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Ben Tre, Tien Tuy and Can Tho
Letter #4: March 18, 2002
by Beth Buffam

Mekong Sunset.
Susnet on the Mekong.

Dear Friends,

Well, I started this last lap of the Mekong -- Ben Tre, Tien Thuy, and Can Tho -- with the hope of learning how to make my way around using public transportation, without doing anything too foolish. The word "fool" has come to my mind several times though in the past days, as in "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread". But I have been reading (the English version) of a Vietnamese classic: The tale of Kieu. It's about a woman who expected the best of people, and more often than not ran into trouble from it, but yet ended up quite ok. I hope that will be true of me (the last part that is).

First stop was the river town of Ben Tre, known locally as City of Heroes as many Viet Cong were secretly in the area during the war. So also was Steve Spangler, and my first job, silly and small as it may seem, was to give some soccer balls from Steve to some soccer team in Ben Tre. I started out with backpack and bottle of water, determined to get to the Sai Gon Mien Tay bus station without using a cyclo or honda man. There's a local bus going to the station, but I got the wrong directions, and -- followed by frustrated cylco drivers who wondered what this foolish Yankee was trying to do -- padded around for a while before finding the proper "bus"-- a xe lam -- a small open cute little vehicle. It started off as I was trying to take a photo of it, but as people in it were friendly, I later got a good photo of them.

Got to Mien Tay where a hundred people waved me (and other travellers too I noticed) to the ticket counter and then the bus. Where we waited until every seat was filled (a little girl entertained me while I waited), then headed for Ben Tre. Thank goodness there was no rock music.

During the trip, we had to get off when crossing the Mekong at My Tho and buy a ticket. I followed a young man, who, it turned out, knew a bit of English, and was kind enough not to ask me: Howoldareyou? areyoumarried? Howoldisyourson? Well, he ended up saying if we stopped off at his friend's place, he could get a motorbike and take me around Ben Tre. Being innately a child of the 60's, I agreed, and after a coconut drink, we set our goal on finding the soccer field.

Well, to make a long story short, a team was playing in the soccer field, we talked to the coaches (AFTER the game, Kevin), gave them the balls, and got some marvelous photos for Steve.

The next goal was Tien Thuy, a place not in the Lonely Planet, with a phone # of someone else. This was the home of the aunt of my Vietnamese Amerasian son Tan. We did find it, in the middle of a wonderful banana/coconut forest that had so enthralled me the last time I was here. Unfortunately, Hoa, the aunt, has TB, so I didn't stay long. But long enough to eat. I don't quite understand how it's done... I was in this small thatched roof hut with no food in it. Then I saw that a chicken had just been killed (not the best time to point out that I was a vegetarian, eh?). They told me to take a nap, and when I woke up less than an hour later there was a FEAST on the table -- chicken and shrimp and TWO kinds of beautifully presented fish and rice soup and herbs. With mangos for dessert! All in one hour! [Bong and Ellen -- the husband must have been happy...!]

Finally, I wanted to go to Can Tho, river home town of my Vietnamese teacher Hoa. Getting there was done as follows: I thought it would be simplest to go by my host's Honda to Ben Tre, then to Can Tho. The map showed that the two towns were close. But in Ben Tre it appeared that you can't get there from here. Gotta qua pha-- cross by ferry, at My Tho. So Tan's brother took me back toward Ho Chi Minh City to My Tho, then to another ferry crossing at My Thuan, then we sat down for what I thought was a little rest at a cafe by the side of the road. I had just ordered my cafe sua, when this mini-van, packed to the gills with humanity, was waved down, and -- without cafe sua, but with non-la (Vietnamese hat) and heavy backpack and instructions: ba chuc thoi! (30 thousand only -- $2) -- I was squeezed into a seat. Your knees must go either up or down. I don't mind closeness, but I tend to get phobic if I can't move. But everything worked out fine.

As long as you didn't look out of the window, that is. This driver was determined to get to Can Tho in half the normal time, so he passed every vehicle he could. Honestly, half the time you looked out to see a huge bus hurtling right toward you, and we just barely swung out of his way. I don't know why more Vietnamese don't work as New York City taxi drivers -- they would feel right at home.

Well, I looked around Ba Hoa's beautiful city, and in the morning took a "before-sunrise" personal boat trip down the incredibly beautiful canals and rivers of the Mekong. I highly recommend this to anyone visiting Can Tho. People rowing boats over the Mekong as the sun came up; vegetation and fruit trees mirrored in the still waters; and then an up-close view of the boat markets. Avery restful trip.

But now it's time to head back to Sai Gon for two weeks there. A Honda driver has said he'll take me there for 170 ngan ($11), and a possibly crowded mini-bus would be 25 ngan ($1.75) What will it be? :)

Hope your weekend was great, and that the week ahead is full of challenges for you

-Beth

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