Fisherman on the Ngô Đồng River near Tam Coc, Ninh Bihn Province, Vietnam.
Today’s Pic du Jour –the 75th(!) straight since this project was re-inaugurated– features a woman prepping for her morning pineapple sales route, snapped just a few minutes before she sold me my breakfast baggie.
This is for this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge which asked for illustrations of Street Life. In Hanoi it starts humming at about 6 am.
Rower on the Ngô Đồng River, near the city on Nihn Binh in northern Vietnam. This was taken during an excursion on the Tam Cốc, or three caves, portion of a popular day trip excursion from Hanoi. Hers was and remains one of the most unforgettable faces and smiles from my visit to Vietnam three-and-a-half years ago.
Like Earth Day, International Women’s Day is every day. Let’s work on that.
This is recess at a primary and middle school near the village of Mu Cang Chai, Vietnam. A snap of the teacher from this school whose English class I sat it on for a few minutes is here.
Note: For the next few months, I’ll be occasionally posting short ‘Travel Notebook’ pieces, just 500-600 words each, on travel themes I’ve chosen to either incorporate, explore or expand upon in my upcoming book.
To make the final product as useful to as many as possible, I’d love to get feedback from readers, travelers and bloggers alike. Your opinions, thoughts, examples, vignettes and links to other posts exploring the themes are quite welcome and indeed encouraged –many will find their way into the manuscript. Thanks!
In the travel industry sense, ‘authentic’ has devolved into just another empty buzz word, rendered almost meaningless in a world where the lines between authenticity –by definition simply something that is genuine– and modernity have become impossibly blurred by the expectations marketers thrust our way. The examples are numerous and I won’t spell them out here. Let’s just get to the list.
No. 1. Leave your expectations and stereotypes at the unclaimed baggage counter.
Better yet, dump them in the non-recyclables bin before passing through security. Because if you arrive at a destination with some vague notion of authenticity in mind, it’s quite likely that your entire journey will be shrouded by a dark cloud of disappointment.
Unfulfilled expectations always suck, but they can be painfully brutal when you’re traveling. One brief vignette from a visit to Sapa, Vietnam, a few years ago as a case in point:
I was sitting at a restaurant waiting for a glass of a local wine described as ‘Good for Men’ when a group of half a dozen twenty-something American English-speaking travelers entered. They hastily claimed two tables, spread out and sat down.
“Sapa is bullshit, man,” one said as he leafed through the extensive wine list. “This isn’t Vietnam. There’s nothing authentic about this place. What a freakin’ joke.”
Sapa is northern Vietnam’s thriving gateway town for day trips and overnight treks into the area’s highlands and visits to its remote mountain ethnic communities. They had just returned from a trek to the summit of the 3,148m high Phang Xi Pang, the country’s highest mountain, and were clearly disappointed that Sapa fell short of their preconceived notions of precisely what a 21st century Vietnamese highland tourist town should be.
A friend agreed. “Yeah, this just isn’t real,” he said. “Totally sucks.” A few moments later he connected to the restaurant’s free wifi and began tapping on his iPhone in search of a proxy server so he could break through Vietnam’s Facebook block and tell his friends just how unreal and sucky Sapa was.
Just as his medium rare Australian strip steak and small Chef’s salad –light dressing on the side—arrived so did success. “Ha! I got through.”
So by allowing themselves to confuse modernity with their personal notions of what was authentic, they contributed to the ruin of what should have simply been a memorable once-in-a-lifetime experience in a strikingly beautiful corner of the planet. I can only hope that broadcasting his disappointment via Facebook helped him reach some closure.
No. 1 above is the only one that really matters, but since blog readers like lists –and I like providing them!– here are four more ways –plus a bonus!– to help you have an authentic experience, in no particular order:
In short: Ignore the marketing hype. In one way or another, it’s all authentic. Let your mind be blown.
Today (17 Oct) is the UN’s International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. If I’d have to put a face on poverty, it would be a woman’s. Much like this one, who I met in Sapa, Vietnam, three years ago this month.
Women represent a staggering 70% of the world’s poor, shoulder a disproportionate brunt of their family’s responsibilities, and face an endless litany of injustice and discrimination that blocks or limits access to even their most basic needs. Women produce half the world’s food, work two-thirds of the world’s working hours but take home just ten percent of the world’s income. One in five will be a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime. One woman dies every minute giving birth. Too many are prevented from attending even primary school. Until that changes, nothing else will.
Three of the eight UN Millennium Development Goals specifically address gender issues. More on the MDGs is here.
That unfortunate anniversary actually came two years ago this month, but I trust you’ll allow me the indulgence of reblogging this to coincide with Agent Orange Awareness Month. It’s a post about my October 2010 visit to the Thanhxuan Peace Village, or Lang Hoa Binh Than Xuan, an orphanage, school and clinic in Hanoi set up specifically for victims of Agent Orange, now on its third generation. Rarely a day passes that I don’t think about that afternoon on the fringes of Hanoi.
From 1961 through 1971, United States military forces dumped 20 million gallons, or about 80 million liters, of Agent Orange, a chemical defoliant containing an especially virulent form of dioxin, on southern Vietnam. Manufactured by Monsanto and Dow Chemical, it was housed in 55 gallon barrels adorned by orange stripes, thus its name.
The operation ultimately left nearly five million people infected with dioxin. Estimates vary, but on the conservative side of things, some 150,000 Vietnamese children today live with the fallout.
Please take a few minutes to check out the rest of the post – Agent Orange’s Golden Anniversary –and as always, feel free to share.