Dear Flood Waters,
After months of waiting, the flood waters have finally reached Bangkok. Now, the city is more or less surrounded by water. Some areas have been flooded for over a month. 564 people have died. 50% of Chulalongkorn students have flooded houses. All universities and school have been closed. Some classes were cancelled for two weeks, while others were cancelled for five weeks. Drinking water has been in short supply. Our favourite restaurant was closed for two weeks. Air Asia can’t offer all of their usual meals due to food shortages. There is hardly any traffic on the road anymore. Exams will be easier…
What an interesting few weeks it has been, waiting for updates on whether or not university will stay cancelled and if our accommodation will be flooded. However, two days ago we were given a letter asking us to prepare for evacuation. BOOM! What a state of panic we were all in! Where will we go? What will we do? Is the semester over? Do we fly home? Can I stay here and walk amongst the sewage, crocodiles and poisonous snakes? One mature-age exchange student even said, “I am leaving a.s.a.p. because I don’t believe anything the government is saying. It is only going to get worse. The airport is not safe as they say.” A classic six thing to say…
Needless to say, we all enjoyed our impromptu mid-semester vacation, seeing the silver lining of the rain cloud and taking-up the opportunity to see more of South-East Asia. Myself and five others chose to visit Vietnam. If you ever get the chance to travel with some outrageous Germans, a freaking beautiful French chick, a crazy Japanese lady and a fine Finnish female, I would highly recommend it. It was literally gnarly.
North-bound from Ho Chi Minh City (Siagon), we stopped off at Na Trang and Hoi An on the way to beautiful Hanoi and Ha Long Bay. To start, Ho Chi Minh is a nice introduction to Vietnam, boasting many museums to teach you about the Vietnam War and also crazy traffic (the number one attraction in all of South-East Asia according to Lonely Planet)!
In regards to the war, between 1-3 million Vietnamese, Cambodian’s, Laotian’s and American’s were killed. The US (who supported South Vietnam) viewed the war as a fight against communism, whereas the North Vietnamese viewed it as a war against colonisation. One of the most horrible things was the use of “Agent Orange” – a herbicide that killed 400,000 people, and caused a further 500,000 children to be born with birth defects. When the American military sprayed it over Vietnam, their goal was to kill the forest, thus forcing the rebel soldiers out of hiding. However, there was an extremely toxic compound included in the spray, which caused bigger problems than just plants dying. Walking around Vietnamese cities today, you still see many, many suffering disabled people – children of those who inhaled Agent Orange. In one particular museum, many preserved foetuses and still-born babies are shown, all with significant defects. This was particularly disturbing, especially since they were housed amongst photos of soldiers holding blown-up bodies and American military trucks towing Vietnamese people by a rope along the road. There was one quote from an American commander that really walked me animally on the cookie: “My solution to the problem would be to tell the North Vietnamese frankly that they’ve got to draw in their horns or we’re going to bomb them back into the stone age.” … why are there stupid people like this guy in the world? I must wonder, what turned him into a monster? Were his parents also stupid? Was he starved of love as a child? Was he bullied at school? Was he ‘out-of-proportion’?
Also horrific were the “Tiger Cages” pictured below – ‘rooms’ for naughty prisoners. The first one is for 1-3 people, where as the second one is for 5-7 people. These affected me a lot more than torturing chamber next door… I guess that could be because torturing seems like such a far-away concept, something that I really can’t imagine. However, I could really imagine ‘living’ in these cages for a week or two. It wouldn’t be nice.
Moving on, My Lovely Mr. Singing Club, the traffic situation in Vietnam makes Bangkok seem so normal and civilised; like a tranquil river-side village. You really need to keep your whits about you. Scooters rule the road with an approximate 1,000,000:1 ratio with cars, and they come from all directions. Two of our friends had accidents, and we witnessed two more. Surprisingly though, it’s extremely easy to cross the road. You just walk out at a slow yet constant pace, and everyone goes around you. It’s as easy as getting your hand-bag stolen and totally beats using traffic lights. THE CAR HORNS THOUGH!!!!! Oh. My. Buddha. If I ever need to hear another “singing” Vietnamese horn, that’ll be the end of me. Try sleeping on a night bus or travelling five hours with not just a ‘beep’ everyone 20 seconds, but a SINGING horn… I’m still disturbed. Not even two packets of Oreo’s and 30 minutes of listening to High School Musical songs made me feel better.
The highlight from Nha Trang would be the boat trip we did. We were excited about a day of diving in the blue ocean and visiting some beautiful island beaches, but let’s say we got more than we bargained for. It was all very normal until lunch time. We were the only white people as well as the only people who weren’t about 40 or 50. All was peaceful. As soon as the food came out however, they seemed to think that really loud David Guetta music was appropriate. Interesting. When they announced our ears would be blessed with their live rock band, we decided it was time to sunbathe upstairs. Sadly we left out earplugs at home. There was no time to get bored though, because then the floating bar was in the water and, before we knew it, there was an erotic dancer dacing on the bar! If that was not enough, he proceeded to stick plastic cups over his nipples. AND THEN the most boring looking old man in the world climbed to the top of the boat, jumped off and started drinking wine in the water. Well, we were in such a state of shock…
Fast-forwarding to Ha Long Bay – it is stunning. It is amazing. It is spiritual. It is cultural. It is a ‘must do’ before you go blind. And if you flirt with the travel agent whilst playing with his cheeks, it costs only $50 for two days and one night. The bay features thousands of limestone karsts and isles in various sizes and shapes. They are so beautiful you can literally sit there for hours (looking out, obviously) and not cease to be dazzled. The one thing I can’t let slip though is the dirtiness of the water. There is so much rubbish and oil on the surface it is sickening. I guess it is pollution on a small level in comparison to Western style pollution, but when the surroundings are so beautiful you can’t help but be disgusted and upset. It reminded me of this time when I was hiking through the Peruvian jungle and a Peruvian child threw his Inca Cola bottle into trees. I said it’s probably best he doesn’t do it and should pick it up. He said, “Oh, it doesn’t matter. We’re in the mountains. No one cares.” GRRRR… that is when you should care the most! The highlight of this Vietnamese highlight would be swimming at dusk among this isles. In a patch of clean water, it felt so phenomenal and unreal! Simply magical.
Hanoi is super vibrant and well worth a stop over. The food is so tastey! I will miss Vietnamese food. Also, the locals do this funny thing, where they sit on street corners drinking tea and eating seeds… they look like birds and the ground is covered in seed shells!
As I leave you today, one month and 10 days before I come home, I would like you take three key points away. Firstly, don’t start a war – it never ends well for anyone. Secondly, don’t pollute Ha Long Bay or the Peruvian Jungle. Thirdly, and finally, come on a University exchange to Bangkok – you’re never in Bangkok and never at University!
You know I dislike you immensely Floods,
No XOXO for you,
P.S. I just got sent my end of year assignment for I&O Psychology, as I can no longer attend the final exam. This is the assignment guideline: “select 2 topics and write 3 pages each.” This really redefines vague.