Friday, January 6, 2017

Cambodia Vietnam Pt3: The Simple Life

Part 3: What I observed of the culture during our trip. Simple and honest people.
Vietnamese ladies wearing traditional hats overlooking the fishing village

- The Simple Life -  
After spending three weeks in Cambodia and Vietnam I have observed many things that stand our cultures apart from one another. The simplicity of their lives is so refreshing coming from an American culture where people
buy junk at big box stores to clutter their houses and then produce 3 bags of trash each week.
Lotus Flowers

The first thing I encountered that I liked was before I even
got off the plane. After we landed, the TV screens in front of our seats instructed us on acupressure points to press to relieve discomforts from the flight for headaches and nausea. I thought, I can get used to this way of thinking.  

The Home:
Their homes are an extreme contrast to most homes in America. From the street you can look straight through the front door and to the back of their houses. The front room is just a wide open space. You may see a small prayer house that a local told me is a Buddhist tradition as they believe every house has it's own god to protect it so the family will have a mini house for their god that they put incense and other offerings for their god. Sometimes these are placed inside the front room, other times just outside the home.  There are often no tables or chairs, just a small cook stove either gas, electric or wood-fired. They eat sitting or squatting on the floor. The houses themselves are very small, maybe 400 square feet. They are made of whatever material they have available, sometimes concrete, sometimes wood planks, sometimes metal roofing panels line the entire side and roof of the house. The floors are either wood or tile.  From what I could tell from the outside there were usually two small bedrooms in the back that I imagine were furnished with a firm mattress on the floor and a few changes of clothes if they weren't currently being hung out to dry.
Seems like everyone has a hammock in Vietnam and Cambodia

Houses are small, yet functional
The Cambodian Buddhists set small houses for the god who watches over their house and their family

The one thing most houses seem to have is a TV. They may not have tables or chairs, but they have a flat screen hanging on the wall, and mostly everyone seems to have a cell phone. Even the floating village we show in Cambodia had satellite dishes on their shack floating houses Everyone also seems to have a hammock and a motorbike. If you have those two things, you seem to be pretty ok in these countries. The motorbike gets you everywhere, it can carry your entire family, or transport small or large items. I don't know how they pile on so much stuff, but they seem to find a way, as most people don't have cars or trucks. Hammocks are used almost anywhere and any time of day. It wasn't unusual to walk into a store and find someone sleeping in a hammock near the cash register.
Almost everything is transported by motorbike

How much can you carry on your motorbike?

Mom, Dad, and two kids pile on for the ride

Big load

Dad and three kids on a motorbike
This man is delivering blocks of ice to the fish market

Honest People
These are the most honest people I've ever met. I didn't ever feel like I was being taken advantage of, and there were many opportunities for that to happen. I stick out like a sore thumb as a white tourist in these Asian countries. The taxi drivers seemed to stick to direct routes and charge me what the meter read. They would almost always get me change without me asking. The ladies at the market would hold up fingers to tell me how much something costs, but since the Vietnamese currency is 22,000 dong to a US dollar, it wasn't always easy to know if they were referred to 20,000 or 2,000 when they held up two fingers. I often would hold out my wad of bills and they would pick out the exact amount and show it to me to make sure I understood how much I was
paying. Since I had no idea how much things should cost I was kind of at their mercy, but prices seemed to be consistent from one place to the next, a bunch of 14 bananas equals about $1, a loaf of bread, about $0.20. I could get used to these prices. And at the hotel, they always went over every single charge and did the dollar to dong conversion on a calculator right in front of me.

The Music
One thing that threw me off about the culture is their music and their love for karaoke. The pop music you would hear blaring from an occasional speaker where a family was having a picnic or playing in a restaurant was not appealing to my ears. And if you don't like the music to begin with, you sure as heck won't like the off-key karaoke singing. But boy do they love their karaoke. We once woke up to a group across the street from our hotel singing karaoke from a house party at 9am on a Saturday morning. 

The people of Cambodia and Vietnam were always cleaning. Little old ladies would be out in front of their house sweeping the dirt road of trash and fallen twigs. Even though the main roadways and rivers were littered with trash from one end to the other, they seemed to take pride in their living space. As with most Asian countries you remove your shoes before entering a home. Every house, restaurant, and store was swept clean several times a day. I even saw a shop owner sweeping a puddle away from his storefront after a big heavy rain.  
Sweeping the puddles from in front of the cafe

The thing I like about the bathrooms is the entire room is basically a tiled shower. They have a drain in one corner, a toilet, a sink, and a shower all in one. There is no worrying about cleaning up your wet floor after getting out of the shower, and cleaning the toilet is as easy as spraying a hose. If I ever redo my bathroom, it's going to be a SE Asia inspired bathroom.    
Bathrooms are tiled floor to ceiling

Fishing Villages
We stayed in two Vietnamese fishing villages. Before tourism starting taking over the sunny beaches, the main industry in these shore-lined villages was fishing. There are still numerous small family run fishing boats as well as larger boats, but the ones we saw close to shore were the small boats. It was incredible to see these modest little boats supporting families. These fishing families live in little shacks right on the beach. We could see them from our hotel. When we walked out to the beach at sunrise or sunset we saw fathers and sons heading out in these little tiny boats that look like a big round bathtub. They are propelled by a small motor that looks like a long weed wacker. When they are done for the night they pull their boats up on the beach just a few meters from their backdoor. They seem to take everything in stride. We came across a large boat that needed to go under a bridge. I guess the tide was higher than normal, or maybe they had a less of a load than normal, when they approached the bridge it looked as though they were going to run smack into it. It didn't stop them from trying, but had to back up, and take off the top part of their boat in order to go under the bridge. During this whole process no one seemed stressed or put out, they just went about what they had to do and it was done whenever it was done.

Fishing at sunset
Fishing boats line the beaches near where we stayed in Mui Ne, Vietnam

Small fishing boats look like a big round bath tub with a tiny motor
Is the boat going to fit under the bridge?
Doesn't look like it

Nope, have to take off this roof


Friendly people
These are some of the most friendly people I've ever met. From being honest and fair about payment at the market to offering a seat under and umbrella when it's pouring rain out. It's hard not to give back some of that friendliness. One afternoon walking thru town it started to rain, we saw a shopkeeper pulling a tarp over her goods she had for display on the street, Shawn stopped to lend a hand. We also helped some fishermen push their boat back into the water.
Construction workers use a makeshift pulley out of wood from the island
Construction workers happy pose for my picture
Shawn helping a shop keeper cover her goods before the rain hits

Money Can't Buy Happiness Overall I found their lifestyle to be very relaxing and easy going. The people for the most part do not have much money, but they are happy and always seem to have enough. There seems to always be enough food, enough gas money for their motor bike and enough time for family and leisure. Americans could take a page out of their book when it comes to priorities.

People get around by bicycle or motorbike
The people are very resourceful when it comes to transporting goods ,

1 comment:

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