Wednesday, January 2, 2013

I'm in Vietnam. No, Seriously.

I am in another country world.
It looks like a relic of days gone by,
but it was probably used earlier today.
Can Tho teems with juxtapositions of past and present. Herds of brand-new Honda and Yamaha scooters substitute for the bicycles of not-so-old travel pictures -- yet entire families still ride on the same two wheels, at the same time. Neon lights line the buildings along the riverfront, but the power lines just outside the city are strung along bamboo poles. Saffron-robed monks ride on scooters and use mobile phones.

It seems everything is in constant movement -- the river, the streets. Yet by about ten o'clock, everything unwinds to a quiet calm. As morning arrives, boats start converging en route to the floating market and people use the park across the street to exercise and do Tai Chi.


Pickled snake anyone?
Did I sit too close to the TV? Did I get sucked into a National Geographic travel special? What on earth is going on here?! (And why am I having so much trouble uploading photos into my blog posts?)

(I spent the first full day here at Can Tho General Hospital helping to do patient intake prior to the surgeons' assessments. The hospital experience deserves posts of its own, so I'll do those separately.)

Given that our second day here was January 1 and the hospital was closed, we took the opportunity to rent vans and explore some of the nearby(ish) "points of interest."

Our first stop was the "snake market." I no longer have to imagine what the inside of a large snake looks like. The image is quite clear and brings up a whole new mental picture when you see snake on the menu at dinner. Strangely, I have less inclination to want to taste it now that I've looked into the abyss of a serpent's spinal column.

Main building of the ceramic temple,
covered entirely in mosaic.
The market itself is more like a small town. The market stalls are really the front porches of the shopkeepers' homes and nearly all are the same size, maybe 10 feet wide. The stalls are neatly arranged and generally packed wall to wall with whatever goods they're selling, whether fruit, vegetables, meat, clothing, or any number of other things. All of it very inexpensive -- from our perspective.

Our next stop was the "ceramic temple," the name for which becomes quite obvious once you arrive. The temples are not single buildings, but small compounds of monastery buildings. The prayer and teaching buildings at the ceramic temple are covered in mosaic patterns and images, inside and out. It's quite beautiful. The monks are building a new structure. Some were working on the structure itself while others were high on bamboo scaffolding applying tiny tiles to the spires. The other buildings, including the sleeping areas for the monks and orphan children also living there, are far more humble with corrugated tin roofs.

Temple spire in progress.

Our third stop was the "bat temple." Just beyond the main buildings in a grove of very tall trees you can look up and see bats as big as cats. Once you see them, you realize they're everywhere. They're not a melodic bunch by any means and not averse to making it rain fertilizer. I managed to avoid the blessing, but a few in our group were not as fortunate. Or were they more fortunate? Time may tell.

Bats the size of cats.

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