Vietnam

The rooster’s crow sounded in my ears the first morning I woke in Vietnam. 6:28/29AM. It reverberated on like an alarm with an erred snooze button. As if it came from the room opposite of ours; the sound coming from a smart device rather than a real rooster I didn’t get to spot from my room’s window view. In the subsequent mornings when I assumed I could rise to these sounds that are finely-tuned so naturally at 6:30 dawn time, the rooster’s crow sounded at irregular intervals in the morning and different times of the day. Research has it that a number of factors contribute to this – beside their internal body clocks and the presence of light in the surroundings, the crowing we regard to be a mere wake-up call serves a secret code among the species themselves, something to do with social hierarchy.

I wouldn’t go into the details of the daily itinerary. I haven’t had many pictures taken during this trip, for almost every trip I’ve been on. Pictures, I use them from Google to bring the descriptives across. I could talk and go on about stuff related to the trip in no chronological order with headings like the ones below:

Scooter-filled roads
The roads of Vietnam is an eye-opener. There’re alot of honking, the same sort of honking I hear in Singapore roads day in and out. Cars over there have their honks by the side of the steering wheel, unlike the conventional ones at the center of the wheel. My dad is one that honks, swears and gestures alot when he’s driving, being his passenger on most days, these days. Road rage is not uncommon in Singapore. Honks don’t sound exceptionally polite still in Vietnam but minus the swearing, staring and vulgar gestures, it is a pleasant ride in the point of view as a passenger on their roads. Dad and I can both agree that people on the roads of Vietnam are pretty nonchalant (or appear so) about honking another driver. The consenting signs drivers use to signal one vehicle to pass the other are rather subtle. No elaborated nodding, gestures or shouting.

The situation on roads is as real as when you google the images for the roads in Vietnam. Scooters mostly ride and stop in a flock to allow bigger vehicles to pass. There’re barely arrow markings on the roads. I think it gets tricky for drivers when they reach the point of a roundabout. There’re one or two roundabouts near the place I stayed at. Crossing from one side to the roundabout, then to the other side of the road sends shivers down all of our spines. Before I could silently rejoice that there are no accidents I’ve witnessed on the roads in the vicinity despite the lack of road laws and traffic police interference, a car or a couple of scooters could swerve in and halt right next to you without notice to remind you to think twice about what you’re thinking.

Scooter drivers come from all walks of life; the suited and stilettos, college students, mobile hawkers, including the ones who has one hand gripping onto their foldable tent and the other maneuvering the vehicle on the road, super moms with a baby slung infront of them and even families (of 4 members on the scooter).

Vietnamese food
A family friend brought us to have the Balut, a half-fertilized duck egg. I wouldn’t have tried if I had seen the embryo beneath the shell. I didn’t think I would have dared to sink my teeth and swallow down the developing brain and the soft beak of the duckling. My family friend had 4 of those. She placed the egg on a teacup and then use a metal teaspoon to crack open the top part of the shell. The yolk part of the egg doesn’t taste as chalky as it appears to and very much like a 3/4-boiled egg. It’s half-yolk and half-white. There are innards, feathers and possibly the veins of the embryo. Innards aren’t new to most of us so it was OK to give it a try. The feathers, we spat them out like a fish scale/bone.

Banh Mi sandwich is my favorite. I never loved sour, as well as the crunch of vegetables this much on a tough baguette until I had this. It cost about SGD 1.20 each. Twice I got it, I just munched into it without taking special notice to the filling of the sandwich. They buttered the insides with either mayonnaise or margarine. The sour tasted like jalapenos but I’m not certain about the vegetables lined inside the baguette. I was only told that the meat filling was pork belly and Vietnamese luncheon meat. Vietnamese luncheon meat looked like cheese when they served it on plate and tasted like a saltier version of ham and sausages.

There is the Pho Bo (furr bah) too, beef noodles. Many soup dishes come with a dish of uncooked vegetables which tasted like either parsley, coriander or basil leaves, and beansprouts. Ho Tieu Nam Vang is another noodle dish we tried. It’s like the Bak Chor Mee, minced meat noodles, they have it here. Both dishes have similar taste  too. My family friend told us it was a Cambodian dish. But it’s difficult to tell its origin, like Bak Chor Mee – to distinguish whether it’s a Chinese, Malaysian or Singaporean dish. Those were the significant noodle dishes I remembered. The other interesting observations were “dripping coffee”, multicolored glutinous rice and the use of coconut milk in seafood like prawns and escargots and meat dishes like curry, which made them taste delectable in an unusual way like desserts.

Afterthoughts
I wouldn’t be able to write about the people and their culture since I haven’t had the opportunity to talk to many of them or even observe them at a close distance for the past few days. I had spent alot of time with my extended family and noticed (and maybe came to understand) the sides of them I don’t see in occasional family gatherings and in small talk conversations we’ve had over at the dining table. Perhaps I had learnt abit about travel etiquette as well.

Sidetracked into liberating experiences
Couple of posts earlier, I shared a quote about travel from a novel I read, tells of travel being an liberating experience. Liberating has little to do with this trip to Vietnam. I had just wanted to write about liberating experiences in general. An experience like that is like the last roller coaster ride I went for or the piercing I’ve gotten on impulse one day. Because the term is subjective to every other individual, liberating are the experiences I believe that any one of them should turn out to be a turning point in life. Such experiences are the ones you wouldn’t like to think so much about it; most of the time, they’re fearful encounters so you want to forget yourself and then do it in that instant. Although it may seem most right to intently consider the experience, the ironic actuality is that the more sense we use to screen the experience, the more hesitant we become.

I like the feeling of feeling like a different person every time I return from a trip and wistfully hoping for the feeling’s permanence. I suppose everybody loves a good vacation – a temporary escape from home, to evade from the etched impressions everybody else have of you back home and for most of us, perhaps to put a hold to the responsibilities we have back home.

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