Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Home Stay in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam Day 1

I will say that my home stay in Vietnam was the best. We lived at the heart of Ho Chi Minh and it took us little time to go around, allowing us for more exploration. The home stay committee members had planted an English-speaking volunteer or two in families where foster parents have difficulty conversing in English. Our volunteer, Tranh, was very helpful and fun-loving. With the permission of my foster mum, Tranh even surrendered her bike for Kim (PPY), my home stay mate, to ride. For a whole day, Kim rode with me behind with our foster mum and Tranh in another bike leading us to the interesting places in Ho Chi Minh.

Ho Chi Minh is a bustling city. We woke up early in the morning and so much activities can be seen around the streets. Despite the oldness of the city, I felt enlivened by the busyness of the entire place. People in cycles and bikes, having places to go early in the morning, people vending in their carts and so forth. The whole place didn't just look busy, the sounds of the honking, ringing and motor engines were everywhere. It's hard for anyone to feel dull as one takes in the entire scene.

After dinner on our first night, we celebrated our foster sister's birthday as well as our welcoming. I was pretty impressed when I realised Nippon Maru was written on the side of the cake!

When our bags were placed in this room, I had no idea we would be sleeping right in front of the ancestral altar. The hard floor didn't bother me much but the altar did. When I was lying down to sleep, I wasn't sure if I should face the altar or have my back facing. It was a great experience afterall, sleeping on a mat instead of a mattress. I used to do that when I was kid when I took my occasional afternoon naps.

Baguettes were sold in stalls in the early morning. It reminded me of Cambodia.

We went to a noodle restaurant instead for breakfast.

I love the food in Vietnam. I love having to pluck an assortment of leaves to either make wraps or drop them into hot soups to go with the noodles. This is some sort of a beef noodle soup with other stuff in it like fish cakes sort of things. Extremely delicious!

I found all the cluttering of cables on poles rather fascinating. This is a common sight in Ho Chi Minh and we have one right in front of our house within one or two metres range.

Our first visit was to the Independence Museum where one of the President stayed. He would welcomed his guests in this room while the Vice-President has a different room to do the welcoming of guests.

It was part of a huge painting on one of the walls. The painting is based on a Vietnamese literary work.

The Independence Palace houses the President's work area at the basement where radios and communication machines were kept for military activities. There was also a tunnel in the basement which supposedly was the President's getaway route.

This is a famous photo during the time of the Vietnamese-American war. It was displayed in the exhibition hall in the palace and is of a monk who burned himself to death to protest.

A couple was doing their wedding photo shoot in the lawn right in front of the palace.

We had lunch at a really good Vietnamese restaurant (the name is found in the next few pictures). We went to another branch earlier but it had been closed for renovation. We had the wraps and the pancake is supposed to be wrapped too! There were several different sauces and I was dipping them in all combinations. Either ways, all extremely yummy!

For the first time in my life, I had escargots still in their shells. Except, I kinda cheated because these were stuffed escargots and extremely delicious with the wrap of vegetable leaves and dipped in the sauces.

What amazes me more about Ho Chi Minh city is that a number of its famous landmarks are so European looking. Suddenly, I seemed to have been teleported to a town in France or something. Here, we have a typical-looking European cathedral with the usual circular design in the middle and the tall spires. Looking neo-gothic is the Notre Dame Cathedral.

Next, we have the post office looking kinda neoclassical.

Right across the post office, a street vendor was selling some sort of dessert in a wrap. It is coconut strips with black sesame seeds, syrup and other stuff. Yummy!

We went to the war museum next. I feel edgy about war museums. I always have after visiting the one in Cambodia.

This photo exactly shows the madness and evil that broke out during the Vietnamese-American war. The text written sounded as though the author was completely messed up by the cruelty of the war. I completely skipped a whole section of a gallery because the pictures were too disturbing. They were of the Agent Orange victims. I took some photos of the preserved babies who suffered from the lethal chemical but deleted them later since I couldn't handle reviewing them again. Waves of horror would just come flooding in and sweeping me into a space of terrible thoughts. *shivers*

We had a district gathering to attend at night. Performances by children of different ages were conducted. We were also given gifts by some district officials.

As a form of appreciation, we decided to do the "Papa Tome Tome" cheer.

Back at home, we had more Vietnamese food! I completely love it. Vietnamese home cook food is not oily, usually has lots of gravy or is soupy. And, they have lots of greens, both cooked and uncooked! Oh, the curry-looking dish at the bottom of the picture is actually eel.

We went to some night market after dinner and walked back home after. I found the things in this Vietnamese market more pricey than the one at Chatuchak in Thailand. I got several paintings nonetheless since I had not been able to see any during the day as I was going about.

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