Pretty In Pink

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“If you feel lost, disappointed, hesitant, or weak, return to yourself, to who you are, here and now and when you get there, you will discover yourself, like a lotus flower in full bloom, even in a muddy pond, beautiful and strong.”
― Masaru Emoto, ‘The Secret Life of Water’

As Hoi An’s relatively small it’s very easy to get out into the sprawling rice paddies of the countryside. Today we hired out a couple of bikes in town and headed out for our first proper taste of South East Asian rural life.

The alternation between vast fields of rice, fish ponds and water gardens was entirely novel to me. I was immediately drawn to the murky ponds of the lotus ‘farms’ so stopped to investigate. ‘Nelumbo nucifera’ (lotus flower) is Vietnam’s national flower and has an extraordinarily long list of uses, being pretty much entirely edible in various different ways; The unusual Vietnamese lotus tea is made using scent from the stamens, for example. The man wading about in the field came over to introduce himself and seemed more than happy to pose for photographs and even made a gift of some of the flowers he was picking!

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In fact the country folk in general were extremely accommodating and friendly. We came across a vegetable and herb farm and were invited to ‘help out’ a little – I’m sure being more of a burden than any real form of assistance.

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An extremely uncomfortable traditional way of watering the lines of crop, in this case lemon grass. I didn’t really get the hang of it – the plank of wood kept slipping off my back!

The most exciting surprise though was still to come. After stopping to photograph the water buffalo wallowing in the mud or wandering about the fields, a friendly old man offered to give a short ride on his buffalo through the paddies. It was hilarious – strangely bald and slippery to the touch and it kept whipping me with its wet and muddy tail!

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Below you can see a man herding about his flock of ducklings with a large stick. This brought about conflicting emotions, as however adorable it is seeing an entire fleet of baby ducks they are all inevitably soon for the slaughter – an idea that doesn’t particularly sit well with a vegetarian. This is however, an existence far preferable to sitting in a corrugated iron shed though, surely.

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Overall, saying that the exploration proved to be fruitful would be an understatement. If you’re planning a trip to any of the main cities In Vietnam, you definitely need to take the time to get out into the countryside – Hoi An would be a great place to start!

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To Buddhists, the lotus symbolises purity of the body, speech, and mind detached from the muddy waters of desire.

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Fresh Pair Of Eyes

“Medicine is not only a science; it is also an art. It does not consist of compounding pills and plasters; it deals with the very processes of life, which must be understood before they may be guided. “
– Paracelsus

I thought I’d take a moment to recount some of the experiences and stories that Anna and Hannah have stumbled upon during their two months in South East Papua New Guinea. They have been working in a hospital for their medical elective – firstly in coastal Alotau and latterly on Goodenough Island, one of the D’Entrecasteaux Islands in the Milne Bay Province. It’s interesting to hear about the PNG culture from a totally different perspective. The highlanders are still viewed by many of the coastal folk as complete savages! An Australian called David who’s been working with the palm oil plantations for the past 18 months described his first encounter: He had just arrived in PNG and was staying at a hotel in Port Moresby. The first time he ventured out of the house he saw a ‘rascal’ (generic name for thieves or troublemakers) attempt to pick-pocket a highland man in full traditional dress. The highlander grabbed the rascal’s hand, cut off his arm with a bush knife, threw it on the floor and carried on his way. Nobody else on the street batted an eyelid. David retreated immediately to his hotel where he remained for the rest of his stay!
Anna and Hannah were staying in similar accommodation to me, partly with a Pastor and his family in their little family-run church and partly in the hospital’s accommodation on the island with four other Slovenian students. They made up the only six doctors on the island. The doctor-patient confidentiality in PNG is not quite as rigid as the system at home; whilst they were doing the procedure for contraceptive implants they had a stream of spectators wandering in to watch or take photos. As an example of the sort of cases they dealt with a young boy was brought it who had fallen six metres out of a coconut tree. They were trying to pacify him, worried that he’d ruptured his spleen, but he didn’t seem to grasp the concept of staying still and kept trying to get up to go to the market!
They also spent some time in a rural aid post in a stilted wooden hut. Every morning a man would blow a conch to summon the families from across the local area and mountains to bring their children down for inspection. They would weigh the kids in a big sack hanging from the roof with the equivalent of supermarket scales!
They also similarly had interactions concerning witchcraft: A young lady called Sandii told them about her Uncle who ‘flew around the islands to eat people’. She was uneducated as apparently her Uncle had put a spell on her giving her a permanent headache and therefore preventing her from going to school as her dad owed him money. She’s now a yam farmer.
There’s a little flavour of their side of the PNG story.

Anna and Hannah with Trobriand facepaint.

Anna and Hannah with Trobriand facepaint.