Sitting atop the roof of the Bong Sen Hotel in District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam I could not help to look out over the city I never thought I would see and contemplate over everything I had seen in the previous 4 weeks. People, places, foods, and lifestyles that I had only heard about, but had now seen. At our first stop at the 7 Eleven on our way to JHL from the airport after arriving in Thailand I remember thinking wow I dont know what I have gotten myself into, only to wake up the next morning and see an amazing Buddhist temple and Buddah Mountain. I have been blown away every single day of the past 4 weeks, we have not had a dull moment yet! I cannot pick out a favorite day, or place, or event because they have all been once in a lifetime. We have traveled by every means possible, by big plane, little plane, big boat, little boat, fast boat, slow boat, bus, tuk tuk, elephant, taxi, train, cable car, cyclotour, golf cart, but most of all by FOOT! It has been an experience I will never forget! Just to name a few, we have seen Hellfire Pass, Phi Phi Island, The Emerald Buddah, Bangkok, and Ho Chi Minh City. We have seen ancient history with our own eyes as well as seen the saddness of war history here in Vietnam. Most of all, for me, I have been surprised and captivated by the kindness and the smiles of the Asian people, they have been by far the most welcoming and open-hearted people I have ever witnessed. To top it all off, I have been blessed with being on this trip with 6 other amazing students whom I will remain friends with for a lifetime, and one genius of a professor that has made seeing the once thought impossible, possible!
Coming to Vietnam I had heard that eating other different types of animals were an option. This was something that caught my attention, after listening to the options of what we were opened too, cobra was the more exotic yet subtle choice. Five of us students went to the restaurant not really knowing what to expect. We were sat in more of a VIP section, upstairs in a private room. The hospitality of the restaurant was very nice, the waiters and waitresses worked with us very well on what we were wanting. We then picked out what we wanted to try and how we wanted it cooked, thinking that was all we had to do the next thing we know the waiter brings in the cobra itself . I started to think maybe he was just showing us the size or making sure that’s what we were wanting. Soon after, another waiter walks in with a stool, it then hit me that they were going to kill this snake in front of us, and sure enough that’s what he did. But the show was still not over, we we’re debating on who was going to eat the heart and liver of the cobra, that personally wasn’t in my agenda to do but two of the other students were happy to do so. We were able to watch him cut out the heart and liver and drop then into a glass to drink. Then, he let the blood poor into bottle which was offered for us to try and drink. After the show they took the snake down to cook for us and we were left with this bottle of cobra blood for all of us to try. We all went there with the goal to not back out and this was a once in a life time experience so we all tried the cobra blood, and it isn’t too far from what you would expect it to taste like. Some of us enjoyed it, but for me, I can say I could tolerate it. They brought out the cobra once it was ready and we got it cooked two different ways, it was surprisingly good, and we did finish it. Even though the cobra was enjoyed by me and my fellow classmates, I will probably not ever try cobra blood again, but I am glad that I did do it. Like I said before, this was a once in a life time experience.
The Rubber Plantation was an unexpected experience for me. Before the trip I had no clue where rubber came from and where to get it from. After visiting a plantation you realize this process of making rubber isn’t as easy as you think. My first surprise was that rubber came from trees! I didn’t have a preexisting thought of where rubber came from, but I did not think it was from trees. My second surprise was that extracting the rubber was very labor intensive. Workers had to cut hundreds of trees a day, set up cups to collect the rubber, and then come back two hours later to collect the cups and bring the cups to the next step of the process. Another challenge for the workings in the step is that they have to collect the rubber during the night because the rubber flows better in cooler temperatures. This makes the workers change up their sleep schedule and become night owls. The next step of the process includes a little bit of waiting for the rubber to change its Ph levels in a special container. After resting for a few hours it is then ran through a roller which flattens out and is then hung to dry. The rolling and the hanging of the rubber are also done by hand. After hanging to dry it is then put into a heating system to help make the rubber more durable. The last process includes the separating of the good and bad rubber so they can sell them to different people. Scraps are sold for a much smaller amount than the good rubber but they still use it wisely. That is the process of making rubber in order to ship it out to buyers. My favorite part of this experience was the ability to network with the owner of the Rubber Plantation. He really was a very generous and humble person. He made the experience so much better for me and I feel that he will be an friends for a long time.
For Americans, the name Vietnam invariably conjures up images of one of the most horrific chapters in the history of the U.S. military. We have heard the stories of the vets who returned with post-traumatic stress disorder, without the use of limbs, and oftentimes, in bodybags. The least patriotic among Americans would hope our side is always aligned with the side of morality. In visiting the War Memorial Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, this harsh fact was presented: the line between right and wrong isn’t always clear. War is tragic, and has been since man first learned he could serve his interests through force. This was never more clear to me than when I saw the displays of photographs and re-creations depicting treatment of prisoners during the war. On both sides, there were rules broken, both in violation of any moral code, as well as international law. We were able to witness the collateral damage caused by the American military’s use of Agent Orange. I couldn’t help but wonder if any of the locals I had seen walking the streets with a missing limb or noticeable physical impairment were veterans of the side I hadn’t heard about as much. We find ourselves today in a blossoming trade partnership with the Vietnamese people, yet haunted by a mutual history that we cannot soon forget, and nor should we. Relationships can recover, between people and entire regions. The key to prevention of the same tragedies are places like the War Memorial Museum. To know the past and whether or not the methods once used were successful is to know which ways can work in the future, and to know how to make this world better and better by never being fully satisfied with the status quo. To never stop improving.
MahaNakhon – a visionary new 77-story high-rise complex located on a 3.6 acre site in the heart of Bangkok’s Central Business District. The design for MahaNakhon dismantles the typical tower and podium typology to render not a tower in isolation but instead a skyscraper that melds with the city by gradually ‘dissolving’ the mass as it moves vertically between ground and sky. The Mahanakohn’s estimated date of completion is 2015 and it will be Bangkok tallest building.
So far, so amazing! Rio Berriochoa reporting to you from semester in Asia 2012. We are coming upon the third week and from what I have experienced culturally, spiritually, mentally is unlike anything I could’ve expected. In the past two weeks we have seen historical sites such as the bridge over the River Kwai, Hell Fire Pass, and area’s effected by the 2004 tsunami. We’ve also been introduced to cultural influences such as the Golden Pagoda, the influence of Buddhism on the Thai culture and their traditional values that are used every day.
The bridge over the River Kwai and Hell Fire Pass share the same history. Going to these palaces and hearing the stories of how they came to be was enlightening, but very sad to hear of all the lives lost in order to accomplish them. Although, it was very impressive to see how these structures were built by only men and no machinery.
Culturally, Thailand is much more humble and appreciative than America. Since I have been here it has been a blessing to hear of the Buddhist culture and see how it influences all the people around it. People are always smiling and willing to help a foreigner in need without asking for anything in return and that is just because they know it is right. This is the majorities mentality in Thailand.
With regards to sustainable development, we recently ventured to an elephant trek resort. We were split into groups and rode elephants by twos. What was so interesting about this was that the land this resort was located on was not changed at all from what the elephants would be used to living on, and the people who cared for the elephants adapted themselves to live how the elephants would be comfortable. While doing this they have created a tourist attraction, brought money into the community, supplied jobs, and could have very well saved as many as a hundred elephants lives. It was a delight to see such happy and smart creatures.
More to be discovered in the near future, until then, good day.