Chau Doc & My An Hung, Vietnam
Good Morning Vietnam! The words echo from an era not that long past. We hear them in Robin Williams’ voice or at least with his contagious inflection. For many the phrase was popularized in a time of coming of age when Hollywood humor helped ease the pain. But we really meant it today. “Xin Chao!” Good morning Vietnam! We are thrilled to be here, here in the Mekong delta where life revolves around the river.
Even during the night we could sense the change. Pastoral Cambodia is behind us now and the hustle and bustle and industriousness of the Vietnamese people cannot be missed. The rooster’s rousing call was the same here as it has been every day but now it was accompanied by human voices, already busy at their chores long before we crawled from beneath the covers. Under early morning clouds, like a corduroy road, the mirrored water of the river was rent with ruts of wakes. Barges laden with sand or gravel, or with rice or corn dashed past. The putt-putt of long-tailed boats echoed from upstream. Silently small sampans powered by long oars slipped by, bound to the market place.
A drive-in market or rather a float-in one, is a sight to see. Like many of the shops in towns nearby, the vendors live within their shops or at least behind them, within the same structure. But in the river market of Chau Doc, the stores are all afloat. Gigantic painted eyes peered from the bows of the ship/shops, their task apparently complete for no crocodiles live here any more, frightened away by the not-so-malevolent wooden stare. One need not speak the language to know what each business sold as the signs were simply a sample of the article hung upon a pole. Watermelon, bananas, coconuts and even more changed hands with apparent gaiety in battering.
For those with wheeled transport or mobile only on foot, Chau Doc has yet another marketplace. Clothing, fruit, fish, French bread, flowers and most everything anyone could want were colorfully displaced. Families worked together and grandparents snuggled babies while their brightly clad daughters enticed customers in a sing-song dialect. There seem to be no rules or regulations when it comes to fashion sense. Any color, any pattern all blend together emitting joyfulness.
Floating houses lined the river banks of the Bassac and Mekong both. Beneath each sat not just a barge or floats but a clever “basement” built to house thousands of fingerlings, the income of the family dependent upon their eventual fate in fish dishes in distant towns.
Away from the city, it was no quieter. It was however a most verdant green with irrigated fields stretching away into the distance and giant ponds for fish or shrimp. Mats of red attracted our eyes and we rapidly discovered the source in the chile fields near My An Hung where we stopped to stroll and visit with the local families. A few brave souls wobbled across a “monkey bridge” watched by amused local residents who rapidly demonstrated that one could easily balance on this narrow structure even when carrying a rather lengthy four-by-four. None of us were willing to try the community WC that could best be described as another monkey bridge with a corrugated steel wall about hip high. Squatting and balance while taking care of “business” takes more coordination than most of us felt capable of. And too, the presence of an audience was somewhat disconcerting. Here again the residents seemed quite amused at our bemusement. In spite of that they were gracious hosts offering us food and drinks and entertainment too.
As the sun set on the river and relaxation was on our minds, families headed home from the fields and children played so that before the rooster crows once more they will be ready to once again say “Good Morning Vietnam.”