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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The Beginning Is The End Is The Beginning

The Beginning Is The End Is The Beginning

So my time in Papua New Guinea is finally over. Phase one complete. I’m currently in Brisbane preparing for my flight to Auckland tomorrow…re-shuffling my bags with completely different clothes suitable for ‘normal’ civilisation. I had a look in the … Continue reading

Sunny Afternoon / Madness

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It was my last day at Mando today. The kids put on a spectacular show! Groups of them had dressed up in various local traditional costumes: Mud men – covered in mud, giving them a ‘white’ appearance and then fairly creepy masks with real teeth; Moko Moko men – orange and white mud striped, with a dance consisting of smacking their backsides whilst singing “moko moko; sinahime men – covered completely in pitch black mud and singing a chant whilst they walk around in a line and lastly the traditional bilas which they dressed me up in the Saturday before last. It was breathtaking! The teachers had actually made the effort to come in today. Even the board members were there to see me off. They each gave long speeches and then asked me to give one. Unfortunately there was a black out mid way through my improvised speech cutting off the (pretty crap) microphone and leaving me in the embarrassing position of having to just shout through the rest. The children then came up to me one by one and piled presents on me: various shell and bead necklaces, bilums, spears, mud men masks, mud jewellery!, traditional clothing etc. I was really overwhelmed by the whole thing! We then waited around for three hours (this is still PNG, after all) and then had a feast with the staff where they gave me yet more presents and then I finally made my way home with my hoard! Yet another incredible day.

Fight For Your Mind

“True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.”
Socrates

This is incredibly frustrating: The other teachers at the school apparently didn’t feel like working today. I was the only teacher there. Again. The school has around 300 students. The grade four classes (around age 12) present even more of a challenge than my previous groups. The majority are almost illiterate so we did some basic work on reading, writing and spelling! With all of my classes I’ve been prioritising work on hygiene, sanitation and various diseases such as Typhoid and Malaria. I’ve also been sneaking in a bit of emphasis on responsibilities concerning pets; Most of the cats and dogs here are walking, breathing skeletons. My efforts seem completely futile as I know there is ultimately very little I can do; this is their culture. If the country was thoroughly well educated it would be a completely different place. My experiences have demonstrated how charities that simply throw money at a problem do not actually improve the living standards of the people. Teachers should be paid according to the number of days they are actually present; Very few make the effort to come into school. The teachers are now spending the majority most of the school’s yearly budget on ‘prizes’, decorations and food for their speech day. There is absolutely no concept of saving money (or anything for that matter) here.

Observation of the day: During break I’ve noticed that lots of the little children go around catching cicadas with cups on long sticks. The local children from the area tend to hang about in the school during the day – mostly peering in the windows of my classes as if they were at a zoo; I tend to have a fairly large audience . They then grab the cicada, rip off it’s wings and legs and carry them round as a ‘rattle’ for a while before eventually eating them. Charming.

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