Jan. 13, 2017:
This is Jim writing today’s blog post. Unfortunately, Stacy came down with a terrible cold which (as is her MO) turned into a sinus and ear infection. The good news is that the hotel we are staying at in Da Nang has a very good doctor in house, and she got fixed up with antibiotics and is on the mend. The bad news is that she is taking the day off and I am your correspondent today.
The day started out with a visit to the Hóa Châu kindergarten. This is a private kindergarten in the little village of Phong Nam on the way to the historic town of Hoi An. Tauck sponsors this particular school with gifts to help with school nutrition needs, and educational supplies and materials. The kids were very excited to see our group visit. They would run up to us and beg to be picked up or hugged. The energy and excitement was contagious. I was really impressed by how organized, visually engaging and clean the school was. We were told that the private schools such as this one are nicer than the public schools run by the government. Even though the tuition of $100 per month is quite a steep price to pay for most Vietnamese, many parents make sacrifices to be able to afford it.
After leaving the kindergarten we walked down the main street of the village to get a glimpse of life in a Vietnamese village. Phong Nam used to be quite a distance from the outer edges of Da Nang, but the city has crept almost all the way to the edge of the village. Even so, life in Phong Nam is pretty much the same as it was decades ago.
Our first stop was to see some of the ubiquitous rice paddies. This village regularly gets flooded by the rains and the rising rivers that surround it. Everyone pretty much expects this, and has a room “upstairs” to move things during the flood. The residents don’t really mind the flooding because it is necessary to keep the fields fertile for the rice crops. During the planting season, if the water on the fields isn’t too deep, the rice seed can be cast on the ground, saving a lot of labor. However, if the water is standing in the fields, the individual rice plants have to be “plugged” into the ground one-by-one— very labor intensive!
Next, we passed by a public elementary school where the older kids were wearing the red kerchiefs required by the Communist party. These kids were pretty happy to see us too, and all ran to the gate. I was expecting their teacher to come out and yell at us for disrupting the class, but everyone was very happy and kind.
As we walked down the street, we saw a number of the local merchants and their shops. The butcher had the day’s meat out on the counter (flies and all) waiting for customers. The baker lady was making rice cakes for Tet in a couple of weeks. One of the local herbal medicine purveyors had herbs laying out on the street, drying before being made into some sort of tea. One of our tour group members, a gastroenterologist by profession, was a little taken aback by the whole scene.
Our last stop was at the home of Mister Truong, the former mayor of the village, where we got information on ancestor worship as well as what goes into keeping a rural household functioning.
As we departed the village we observed a Buddhist religious ceremony complete with drums and gong. It was an intriguing contrast to the street banner right next to it with the picture of Karl Marx and the de riguere communist slogan printed in Vietnamese.
Our day concluded with a visit to the historical town of Hoi An, an important international seaport from the 16th century to the late 19th century, when it was replace for that function by the modern port in Da Nang. Traditional life and Chinese architecture have remained virtually unchanged in Hoi An since the 17th century. It is one of Vietnam’s four UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Once again some unlucky chap got the assignment of hauling me around on a cyclo, the Vietnamese version of a pedi-cab. After our cyclo tour I had lunch with my fellow Tauck travelers, Harry, Carol, Larry and Felicia at a great little restaurant called Morning Glory which specialized in street food in the style of central Vietnam.
After lunch and completing my shopping assignments from Stacy I headed back to our beautiful resort hotel on China Beach, the Furama, and had a swim in the lagoon pool. The end of a wonderful day.
Stacy here: so I spent the day recuperating at the lovely Furama Resort here on “China Beach” in Da Nang. As you can see from the photos, not a bad a bad place to spend the day, at all! I plan to be back in action tomorrow, as we have a full day ahead traveling to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), paired with a visit to the infamous Cu Chi tunnels.