Morning traffic in HCMC is an acrobatic dance between the cars and the motorcycles. If all the cars were, let’s say, red and all the mopeds were, for example, yellow, you would see a weaving of colored banners as the two streams moved across the city landscape. The cars are in general on one side of the road and the mopeds on the other except for turns and unchoreographed moves as they compete for common ground. It is very difficult to cross the street, even with stop and go walk lights, as those turning right or left fully believe they have the right of way so any pedestrians needs to get out of their path. We have all survived so far with only one more evening left to test our street-crossing savvy.
Once out of the city, we drive off National Highway 1 and onto much smaller roads to reach Cai Be and our boat for the night. The world around us has now changed to a tropical garden, with houses near the side of the road separated by trees of jackfruit, durian, coconuts, star apples and mangoes, with sometimes piles of watermelons nearby. The Mekong delta is indeed the fruit basket of Asia, fed by the waters of its mighty river. We understand the Mekong’s source is being threatened at this time by the upstream damming by China for its own use. Change is coming.
Our boat is one of the old dark teakwood varieties, with polished floors and a no-shoe policy, a large outdoor deck and indoor dining room. Following a wonderful dinner, moving along the dark quiet Mekong waters was beautiful and peaceful.
The morning brings a misty sunrise over the waters and a visit by smaller motor boat to the Can Tho morning market.
Old, life-scarred floating shops with living quarters, sellers of large wholesale baskets of fresh fruit, are anchored in a swathe of the town with small satellite boats used to shuttle merchandise to shore. Pineapples, watermelons, durians, tomatoes, shallots, garlic and onions sit in large pyramids on the larger boats waiting for buyers. We arrive around 8:30 am and already it looks like a lot of commerce has occurred.
We take a walk on shore into the solid earth-bound market, seeing piles of vegetable as well as fresh killed meat and fish (I saw a large fish being poured onto a slab and the shop owner hitting it over a head so it would stop thrashing about). And then the small stalls of new clothes and household items, always interesting to view in another culture.
I bought some Tea New Years decorations, this year featuring a rat, the animal of the year, and as I carried my cardboard purchase through the market, people gave me smiles and waves and seemed to enjoy that I was participating in their holiday.
We take a walk along a waterway into a local farming area, a small slice of rural life, small homes with large gardens. Tea at a wealthy farmers home where we sample wonderful tropical fruits right off the nearby trees. A bit of paradise.
Our dinner cruise views the new skyline of HCMC — the change since Charles and I were first here in 1970 is more than a change of 50 years but a move from a country struggling to survive to one which has assumed all the decor of a modern world, with its benefits and disadvantages.
We leave today this country of great contrast between the rural poor and the upscale lifestyle of urban life, here like everywhere. Beautiful people with a rich heritage and a hopeful future.