Our hotel area from a nearby hillside
Nghi Son was once one of the poorest, most remote areas of Vietnam. It is 5 hours by car from Hanoi, and an hour from the nearest town big enough for a supermarket/normal sized grocery store. Just recently, with the construction of some industrial complexes, more people have been flooding into the area, bringing their money and business. Thankfully, our hotel is new, it is immaculately kept and it has a really nice pool. Outside of the hotel compound, though, it’s much different. Here’s a story about our trip to the marketplace!
Our first morning in Nghi Son, we decided to go on a run around to see what we could see. I had heard that there were no grocery stores or food places near the hotel, the closest being a mini mart 15 minutes away by taxi. I looked around, saw a bunch of houses, and knew that there had to be food nearby. So, we went exploring. As we turned down the “main road,” I looked over to see a dead baby cow laying on the ground in a pool of blood. A man was scraping the hide preparing it for butchering. Nothing says “Welcome to Nghi Son!” like a dead baby cow on the side of the road. My first question was… did it get hit by a car, or did they just decide to kill it, here, on the dusty side of the road?! There are cows all over the road here, so the car accident theory was not entirely out of the question. This “main road” seems to be a road of death, as I saw a dead dog in a bag today on our run on the same road. Don’t worry, we’re very careful!
So, back to the story. I’m running down the road, just looking for a hint of a grocery-type store. I see scooters going in and out of a side street, so I decide to investigate. I found the main drag of this area of Nghi Son! This “main shopping street” is about one car wide, with deep ruts and cracked/broken pavement. There were tons of shops selling clothes, dry goods, housewares, kid’s clothes, and hair cuts. I stopped at a store that had diapers and bought a few things. We walked down the road to a school and got mobbed by a ton of school kids! They loved the boys, and the ladies in the shops kept commenting that our skin was so white!
Next, I saw some umbrellas set up along the road and went to investigate. It was a street market! All of the vendors bring tarps and set out their merchandise on the ground. The first few vendors I saw were meat vendors. The animal carcasses were just there, on the ground, and the vendors were hacking up the meat into different cuts. Flies were everywhere. I hope my mouth wasn’t hanging open, but in my head, I was floored. I had NO IDEA that people still purchased their protein this way- without any refrigeration! Yikes! Along with the normal meat and fish, there were some interesting meaty gems, including pig feet, intestine, heart, and liver. There were also live chickens, ducks, and rabbits for sale. I turned down a narrow dirt path covered by a makeshift tarp roof. This was the real entrance to the market. Inside, I found all sorts of interesting vegetables and fruits. Because I ultimately was trying to find food to feed my family, I only bought items I could recognize and knew how to use, including cucumbers, carrots, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, ginger, and pineapple. The rule for Vietnam is that we can eat fruits and vegetables that have been boiled, peeled, or washed with clean, bottled water. I was happy to find so many familiar veggies. There were many other things I did not immediately recognize- I’m not sure I’m going to be adventurous enought to ever purchase them, though. Here are a few other observations:
- Vietnam is dusty/dirty. The roads in our town are so dusty, it is hard to tell if they are paved or not. The pavement is very uneven and worn through all the way to dirt in some areas. There is a ton of construction going on. everywhere. That can’t help. There are garbage cans by the hotel, but I think most ordinary people burn their trash or dump it in an empty field or near the beach. Then, it gets washed away at high tide, and it’s gone!
- Nghi Son is going through some growing pains. In this area of Vietnam, there are no big grocery stores. Just little convenience stores with snacks and some shelf-stable items. I haven’t found a store with everything I need, so I tend to walk by and peek in to see if they have something I’m looking for. These store do not have doors, so they are open to the street dust. Usually, random stuff is stacked on the shelves so it is hard to find what I need. There are a few restaurants around our hotel, including Japanese BBQ, several hotel restaurants and a cafe across the street. Other than that, the restaurants are open-air and most likely have questionable food handling practices. Since we have a kitchen in our room, we eat in most of the time anyway!
- Vietnamese people are so nice and friendly! Everyone says hello, or nods in greeting. Many people we meet on the street run up to us and grab the boys and tell me how cute/handsome they are. They are also very touchy-feely. They can’t tell if Owen is a boy or a girl, so they just peek inside his diaper to try to figure it out. Landon hates this, but people will just grab him to show him things along the road, or to introduce him to other kids, or to play with him, but he does not appreciate the lack of personal bubble here! The other day, a man came up to Austin while we were walking down a narrow lane. He put his arm around him and measured himself against him. It was too funny. Owen gets many kisses on the cheek every day from strangers. It’s just a cultural thing I guess.
- Women are workhorses here! In Korea, the women are left to do more delicate tasks like house cleaning, preparing food, and selling fish (in Samgilpo). In Vietnam, women do everything! There are more women working at the refinery here than anywhere else we have lived. I first noticed this at the airport, when these two TINY women were pushing long lines of the airport luggage carts back into the airport. It was so improbable that they had enough mass to move the carts. When we arrived at our hotel in Nghi Son, three TINY girls in silk pencil skirts came out to help us with our luggage. All of our bags are overweight, but somehow they managed to wrangle them out of the van for us. That was the first time I’ve ever seen girls do that anywhere! There’s a girl pool/gym attendant, girl groundskeepers (that were moving wheelbarrows full of dirt all day today) and girls tend most of the shops that we visit along the road in Nghi Son. Girl power!
- The currency is funny. The Vietnamese currency is the dong. $1= approximately 23,000 dongs! That’s a lot of dongs.
- So many pretty tropical flowers here! Not many in the dusty town, but the grounds of the hotel are full of flowers and I love it!
- Interesting foods. Since we have a kitchen, I can make normal food, but we still have breakfast in the restaurant every morning. Some selections are interesting, but yummy, like fried bacon-wrapped quail eggs. Some are scary, like snake head, crocodile or pig feet. It makes me wonder where they get their meat. DO THEY GO TO THE MARKET?
- Vietnamese people are the tiniest people I have ever met. We have been all over Asia and these people are the smallest. It makes me feel like a giant, and Austin is a celebrity at the refinery. They even had him weigh himself on the scale, and then two Vietnamese guys got on the scale, and they were the same weight as Austin! Fun work games!
- Vietnamese is a tonal language, so the way you say the syllables can change the meaning. I’m not sure I am going to try…
- The houses here are two-story, but very skinny. I’m not sure why this is, but even if there are no other houses around to necessitate a skinny house, they still build the nicer houses two-story and skinny!
- There’s a lot of water here, so it is very, very green. There is so much water that drainage is not great and there are standing fields of water throughout town. It is a beautiful, tropical country, though!
- Dogs. There are stray dogs everywhere! Vietnamese people eat dogs, but I guess not enough to get rid of all the strays. The family dogs are excellent guard dogs, so if I try to run on side roads with less traffic, I end up having to walk because I’m constantly being barked at and chased by the guard dogs of the family. None of them are restrained either. So, I’ve decided not to run on side streets anymore. No dog bites for us!
Whenever I travel to a developing country, I am reminded again of how blessed I was to have the opportunities I had growing up. We did not have much extra, but we always had enough to eat, clothes to wear, and my siblings and I were always involved in sports and music. These people work hard and don’t have a lot of extra time or funds for anything extra. Upward mobility is harder here, but the younger generations seem to know English and go away to University more than the older generations. I’m looking forward to more adventures in this little town, and hopefully we will get to see some cool stuff before we leave Vietnam. We will have to travel a long time to see anything though!