Monday, September 27, 2010

Ben Tre

The bus ride to Ben Tre was probably one of the worst we've taken. There was no AC, and Vietnam is hot, so we were both sweating a lot. The seats were made of a nonporous material that trapped in heat, making it even worse. And poor Chuck had to deal with a guy who kept falling asleep on him. Actually, that was pretty funny. Well, I thought it was funny at least. I think Chuck was less amused. We had decided to sit in the very back seat because it was long, running uninterrupted across the width of the bus. Of course, we eventually picked up just enough passengers that one fellow had to join us, sitting between us before we had a chance to rearrange ourselves. It wasn't long before his head began to sink and bob. Eventually he was bent sideways towards Chuck like a palm tree in a hurricane. I was honestly quite impressed with his flexibility. I certainly can't bend like that. Chuck was pressed as far into his window as he could get, staring at me wide-eyed as I smothered my laughter. We hit a big bump at one point which woke the guy up. Chuck seized his opportunity and offered to switch places with him. Of course, the guy ended up staying awake for the rest of the trip leaving me to wonder vaguely if Chuck had just been tricked into giving up his window seat. The trip was almost three hours long. As we got closer, the scenery became less man-made and more green. The land was covered in tropical jungles. I could just see the happy little monkeys, swinging through the trees, bananas in hand, singing monkey-songs to their numerous monkey babies. Each monkey family would have a treasure trove of bananas that never ran out because the bananas trees were like overflowing fountains, constantly spewing forth giant delicious bananas. A monkey heaven. Realistically, there were probably no monkeys within five miles of us, but it was easy to imagine that there were. Ben Tre's bus station was curiously devoid of any taxis. The mystery was lessened once we realized that tourists don't go to Ben Tre. It's really not a tourist town, by any stretch of the imagination. The only reason we were there was because we had to kill some time in south Vietnam before Mom arrived. I had read they had a coconut candy factory that one could visit, but beyond that, nothing. We waited around for a while, hoping that a taxi would show up. Eventually we caved and just got moto taxis. $1 each. The ride went smoothly, and once again, I found that it was kind of fun. We arrived at our hotel which looked big and fancy from the outside, but inside it had a slightly depressing feel - empty and dead. It was cheap for being a nice hotel, though. We were rather hungry by this point, so after tossing our stuff in our room we headed back out and down the road for food. We found a few little places right nearby and took a seat at one. The woman who worked there spoke absolutely no English, and we had been very lax in learning any Vietnamese. We ordered by nodding yes as she pointed at various bins of meat and vegetables. We didn't know what they were, so we just nodded yes to everything. I tried to order water to drink, but apparently my pronunciation was so horrid that she just could not understand. I resorted to ordering the easily pronounceable "Bia ba ba ba," Or Beer 333 (the Vietnamese word for 3 is ba). Our soup ended up being fantastic though. And the beer was, admittedly, refreshing. After paying and thanking her we walked a bit into town. We were looking for deodorant and Coke, both of which were proving to be elusive. As we walked, children would say "hello" to us. Some would shout it boldly with a big, unashamed grin, while others were more shy about it. We passed a few parents and grandparents who encouraged their kids to say "hello," waving their arms in our direction in encouragement. One girl waved enthusiastically from her seat at a coffee stand with her Dad. Another girl peeped a greeting from the doorway of her home and then ran to hide behind her grandmother. Children waved from motorcycles as they drove past with their parents. We even had a few young adults say "hello" to us. It was a nice, yet overwhelming experience. I was shocked at all the greetings. They really must not get many foreigners around there. Eventually, we gave up on finding any Coke (although I did find some cheap deodorant) and headed back to the hotel. That evening we ate dinner at the hotel bar/restaurant, which was decently crowded with people watching the World Cup. Oh, those vuvuzulas were just awesome. Who doesn't love that constant buzz? I enjoyed me a nice Vietnamese iced coffee (ca phe sua da) while Chuck tried a mixed drink of some kind. A nice and relaxing evening.

Our room included a breakfast buffet, so on the 18th we were sure to wake up in time to enjoy it. It didn't end up being very exciting. Some old fried rice, pho, random meat. Then we went back to sleep for a few more hours (we do love sleep). Our day ended up being filled with laziness. We were supposed to go to the coconut candy factory, but we just didn't feel like it. We considered going swimming at the hotel pool, but we took one look at it and decided "No thanks." It was green and cloudy and obviously not maintained. I found it so strange that they had this big, fancy hotel, but didn't really seem interested in taking care of it. We went to a soup place for lunch and ordered, once again, by nodding yes to the different ingredients that the woman pointed out. A Vietnamese man struck up a conversation with us as we ate. His English was not very good, but we managed to figure out that he was a doctor of some sort, and not yet married, although he's thinking that probably next year he'll go ahead and get married. He has no girlfriend at the moment, but that shouldn't pose a problem. He'll go ahead and get married next year. That was a mindset that was certainly foreign to me. I mean, people are pretty much the same all over the world: eating, sleeping, sexing, pooping. But the nuances of how we do it can be very different. After eating and saying goodbye to our new friend we took a short walk along the river. Once again, people were very curious about us, some saying "hello" and others were even brave enough to talk to us. An older man who was out jogging stopped and chatted. He had lived for a while in Australia, so his English was pretty good. We gathered a small crowd of five or six people over the course of our conversation. They just stood nearby and stared and Chuck and me. No attempts were made to be discreet - they just openly stared. But it wasn't an aggressive stare, like how some parts of India felt. It was just genuine, idle curiosity. But it was still weird, so after finishing up our conversation we headed back to the safety of our hotel. We left the room only once more, in the evening to go the bar/restaurant for dinner and drinks. Chuck brought his Thai language-learning book along and had me quiz him. I hadn't realized how much he had learned! He got everything right, and his reading was spot on. I was quite impressed, although he kept telling me how terrible he was every time I tried to tell him he was awesome. Then I practiced my Thai reading. That wasn't so good. But hey, I think it was alright for not having studied anything. The only practice I ever got was when Chuck point pointed at a sign and had me try to read it back in Thailand. After we got bored with the Thai book we headed back to the room, and eventually to sleep.

The 19th was a typical check-out day. We packed, paid, got our passports back, etc. The hotel called the bus company to pick us up. It was a free ride to the tiny bus office – that's some awesome service if you ask me. We got our tickets and waited until it was time to go. Back to Ho Chi Minh to meet up with Mom!

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