrote:

Day 1
The Tiger Airways flight was much better than i had expected for a budget airline. The plane was like a time machine that flung us back into the vast continuum of time - the shabby-looking runway, the immigration booths made of cardboard, the soldiers in the airport dressed in dirty green robes and caps which made them look like walking cucumbers. The cab ride from the airport to the city of Hanoi was an unforgettable one. The unusually long wait for the baggage claim sparked off my frustration at the inefficiencies of this communist country. But it was what happened after that that pushed me into a raging frenzy; a level of anger and hatred that i've never EVER experienced in my entire life! As we walked out of the arrival bay, I caught sight of a perverse demon in the disguise of a scummy-looking Vietnamese man who was totally checking my sister out from head to toe as she walked past him. The lust that engulfed his eyes and the sudden exuberance that overwhelmed his facial expression, made my blood boil instantaneously. He even made some wolf-whistling noises. It was like a barrel of kerosene the size of the entire Grand Canyon being poured over the flame of frustration already lingering in my heart. Utterly disgusted, I foolishly swore at him; using a word that I would never have used: "Fuck". Well, that was how pissed I was. I don't know why but I noticed that Vietnamese have a knack for staring at people. Everyone we walked past seemed to be unable to resist the urge to stare at us, as though there was something extremely weird or unusual about us.

As I stood outside the tailoring shop, I looked around on the streets and saw that Vietnam was actually very beautiful. How could the hell that I picture last night undergo such a transformation in just these few hours of sleep? I began to appreciate the environment. It was very hazy and the air was heavily polluted by the 3 million of motorcycles that swarmed the streets, literally like bees in a beehive. However, I liked the way everyone was getting along just fine. I saw many women carrying long wooden poles over their shoulders with wooden baskets which suspended on each end. These baskets would contain whatever they were selling. Some women sold mandarins and bananas, while others sold fresh prawns and turnips. Then there were other "merchants" selling flowers from their bicycles. I found these "merchants" very intriguing. I guess it was a very unique and unusual way of conducting sales. My dad bought some mandarins, and i must say that they were FLAWLESS; remarkably and unexpectedly delicious!

The other thing that hit the nail on my head was when we went on the 2 hour "cyclo ride. Cyclo's are similar to trishaws only that the passengers are now seated in the front while the bicycle riders are pedaling from the back. It was an extremely exciting and exhilarating experience roaming the streets of such a historically renowned city, rich and saturated with centuries of culture and tradition. It was thrilling to actually experience the environment that i had read so much about in the numerous literary books in our "devilishly high society". Just as i had come to a realisation that Vietnam was actually a beautiful place in the daytime, i began to truly admire the Vietnamese people. As we walked and cycled through the district known as "old town", I couldn't help but feel free from all the Mc Donald's, Starbucks, Cotton On's, Hang Ten's and Giodarno's that seem to permeate our every shopping experience! The fashion shops along the roads all had very different and unique Viet names. They all sold different kinds of clothing. the fresh poultry was a sight to behold! Eels and crabs in little containers, live chicken waiting to be slaughtered and DOGS! (I'll let my sister describe how they're eaten in her blog).
I was filled with inexpressible awe and admiration because though these people were living in the depths of crippling poverty with an average salary of $40/month, their eyes revealed a true sense of dignity and integrity. As i looked into their eyes I saw that there was no sense of phoniness or hypocrisy. They had nothing to hide. Their clothes were dirty and worn out. They didn't need make-up to exemplify the natural beauty which was prevalent on each face. It was the honest humility on their faces that made their appeal irresistible.

I wanted to throw a whole heap of cash on each poor soul. As they looked at me, they weren't covetous or envious of me, they were truly conent with what they had! Although the drivers on the roads were always in a rush and they always seem to slam on their horns incessantly, they never fail to give way to one another. The "honk" isn't a way to express their anger or disgust at another driver (as our society regards it), instead, it serves as a warning to other drivers of their presence in these crowded roads and to plead with them to make way. By the way, there aren't many traffic lights in Hanoi, even in the city areas. Despite that, the vehicles are able to travel in a continuous flow, giving way to each other based on grace and good-will. It is this humility within the Vietnamese which i truly find pleasure in.

The cyclo rider behind me gladly showed me his mobile phone. It was old and damaged, but he was pleased with it. I couldn't help but notice that almost everything he said involved prices. In our conversations, he would never fail to notify me of the price of the cameras or soft toys in the shops that we passed by. I found it saddening how such a humble and harmonious community was still driven and ruled by the same system that governs our "devilish high society" - The Economy. It was what I thought i could finally get away from - all those designer clothes, advertisements, interesting gadgets and toys that we constantly long to get our hands on! Its such an irony, such a PARADOX that the comfort and luxury we constantly seek inevitably corrupts our character and destroys our soul, making us merely human shells ruled by selfish ambition, devoid of unconditional love, patience and mercy.

God has really spoken to me through these two days. I came into Vietnam with an angry and frustrated heart, burning with fury and dying for revenge. However, the Lord has shown me that it can be more rewarding to forgive than to seek vengeance; to be humble amidst a crowd seeking phoniness and to show love to a society that so desperately needs it.

"Be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else." - 1 Thessalonians 5:15

Day 2
Crossing the roads of Hanoi was a thrilling experience. Most roads don't have traffic lights. Motorcyclists just forced their way through cross junctions and circuses by putting their bodies in the line of on-coming traffic. Amazingly, the on-coming vehicles would find some way of swerving and maneuvering around these vehicles! I remember filtering through 4 lanes on an extremely busy road and having to watch helplessly as an aggressive fleet of motorbikes swerved around us at dangerously fast speeds! The huge volumes of adrenaline that pumped through my veins made this experience an exciting one. Each time we crossed the road was a risk worth taking. I wish i could ride a motorcycle in Hanoi! :)

Day 3
We travelled 2 hours from Hanoi to Nam Dinh today. I'm currently in what Duc (our tour guide) calls the "biggest" hotel in Nam Dinh. He likes to refer to the social classes as the "poor", the "rich people", and the "stylish people". we would be classified as "rich people". I feel like one of those stuck up rich men we so often see on TV shows that only eat food at the highest quality, sleep in five-star hotels and expect to be served hand and foot by the locals. Though most may think otherwise, i reckon its a terrible feeling. I wanna put on some grubby clothes, go out into the streets and experience what it really feels like living in semi-poverty instead of sitting in these high-class restaurants having set meals while people just outside are eating snails by the road side! As I was having dinner yesterday, I wondered how the waiter (a local) felt. He was dressed decently in a spiffy shirt and nice-looking pants. But I knew that on an off-day he would be dressed like one of his fellow countrymen, eating snails with his mates just a few streets away instead of waiting on pompous "rich men" such as myself.

Day 5
I felt tired and constipated just a few moments ago. even the nastiest of bombs - the Fat Boy and the Little Man - didn't do enough to destroy the horrid Japanese forces that held my large intestines hostage. I had to release a banana bomb and a napalm strike before they finally surrendered. I feel much better now, but I've still got a lingering flu. I was too sick and fatigued on Day 4 to express my sentiments in writing, but i shall pen down whatever i recall now. We got on a terribly long car ride down to Ha Long Bay where we got on a boat which took us to a sea cave. According to Duc, Ha Long Bay is home to more than a 100 little islands. However, I reckon they look like huge chunks of rocks jutting out of the sea like mini-mountains. The view from the boat was a sight to behold. It's truly a humbly experience. The sheer size of these mini-mountains dwarfed me and made me as insignificant as a flea. I could do nothing but to sit on the upper deck of the boat as the cool sea breeze brushed over my hair, admiring the majestic power of the Lord and the beauty of his handiwork.

Later that night, we got driven back to Hanoi city. Along the way, we stopped by some pottery villages. It wasn't the authenticity nor the beauty of the pottery that struck me. Rather, it was the villagers there that caught my attention. As we drove by these 3 young village girls, they were filled with so much excitement that they started jumping and laughing to themselves. So we got off the car to take a few pictures wit them. I could see the humility and meekness on their impoverished faces. That really melted my insides and made me completely vulnerable to them. Their lovely smiles rubbed off the poverty that hid their natural beauty on their faces. I looked around and saw acres and acres of vast rice fields. What a beautiful sight! Deep down inside, I wished i could trade lives with one of the villagers there. I'm willing to trade the luxuries of life for a simple one where farming is the local occupation, where everyone in the village knows everyone else, where beauty isn't corrupted by superficial make-up and phony behaviour, but rather by the humility of one's soul. As the saying goes, "the eye is the window to one's soul". As i looked into each of the girl's eyes, there was no superficiality in them, only true beauty.

Day 6

Sapa at Night

I'm in Sapa now. The train ride up from Hanoi was better than i expected. The 4 of us were given a tiny room, about 2m by 3m. It was cramped by surprisingly comfortable. A van picked us up from the train station at Lao Cai and took us on an hour ride up to Sapa. When I got out of the van and looked around at the mountain ranges of Sapa, I couldn't breathe because the exquisite beauty of the scenery literally took my breath away. The balcony of the hotel overlooked one side of a lush green mountain range, there were many rice terraces and roads which dotted the majestic mountain side. Just metres away was the local town. The buildings blended in so well with the mountain range such that these man-made structures were in-one with the environment! The radiant orange rays of the sun was a crucial factor in adding a spectacular warm hue to the greenery of the mountain which made the balcony view absolutely extraordinarily mind-blowing! I felt as though i was living in a post card :)

We took a short stroll into the local village just then. There were cute tribal girls dressed in their traditional black dresses who would come up to you and pester you to buy some of their souvenirs which they held in their hands. The smiles on their innocent faces and their uniquely brown hair made my heart melt away. I was willing to buy up all their merchandise if i had the money (and if my mum would let me x.x" ) The only ugly side to their being, though not entirely to their fault, is their money-mindedness. The only reason they'll come up to you and talk to you is in the hope that you'll buy something from them.
Poverty: the tarnisher and the former of beauty. What an irony!

We went for a 5 hour trek into the rice fields in the mountain ranges to visit the homes of the tribal people living in that area. 4 tribal girls immediately followed us the moment we stepped out of the hotel. Kide (our tour guide) told us that they would follow us along our long journey and then attempt to sell us some of their hand-made merchandise at the end of the trip. He said said that it wasn't good to buy from them because it would only encourage them to bug tourists rather than to go to school. At that point, i made up my mind not to buy anything. Until i actually spoke to the girls. I can only remember two of them: Chi and Chiu. Their command of the English language was very limited, but they were willing to tell me about their way of life when i asked. How many siblings they had. Where they went to school. What they did in their spare time.. etc.

It was such a rewarding experience to hear from these tribal girls first hand. They were so joyful, light-hearted and meek. Jerusha was having trouble climbing down the steep mountains tracks and she even fell into a watery rice terrace! loL! I was touched when Chi rushed to her aid and accompanied her through the rest of the journey. Midway through, they disappeared into the bushes. But they reappeared soon after and gave us each a horse made of plants and seeds that they had just plucked. That really touched me... ahh!!! A local girl made me a horse! I've still got it, and i'll be keeping it for a long time :) These girls are amazingly nimble despite their small stature. They were able to scale high mounds that i was finding trouble climbing! Chiu and i were having this little balancing competition on the edge of the rice terraces... yea, she ran swiftly and steadily on the narrow edge while i stumbled slowly behind her -.-""" She even laughed at me! haha! I'll always remember Chiu.

That's Chiu

Hope you were inspired the pictures! :)

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