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  • Day54

    Walking through Long Khanh A

    April 10, 2018 in Vietnam ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    Yesterday we crossed the border into Vietnam. Today, we went on a walk through a “wet” market (which is a produce market in which live fish are sold) and went to a monastery where a goddess is worshiped. Even stepping off the boat into this small town had a different vibe than in Cambodia — more people, more motor scooters and more prosperous.

    Today we visited Long Khanh A, a small village on a tributary of the Mekong River. To get from our boat to the village, we road in a sampan. (We learned that traditional sampans are much smaller than the one we took, which was large enough to carry all of the passengers on our ship.) Our cruise company — Avalon — really prides itself on using as many means of transportation as possible. The village is on the far edge of one of the islands. The total population of the island is approximately 20,000 people, but the village that we visited in quite traditional and probably has about 1000 inhabitants. Once I again, I was struck by the differences from the villages we saw in Cambodia. In Cambodia, the houses were made of wood and straw, the roads were unpaved, and there was no running water. In this small village in Vietnam, the roads are paved with cement, the houses are made of bricks and cement and are substantially larger than those in Cambodia, and there is running water. And, as you look into the houses while you are walking around, you spy television sets in lots of the houses - although that is often the only modern item in the house.

    Long Khanh A is known for two features. First, there is a order of nuns that live in the village. This is pretty unusual, as nuns are relatively rare in Vietnam (in contrast to South Korea, which there are apparently quite a few nuns). A few of the nuns live together, full time, in a house in the center of the village. They are joined by other women from the village who are referred to as nuns, although they still have families and actually live at home. We had a chance to talk with one of the nuns, who told us that she joined so that she could meditate. We were surprised to hear that the nuns don’t really engage in teaching, although there are books that they do lend to members of the community.

    The second notable feature of the village is a scarf factory. But, to say that it is a factory suggests that it is a large operation. Not so. It has single manual loom, and about 5 electric looms. Around the village you can see the thread that is being cleaned and then dyed for use in the scarves. We were told that a single person, weaving all days, can make about 6 scarves ... tough way to make a living.

    We also had a chance to meet, and chat with, a man who had been a Vietcong soldier. I had thought (erroneously) that the term Vietcong referred to anyone who was fighting on the side of the communists/North Vietnam. Actually, the term specifically refers to those men and women in South Vietnam who were opposed to the “puppet government” that was supported by America, and were fighting on the same side as the North Vietnamese Army. The Vietcong received supplies and reinforcements from the north, primarily with with people and resources being moved along the Ho Chi Minh trail. This gentleman was trained as a medic. He not only fought during the “American” war, but was then called back to fight with the North Vietnamese soldiers who were sent to help liberate Cambodia from the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot. (If the Vietnamese had not intervened in the genocide in Cambodia, it is hard to say how long it would have taken to defeat the Khmer Rouge.). The former “freedom fighter” told us that he was injured in the war, and raised his shirt to show us his battle scars — a piece of shrapnel still sits near his lung. He also told us that he does not blame the Americans for the war, but blames the American government. He explained that he knows that many Americans opposed the war and that there were lots of protests, which is the reason that the US finally left Vietnam. I suspect that this is a very diplomatic explanation, but it certainly is the same thing that we’ve heard throughout our travels. Must be the Buddhist influence, as it is also pretty widely acknowledged that if the US hadn’t intervened, the war would have turned out the exact same way, but it would have taken 2 years, rather than 20, and a lot fewer people would have died.

    As we strolled through the village, people were extraordinarily friendly — waiving, saying hello, and smiling at us. One pair of sisters — ages 79 and 82 — asked our guide where we were from, and told us about themselves. And, a group of women sitting on their stoop asked our guide where he was from, as they interpreted his western dress and English skills as meaning that he was not from Vietnam, which he found quite amusing. Just goes to show, wherever you go, people are curious about each other.
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