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Motos and Models: Having Fun in Central Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam

After Hanoi and northern Vietnam, our Pacific Discovery group headed south to warmer waters in Hue and Hoi An. After a long bumpy overnight train ride from Hanoi, we finally ended up in beautiful Hue. A welcome change from the grit of Hanoi’s streets, Hue’s clear open sky, beautiful riverside parks (complete with ancient and modern sculptures), and less congested streets helped lighten everybody’s mood and help us relax. After a nice jog along the river and a little sight-seeing, I returned to the hotel for the afternoon ‘mystery activity’. It was a motorcycle tour of the city! 14 Americans riding around on motorscooters woohoo. And we were off.

We toured around two Buddhist temples, a monastery, an incense making area, French gun-turrets and a royal palace now tomb. Truly too many places to show pictures of here, though I chose to post up the picture of the sticks incense are made from to the left, and a picture of a Buddhist pagoda is shown at the top of this entry. Pagoda’s are built at some but not all Buddhist temples and are always seven stories high. The French turrets were quite interesting because they were a very new attraction, it had only been two years ago that they finished clearing the landmines from the site.
The turrets were used on ships of the Vietnamese traveling up the river back in the 50’s and 60’s. One theme was common among the separate sites; the endless rice paddies that stretched in between every one of them. Vietnam is one of the largest rice-producing nations and it shows. After Hue, we would travel another 3 hours across endless stretches of rice fields to the beach and resort town of Hoi An.

High fashion city meets beach town in Hoi An! Not their fashion, not the Italians fashion, but Your fashion. This small beach town has hundreds and hundreds of tailors and tailoring shops with every cotton, silk, linen and polyester known to man and its up to you to point to something you like in one of their catalogs, bring in your own picture of what you want, or just design it yourself. From suits($60) to shoes($20) to boardshorts($15), they make everything, and quick, usually a day maybe two with alterations. I personally got a silk pink/black dress shirt (for Vegas), baby blue silk shoes (also for Vegas), and some really cool boardshorts (not exactly for Vegas). I finally shaved off my 'Wolverine' facial hair, which may have helped me during the groups ‘fashion show’(complete with thumping Vietnamese music and judges...) I came away with the award Hoi An’s Next Top Model.

Enough about that though, Hoi An as an awesome beach town is much more interesting. From luminescent waters at night to some guy I watched herding buffalo by bike, it doesnt really get boring. The bike-herding was a peculiar sight I saw while sitting in a cafe having a drink, wasn’t able to snap a picture but yea, it was quite a shock for someone not used to seeing water buffalo being herded through a city. That night was another annual event, ‘guys night out’. Craig, Jeremy, Will, Colin and I ditched the ladies for a night of beer, pool, beef, and biking. Awesome times. And all this combined to have us end up late night on the beach. But not any beach. The waters at Hoi An possess a special type of plankton that lights up like a starry aura around you when you swim through it. The plankton react to movement so that when you swim in it, splash it, or move a part of your body through it, a thousand bright tiny stars immediately illuminate. Truly the most magical experience of my trip so far and one that I will never forget.

If there’s anyone who you recommend I add to my blog’s mailing list, or questions you have about the particulars of traveling/touring in SE Asia, please shoot me an email at Jack.Crestani@Gmail.com. Cheers!

Strike a smile, the winners of the fashion show

permalink written by  JohnJack_Crestani on March 6, 2009 from Hoi An, Vietnam
from the travel blog: I Meet the SouthEast
tagged Vietnam, Hue, Hoian, JackCrestani, Johncrestani and Pacificdiscovery

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Genocides, Non-Profit Radio Drama and Dumps, Oh My!

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

What do these three things have in common? Our Pacific Discovery group experienced them all in Phnom Penh! Phnom Penh is a city separated by a large gap with riches, development, and corporate jobs in one corner, and with entrenched, dump-diving, amputated poverty in the other. But in the space between exists a vast amount of wonderful, inspiring, and driven non-profit NGO's that are committed to helping solve to complex hurdle of poverty that so many in this country are subjected to. During our stay in Phnom Penh, we visited quite a few NGO's (Non-Governmental Organisations which basically means non-profit orgs). Non-profits have been a staple of our trip in Cambodia, as it is the poorest country that we will have visited on the trip. We would visit the Toul Sleng Prison to learn about the genocide that went on during the reign of the Khmer Rouge, Equal Access to learn about marketing messages and educating young Cambodians, and to KDFO a school for impoverished children who live in a dump (literally).

The Toul Sleng Prison used to be the main prison of the Khmer Rouge in their genocide of the educated and the weak back in the 70's. By the bloodstains, scratches and inhumane conditions unmodified from that time, it shows. Its still on the walls!!! The prison really goes for the shock factor and pictures (such as to the left) of skulls and cases of human bones make their point. After seeing all the nitty gritty of Toul Sleng, I (and many others) decided that we didn't even need to go see the actual 'killing fields' because it was just more of the same, only they actually made full sculptures and stuff out of the human skulls there. Point made, alot of people died. What wasn't as clear though was who, when, why, how concerning all the killing. From what I gathered, Communist Khmer Rouge initially focused on killing all the city-dwellers (the emptied Phnom Penh) and the educated, but sort of moved on to killing anyone, even people in their own faction. 15% of their entire population to be exact. So it was chaos. Yet most people in Cambodia don't even know much about it. This is because they were born after 79 when the communist Khmer were overthrown. It has created a big generational gap in their society.

Creating awareness and helping educate kids is were Equal Access, the NGO we visited the next day, comes in. Non-profit radio drama for sure, we got to go into the studio they use to create their radio educational programs and do our own radio drama! The messages the skits carried were...use government recognized programs if your going out of the country for work (directed towards women so thy dont get trafficked into the sex industry), and use a condom so you don't get AIDS(directed at young guys who like to party or think they're too cool). This was the most organized NGO (I thought) we had visited thus far; the difficulties of getting modern messages out to most of the (mostly rural) Cambodians is not an easy task. They explained how they managed to do that to us, the politics of working with radio stations, government censorship, the impact of their programs, and the various other ways they seek to inform Cambodians about the Khmer Rouge, sex, safety, etc. They presented their material as in a very professional yet hands-on manner, as if we were potential investors, and as a future businessman myself, this approach worked. Their website is EqualAccess.org.

The last thing our group did in Cambodia was visit a dump and take kids who went to the dump-school out for a nice day. The conditions at the dump were appalling, and the fact that people live/work there is even crazier. It looked like a scene out of Mad Max in this dump, all the bedraggled people sifting through garbage, clamoring after each new garbage truck that enters to pick-up the most aluminum cans, plastic bottles or cardboard. The people that make the most money pickuing up trash are the guys who have the most kids not in school. Very low life-spans at these dump camps too. After a walk through the dump, we went to a school at the edge of the dump called KDFO Children (I have no idea what it stands for) and took some of the kids out for some real culture, not their trash.
We went to a very nice play complete with backlit cutouts, a ladyboy actors, a small Cambodian music ensemble, and some wonderful actors. The play was of some famous Cambodian mythology and, although performed in Cambodian, its plot consisted of some fued between the king of the monkeys (a man) and the king of the Tigers, complete with a romance subplot. The kids enjoyed this, and the subsequent play workshop immensely, and it feels wonderful to have helped these children have a unique experience and expose them to some 1st-worlders despite their awful circumstances.

All in all, experiencing the 3rd-world in such a full on way has been a complete culture shock, and I am still trying to fully grasp my head around questions and answers of extreme poverty. Through our Pacific Discovery groups visits to various NGO's including Equal Access, Friends Restaurant (+vocational education, job training), and KDFO Children, I am happy to see that there are many motivated individuals out there figuring out solutions, and managing to make an impact despite the wide gaps of culture and communication that lie between us. Hope everyone is well!

(The city center Paragon)

permalink written by  JohnJack_Crestani on March 13, 2009 from Phnom Penh, Cambodia
from the travel blog: I Meet the SouthEast
tagged Cambodia, Johncrestani, Pacificdiscovery, Phnompenh, Equalaccess and Ngo

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