Friday, February 27, 2009

Field Visit to Ninh Thuan Province




All I have to say is "wow". I just spent a week travelling around South-Central Vietnam for work, and I am incredibly impressed with the beauty and tranquility of the place. The reason for the trip was to assess the potential and readiness of the communities to jump starting a Community-Based Eco-Tourism project around a National Park. As well, I had the opportunity to spend some time in a project site where the organisation has resource management projects, and wishes to develop some eco-tourism activities.


More accurately, I travelled around these amazing fishing communities, ate delicious food, toured parks, coral reefs, pagodas, lounged out on the beach eating coconuts and iced coffee, and got a great tan. And this, all-expenses paid. Things were off to a good start when I arrived on a beach-front resort complete with my own beach-side bungalow. I spend a couple nights in there with four cockroaches (may they rest in peace) and three gecko's (the first of whom I named Jimmy). The first day the other Canadian and Australian foreigners and I had the whole day free. We spent the afternoon laying on an abandoned beach strewn with straw basket-boats (and the occasional garbage bag), drinking beer while swimming near the shore. It was great to finally get to know them, as they don't work in the same department as i do and never join the rest of us for lunch. Unfortunately, they left the next day as I continued on the trip (and this was their last week at MCD).


The National Park was amazing. It's the only dry tropical ecosystem in Vietnam. Giant rocky hills jutted with rounded and well-worn behemoths stacked on top of each other meet the ocean in a pristine-white sweeping beach. The communities in the park were amazing examples of how i imagine a Vietnamese fishing village. Bright blue and red boats swaying on the water in a bay surrounded by hills filled with cacti and evergreen-tropical plants. The village themselves were amazingly colourful, the bright houses set on narrowish streets that had only white sand as a surface. People were eager to smile at me (and stare), but not as eager as the kids were to giggle and yell "hello" to me. As if word spread as quickly as an ice-cream truck's jingle, kids flocked to the beach-front road where I had decided to take a rest on the sea-wall (I was incredibly sweaty, feeling sunburnt and had been hiking the whole day). They surrounded me on all sides and began using all five words they knew in English: hello what is your name!? I don't think they've ever seen a foreigner in the flesh before.


On top of the hill from the fishing village, was another village but this time with an ethnic minority village. It seemed like children outnumbered adults 10-fold, and this village was noticeably poorer than the fishing village below. Many houses were made of mud and straw and the houses were much smaller. We hiked our way through the village passing by groups of children cutting medicinal plants, chickens running wildly among the houses and pigs lazily wobbling about, passing through cow pastures until finally reaching a rather large stream. There were many children just hanging about on the rocks, towards the part where the stream takes a sharp jump, winding its way vertically through a maze of giant giants until forming a waterfall. One of the kids took a liking to me. He would shake my hand and give me a thumbs-up. He would hold my hand and help me jump from rock to rock. I taught him how to take a photo with my digital camera. They didn't speak Vietnamese in this community, and so they limited language I had learned didn't take me very far. He didn't understand that I had been asking him his name.

I see this post is getting long, so the second part of this trip will have to be another post. So stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Gratuitous Video Scene #2: Van Hung Commune

Until my keyboard is fixed, this will give you a taste of my recent trip to Khanh Hoa and Ninh Thuan Provinces in the south of Vietnam.


video

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Scoring Cheap Food #1

I have all these ideas for 'blog series', but have a difficult time going through with them. Hence the large amount of posts with a "#1" at the end...

But here's one that can be easy to keep up with! One reason why I came to Vietnam was because the cheap cheap food! I spent hours and hours in Montreal researching all the types of street food, and trying to figure out which ones were vegetarian. This one factored prominently on the list of 'must finds' and I now found it:


I apologise for the dark photo, I hate flash and this is in a rather dark market. It is called Bùn Dâu. It's basically a cake of rice noodles cut up with pieces of fried tofu. Usually it's dipped in fish sauce, but the nice lady who thought I was Russian made a small bowl of salt and lime juice to dip it in. It was really delicious, but the overpowering smell of my stall neighbour's shrimp sauce (a combination of baby-diaper and damp feet newly exposed to air after 25 hours of shoe-wearing) was hindering my ability to fully enjoy its consumption.

Important part is it only cost 10,000 Dong, about 58¢ USD!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Revelation # 1: Work can be fun


I've now realised work can be fun, even if you're not getting paid for it.

I have to say I am thoroughly enjoying working at this organisation.
But let me clarify: I am not doing anything like partying, chatting all the time, drinking, or going to karaoke. At least not anymore (those were more for the weeks preceding and following Tet), that is not why I am enjoying work now.

I think one of the main reasons I am enjoying it is because I feel valued. The directors of the organisation as well as my co-workers feel that they can benefit from something I can offer (whatever the hell that may be), and I feel like I have a lot to learn from them. I think this mutually-benefiting situation motivates me, and helps me enjoy whatever work I do.

Next week they will be sending me on an all-expenses trip to the south of Vietnam in the surrounding areas of Nha Trang. For seven days I will be busily visiting communities, a national park, participating in workshops as well as relaxing on some of the best beaches of Southeast Asia. That could also be why I enjoy this job. But really, they are investing in me because they believe I can offer them something in return (in the form of a long and thorough report). This in turn motivates me to try my best to prove that I am a valuable investment.

They are learning a lot from me, too. After spending about 10 minutes trying to find a lemon tea in the cupboard but only finding lime tea, I taught them about the difference between lemon and limes. It turns out there is no distinction between these two fruits in Vietnamese.

In the spirit of learning, I have been reading a lot about Non-Violent Communication. I'm interested in learning more about this type of communication. I think that when I communicate, I often express the root of my feelings, but still phrase it in a way where I am blaming the other person for making me feel that way. And because of this, the person I am communicating with forms a defensive block where we can't come to a solution.

So cheers to feeling good about life and wanting happiness for all!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Sustainability Advisor


I now have an official position at work. I will be the Sustainability Advisor.

My role will mainly be to evaluate the project sites of the organisation where they have set up Community-Based Eco-Tourism (CBET) to ensure that they are up to standard and that they incorporate sustainable practices. The reason why these coastal communities were selected was because of the presence of ecologically sensitive areas, but there us a need to 'close the loop' to make sure that these projects really are ecologically sound.

In addition to this, I'll be supporting the Communications Department in producing marketing materials and organising discussions surrounding climate change and sustainable livelihoods, the subjects they chose for this year.

Everything seems to be going smoothly here in Vietnam. I've finally bought a bike, registered for Vietnamese courses, bought some cheap clothes for work, and moved a desk into my otherwise unspectacular furnished bedroom, and had the landlord fix my bed which actually had a broken support. Although the brakes on my bike broke, my cellphone fizzed, and my laptop sometimes does not type....

More to come in the coming days, as now that I have a desk, my ass won't hurt so much from sitting on my broken bed.

I somehow agreed to join my Australian roommate in her jogging expedition around Hoan Kiem Lake. I'm not sure how I will accomplish that at 6:30 am. Wish me luck.

I now have an official position at work. I will be the Sustainability Advisor.

My role will mainly be to evaluate the project sites of the organisation where they have set up Community-Based Eco-Tourism (CBET) to ensure that they are up to standard and that they incorporate sustainable practices. The reason why these coastal communities were selected was because of the presence of ecologically sensitive areas, but there us a need to 'close the loop' to make sure that these projects really are ecologically sound.

In addition to this, I'll be supporting the Communications Department in producing marketing materials and organising discussions surrounding climate change and sustainable livlihoods, the subjects they chose for this year.

Everything seems to be going smoothly here in Vietnam. I've finally bought a bike, registered for Vietnamese courses, bought some cheap clothes for work, and moved a desk into my otherwise unspectacularly furnished bedroom, and had the landlord fix my bed which actually had a broken support. Although the brakes on my bike broke, my cellphone fizzed, and my laptop sometimes does not type....

More to come in the coming days, as now that I have a desk, my ass won't hurt so much from sitting on my broken bed.

I somehow agreed to join my Australian roommate in her jogging expedition around Hoan Kiem Lake. I'm not sure how I will accomplish that at 6:30 am. Wish me luck.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Halong Bay

My keyboard at home doesn't work anymore and neither does my cellphone. I blame humidity. But here's a short post done at work...
We paid about 50$ USD and it included a cave-tour, kayaking, 4 meals, and an overnight stay in a cabin on the boat with a private bathroom.



A couple friends, I'll call them Dele and Max, decided last minute to visit Halong Bay. Dele is leaving to go back to her home country, and she hadn't ever been to this UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site.









This is the Halong team. Because we were vegetarian, we were completely isolated from the other 10 people on the boat. They had to sit at the same table, but we were always demanded to sit at the vegetarian table! I think there was a sale on veggie-shrimp because all four meals had veggie-shrimp in it!




































There were quite few older dutch people on the boat. Before kayaking the guide told us he was taking them somewhere else for another activity. He actually called them "old people."
We never saw them again.




























We went "cave exploring," which means walking around a built path in this giant cave that's lit up like the castle at Disney World.











Dele and I found this amazing isolated beach with a shrine on it. We immediately kayaked towards it, took off our clothes (we were wearing bathing suits underneath) and dived into the cold water. I thought the beach made of seashells was so beautiful until I realised that stinging sensation on my feet wasn't warmth but many many small cuts.





While we were at the abandoned beach I thought "wow, I wish I could have a cigarette right now". When I walked into the shrine, there were 5 cigarettes and a book of matches siting on the alter. Taking this as a gift from Buddha, I prayed for a minute to thank whoever had offered those cigarettes (and gave a quick glance at the dragonfruit that had also been offered) and ran off with a lit cigarette in tow.








Among the larger tour boats, these tiny boats contain cute wrinkly Vietnamese ladies selling hand-made traditional goods like Oreos, Choco-Pies, Ritz Crackers and Marlboro Lights.
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