I’m just going to say this upfront, today was my favorite day. The Mekong Delta was always a discussion priority in the weeks leading up to our Plus3 trip. The Mekong Delta is known as the rice basket of the world because it single-handedly produces a majority of the world’s rice crops. That means that it is a pillar of Vietnam’s economy; yet, the recent effects of global warming and the erection of dams upstream have threatened the health of this important part of Vietnam’s economy. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot that the government can do to prevent climate change, but they can try to negotiate with other countries in regards to the upstream dams being built. Talking about these issues was one thing, but it really was a whole different experience to actually go there and discuss these issues, emersed in the landscape. What stood out most to me was the lack of technology on the islands and the limited transportation that its citizens had. Because the islands are separated by bodies of water, it is more difficult to communicate important information to each other. The lack of technology only serves to reinforce that challenge. This all ties back to the lecture that we had a few days ago about the Mekong Delta and how farmers who have been there for generations will be affected. When our professor talked in class about how hard it is to communicate the effects of climate change to the locals, I took note, but actually being here allowed me to gain perspective. Without major technology and easy communication, there is no easy way to distribute information and then track engagement. Ok, let’s take a quick breather and I’ll tell you a bit about my day.
To start, we woke up at an early hour and all piled onto the ye’ old bus to go to the Mekong Delta. On the way there, everyone fell asleep. We got off the bus and then directly onto a boat. I love boats, so you know that I was just snapping pictures left and right until we got off of the boat at the first island. The first activity was to eat some of the local fruits while listening to traditional island singers. The fruit was delicious (I loved dipping everything that I could into the chili salt) and the singers all had such beautiful and unique voices. After that, we took a little hike down to a bee farm. It was adorable; we all sat at little tables while ladies made us honey tea. It all would have been perfect except THERE WERE BEES SWARMING AROUND MY LIPS. It was kind of cool once someone told me that all of the bees had their stingers removed. The tea was made with one-third honey, two-thirds hot water, and then just a splash of lime. It was subLIME, haha, get it? We then went to see how local people made chocolate. I’m not going to go in-depth because I am from Hershey, PA and making chocolate was basically my entire third-grade curriculum. I’m just kidding (maybe). After that, it was time to face my biggest fear…..holding a massive python. I can’t describe to you how off it felt to have about ten pounds of pure muscles draped around your neck. The worst part was when it started to wrap its self around my leg… I only freaked out a *little* bit.
The snake was removed from my neck and we returned to our boat to travel to a different island to try local coconut candy.
The coconut candy was like a taffy. To make it, you had to shuck a coconut and then run it through various machines. After the coconuts, we took a little horse ride down to the traditional row boats and we took one of the best boat rides of my life. The inner islands are very peaceful and feel like they are in a different world than the mainland. Those were the main highlights of the day but lunch was good too and then on the bus ride home everyone immediately fell asleep again.
These culture-based days have really helped me understand that to successfully understand another culture, its less about getting out of your own personal comfort zone and more about trying to place yourself in someone else’s comfort zone who lives across the world, with a different life than yours. The best example to me is food. My comfort zone is typically getting something with chicken or beef, so getting out of my comfort zone would mean trying something like fish. Putting yourself in someone’s else’s comfort zone means that if they place a platter of fish in front of you, you’ll need to try the eye because that is something that they would normally eat. It’s our job as travelers to try to best experience authentic daily life. It’s not so much a change in actions as it is a change in thought process, and it’s one that has greatly helped me throughout this trip. Saying that something is “out of your comfort zone” feels really limiting to me and the change in thought process makes it easier for me to put myself out there. It was another stunning day and I am so amazed to think that just a few days ago I had not experienced any of the things that I have today. I am going to sign off now, I’ll see you all tomorrow!