Thursday, June 18, 2009

Fun on the Mekong – and important things we learned today:

From Pam and the crew -

-If you Middle School students at USM ever think you have it bad, listen to this: in Vietnam, Middle School students go to school every day of the week! They go from 6:30 am to 9:00 pm every day but Sunday. Their parents bring them home from school each day for lunch and for dinner. Then they are up until midnight studying. On Sundays they go to school from 7am to 11am. They take 18 different courses. Parents have to pay for their children’s schooling, hence many children do not go to school. 40,000 kids in Ho Chi Minh City dropped out last year because their parents couldn’t afford to send them.

-You must pay cash for everything – there is no credit here. You can also use gold for cash. American dollars are taken everywhere. There are no mortgages or loans of any kind. If you don’t have the money to pay for something, you don’t buy it!

-The females in our group liked this fact: if you have a car accident there is a hierarchy of protocol as to who has to pay for the damages (no matter who is at fault): first, if there’s a woman involved, she never pays. Second, the richer of the two people involved pays. Third, the younger of the two people pays.

-Today we actually “crossed the Mekong!” It is a very muddy and polluted river. There are hundreds of boats on it and palm trees, thatched huts and rickety houses line its banks. It would be a beautiful site if it were a cleaner river. It was so dirty that we made sure that we turned away from the spray from the waves so that no water would go into our mouths.

-For lunch we ate in a thatched roof open-air restaurant on the Mekong. We ate elephant ear fish spring rolls in rice paper, seafood fried rice, prawn dipped in vinegar sauce, pasta soup, pork and vegetable crepes, fried sweet rice papers, and jasmine tea. An hour later we were all hungry again – really! Before the boat ride back, our boat captain hacked off the tops of coconuts with a machete, stuck a straw into a small hole in the coconut, and handed each of us one – refreshing!

-We visited a snake farm, which really should be called an animal research center. Snakes are raised to produce anti-venom and for their skin to be made into purses, belts, shoes, etc. Check out our pictures – Mrs. E really loved holding the python!

-Finally, it is very unnerving to see the Communist flag flying and Vietnamese soldiers guarding the military bases, which seem to be everywhere. Not sure how we were chosen, but thank God we were born in America.


  1. Sounds like a great expereince thus far. I am thinking a possible curriculum connection here between pollution in the Mekong and our service learning project dealing with the river clean up and the Milwaukee river. I am not sure if I would be brave enough to hold a python, so kudos to "Mrs. E." The lunch sounded really good actually, and I did not know much about the Vietnamese education system, so it is really fun to learn something new from your blog posts and travels. Know that we're thinking of you all here in Milwaukee!

    Will & Family

  2. -Finally, it is very unnerving to see the Communist flag flying and Vietnamese soldiers guarding the military bases, which seem to be everywhere. Not sure how we were chosen, but thank God we were born in America.

    I don't understand this paragraph. Someone please explain. Todd

  3. I am not sure exactly what it means, but there almost everything I see makes me appreciate what Americans have, me included. That is not to say what we have is what everyone should have. The people in Vietnam that I have seen have a lot, but not by American standards. This is from Can Tho where I couldn't sleep too late last night so at 5:00 AM I went for a walk looking for some coffee. If found a cafe-no English spoken there. Just a lot of looks and smiles. I tried to pay for an esspresso that I finally managed to get, but they did not understand what my 20 dollar bill was. Then, some kindly gentleman in the cafe offered to buy it from me for 400,000 dong. Which I did and then paid 35,000 dong for my espresso. I also got some pictures of the people in the cafe. The pictures are worth more than the coffee!

  4. Another thing-I have some pictures, but not on flikr. Here is the link:

    I am not able to put pictures on flikr for some reason. I guess it doesn't like my mac.

    What a trip. My body is still on standard time but by the time we leave I will probably be adjusted.

    You know how students at USM will often say thanks when handing out a test or a paper? The people here are that polite and kind, at least that is my impression. I wish I knew more of their language so I could express my appreciation to them.



  5. Hello, everyone! I'm just overcome by the differences in where we are and what we are doing right now. I have my family in a resort in Disney World. No snakes. No polluted rivers. No ghastly images that I can't even bear to duplicate by photographing. No dog tags of American soldiers. Chuck, I applaud your ability to leave the museum when you saw them. I imagine that was very difficult; I too would have wanted to buy them all and bring them home.

    It sounds like you are all enjoying your adventures! Travel safely!

  6. pam-what do the teachers think about working 7 days?
    Todd-what i get from that paragraph is that we take for granted the privileges and freedom we have in our country. communist or not, i'm thankful that i don't have to make the hard choices that the rest of the world struggles with every day.

  7. I agree that we take our privileges and freedom for granted, even if we compare ourselves to other western countries. Both my parents were immigrants and they came to the USA for better opportunities. I suppose they chose for me, for themselves.

    I remember growing up fearing communist countries like the USSR, Cuba and Vietnam. I was also afraid of images of the Shah of Iran,the hostage crisis. I think you have an incredible opportunity to experience the other side of the war in Vietnam and to be able to incorporate that into your teaching...perhaps our students can develop perspective when presented with current images of war and the people of war.

    On the lighter side, it looks like you are all having an amazing cultural immersion. I would have panicked entering one of those tunnels! I almost feel that I am right there with you because of the pictures and details-really enjoying your blog!