Monday, November 30, 2015

Visiting with Family: Trip to Dong Nai Province and the City of Long Kanh (Thao'sHometown)

Friends, those are shrimp that Thao's
parents and Leanna are holding!
Everyone is Vietnam seems to love their home town and our friend and TDTU student Thao is no exception.  This past week-end Thao and her man friend Kenny escorted us up to Long Kanh in Dong Nai province where we stayed with her parents at their home and we had a moving experience.  Thao's parents have a business of their own that they have developed over a period of  years: they have been in Long Kanh for 26 years after moving down from "up north".  Thao's father is from one of the provinces south of Hanoi. They provide top quality fresh, caught the same day, sea and fresh water food to restaurants and markets in the area as well as caterers (weddings are one of the major events for catering) and this means they work lonnnng hours.  Her parents plus an uncle go to nearby ocean and river fishermen/women and buy sea and fresh water products.  This means work days that can start at 2 am to 3 am. With their refrigerated truck they make deliveries to the markets, cafes and caterers. In addition, they sell at a daily central market to retail customers.  When we arrived on Saturday at noon we had a lunch of tasty seafood: shrimp, fish, rice and a hot pot after which we drank some tea (leisurely cups of tea with conversation a a northern tradition) and took a nap.  Note the HUGE shrimp to the left -- it was like eating lobster (often cooked with fresh coconut).

Parents meeting and enjoying life!
Later in the afternoon we walked around downtown Long Kanh with Thao.  She showed us her High School, a beautiful Buddhist Temple and then a large Catholic Cathedral just down the street.  It should be mentioned that where ever we go across Vietnam we have found that there are many temples, pagodas, and churches -- the Communist government does not oppress religion and folks are free to choose as they like and as far as we been able to observe everyone gets along just fine, believers and non-believers. It is interesting to see a Church or a Pagoda right next to an office building or police station flying the Gold Star on a Red Background Vietnam national flag and the hammer and cycle flag of the Communist Party. Before we went home to rest a bit more I purchased a Sim card for my unlocked smartphone and the necessary memory unlimited data -- unlimited data for a smart phone is about $5 per month -- think about that and how we in the US are being ripped off by the big phone companies.

You get the impression all we do is eat and take naps?  Let's tell you about two other delicious Vietnamese foods -- com tam (I think I have it correct) which is "broken rice" served with grilled/barbeque pork and bahn khat.  Bahn Khat is yet another regional version of pancake that is small and delicate, fried batter (mostly egg like a little cup) served with shrimp, greens and dipping sauce.  Take it from us, eating and napping are lots of fun in Vietnam!  In-between there are lots of great conversations and sights!

Thao's parents have a beautiful 3 story house - you can see the painted wall panels in the front room downstairs in photos posted below.  It was a wonderful week-end to relax in a smaller town and get to know Thao's family.
Hollis can't resist a good Nuoc Mia
stand so enjoyed cane juice
a picture. 

After dinner Thao, Kenny and the two of us went out to have "cafe den" at a local coffee shop, Torinos, where they also served delicious smoothies: blueberry, kiwi and strawberry kept us happy. Us two old folks went home while Thao and her friends went out for kareoke.  With enough stamina and naps we're hoping to be part of a crowd at a Vietnamese Rock Concert next Sunday night in HCMC with Thao and her friends.

The pictures below are from our Sunday visit to Van Mieu Tran Bien temple that honors Literature and Learning in Ben Hoa.  This is considered to be one of the most important Temples in Dong Nai province.  Besides the temple building the grounds cover many acres and there were a lot of people enjoying the park.  We observed one wedding party going on and heard the noise from a bird owners contest.  People bring their singing and happy birds to the park for contests where they showoff their pets.  This temple is visited often by entire schools so that students can learn about the Vietnamese culture and traditions of learning and scholarship -- and pray for success at exams.  Currently there is a special exhibit at the temple about the scholarship of HCM and important academic and cultural writers from Dong Nai province.
A long view of the Temple across a large pond and beautiful grounds.

A lovely bonzai tree -- you will probably have to
make it large to see it well.

Tortoises are honored as great
holders of knowledge.
The teacher Ho Chi Minh in the
Temple Meeting Hall

Horses and Thao's 20th
Birthday Decoration

Water Buffalo and Motorbikes

Phoenix Birds in Thao's home.
Driving through Dong Nai province we saw both older and new large industrial parks, young and older rubber fields.  The area is well known for guava, custard apples and star apples -- all delicious! Both on the van from HCMC to Long Kanh and then back into HCMC we rode on the brand new expressway which is limited to car and truck traffic.  Traffic congestion, especially in the growing cities, is a major issue (along with pollution), so expressways, special "over passes" to route cars and trucks around major intersections and rail projects are all important infrastructure plans here.

Sunday, November 29, 2015


Puppet Center, and Leanna and Hollis
at the Laodong Center theatre where we
attended the Water Puppet performance.

Over the last few days we have had multiple experiences, days and evenings of fun.  In this blog we will speak of going to the world famous Water Puppet Show in downtown Ho Chi Minh City at the Laodong (Trade Union) Cultural Center and then a restaurant for banh xeo.
First a little explanation, the Laodong Cultural Center is a multipurpose facility provided by the VGCL (Vietnam General Confederation of Labor) for cultural activities in downtown HCMC including theatre, dance lessons, sports and who knows what all.  Among the activities is the Water Puppet Show. No, the puppets are not made out of water but they and puppeteers perform in the water.  The themes of the performance ranged from the opening act of Raising the Festival Flag to the concluding Dance of the Holy Animals (tortoise, phoenix and fish) where the performing puppets portrayed the animals swimming and dancing, chasing each other.  Now this puppet show dates back to 11th Century and here are some more titles: Dragon Dance, On a Buffalo with a Flute, Unicorns play with ball and Fairy Dance.  Of course dragons and buffalo are both an important part of the Vietnam historical culture (VN is shaped like a dragon on the map).  And the buffalo besides being a friend of the family that owns it is also a very hardworking member who still contributes to the farming of Vietnam (compared to tractors they contribute nourishment to the plants through deposits -- manure) as plow pullers, cart power, grazing unwanted weeds, etc.).  On a previous trip to VN an acquaintance explained that after 5000 years or more of living with and around humans, buffalo will not hurt a human -- they just don't do it.  Probably accidents happen but no intentional act of malice by a buffalo. We have the one picture of a puppet outside the theatre but we never shot during the performance in respect for the performers and audience members.  Others did shoot pictures so maybe in the future we can provide a picture or two from inside the performance.  The music was a live performance by six musicians who used "traditional" instruments flute, guitar/s, drums and sang with their playing.  It was GREAT!  The puppets are beautiful.  The skills of the puppeteers in manipulating from long poles under water is impressive.  Lots of history, folk tales and humor. 

Leanna and Thao in front of Lao dong Center
Leanna and our friend Thao posed below the sign for the Nguoi Lao dong.  While we waited for the performance we walked around and saw people practicing martial arts, dancing to rap music, and a class of workers learning ball room moves in other parts of the Cultural Center.  WORKING FOLKS, making use of their union owned and operated center both day and evening into the night we understand.  Folks look upon their union movement as a people's organization that is involved not in just collective bargaining but in the community social life, seems like a good idea to me.  On the Wednesday night of the Puppet show much of the audience was tourists and out of town Vietnamese as might be expected since folks have to work.

The grill with the chefs cooking the banh xeo and other
scrumptious dishes.
After the Puppet show we took a taxi over to a different part of downtown where we walked up a small alley to what Thao and her man friend told us is a "locals" favorite banh xeo restaurant full of happy families, hipsters but very few tourist types eating dinner together and drinking beer. Our friends and guides Thao and her boyfriend Kenny ordered for our table and we really ate a lot of banh xeo pancakes.  Now the VN pancake is different than ours, it is fried egg pancake, often with shrimp, cooked on a frying pan on an old style charcoal grill, very thin and served with two or three (at least) different types of greens, bean sprouts and dipping sauces and hot peppers.  You pick up large green leafs, place it in your hand then a piece of banh xeo, and then other greens and vegetable such as mint, basil and perhaps lettuce leaves  You roll the whole thing up, dip in the sauces and enjoy!
Kenny, Thao and Leanna outside
the Theatre.
  (As I am writing this on 30 November it is 97 degrees outside and 55% humidity, a warm late autumn day.)  The four of us ate two large banh xeos with shrimp and popped the lid on some "Saigon" bia (beer) to wash down our dinner.  Then it was time to take a taxi home to our dorm room and get some rest for the following day.
Ball room dancers practicing for Saturday Night Fever

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

More stuff from Vuang Tau

 While our previous posting gave the round of activities, now we'll share some impressions...

While we can't claim to be fully-experienced Vietnam travelers, Thi's neighborhood seemed similar to many others we have visited or walked.  Within easy walking or bicycling distance there were plenty of services such as fresh seafood and meat market, (outdoors with covered roof and ice storage),
 fresh vegetable and fruit stands (sidewalk), small clothing stores, pharmacy, lots of coffee and pho shops, restaurants.  Rather than park on the street, most small businesses provide parking on the sidewalk for customers' motorbikes -- with some minimal security.

Often above or in back of such small businesses there are residential apartments or homes.

Day care centers, primary and secondary (middle) schools are usually also within easy walking distance.  Often even in medium-sized towns, students tell us that one of their parents will drive them (on motorbike) to and from school -- usually Father in the morning with Mother getting them from school in afternoon.  It is normal for students to go home for lunch and a quick nap!

Because many industries were originally state-owned, these enterprises obtained and developed land for housing -- both apartments and single-family houses -- which were then offered to workers at low interest rates.  Workers like Thi's Father have been able to buy their housing over time (loans at first payable to industry or enterprise -- now maybe to state-owned bank?).  With many state-owned-enterprises now being equitized (privatized into joint stock ownership), we are not sure what impact there will be on affordable housing for workers and their families.

Thi's family owned a nice motorbike, an electric bicycle and a regular bicycle -- all eventually parked just inside the downstairs entrance when it was time to shut-the-door at night.  Most homes or buildings have a permanent or temporary ramp to make such indoor parking easy.

In addition to Thi's Father working for the petroleum industry (we think as a mechanic), Thi's Mother sells her beautiful embroidery and also helps families find and buy or rent housing -- jobs she can do while still being at home to raise her young son until he gets older.  Like most parents and families thee seems to be much discussion about home care vs day care centers.

Thi told us an interesting story about worker rights and her Father.  Obviously her Father has many years working in the petroleum industry.  Recently Thi's little brother was ill, so his Father requested special time off from work to help take his son to the doctor.  When the family saw the doctor, the doctor asked to confirm that Thi's Father had received proper paid leave from work -- which Thi's Father did not even know was his right!  The doctor gave Thi's Father proper documentation, which Thi's Father then gave to his company.  Thi was frustrated both with the union and with her Father that workers did not know about this paid parental leave and right.  Thi knew about these rights because she is studying labor relations.  We all had a good discussion about the challenges for unions in both our countries -- as well as challenges for workers -- to be and stay educated and ACTIVE about our rights.

Just two days later in the English Zone meeting with labor relations students to practice English, we heard another story about a student's friend who got unfairly fired with no real help from the union.  Again we had a good discussion about what makes unions effective and accountable back to the workers -- ACTIVE MEMBERS!  It's a sobering discussion when you all recognize really no one else but us collectively can protect our rights and win better conditions and wages!  

A final we give away various solidarity gifts from different USA unions and political groups, we get to have wonderful conversations with students.  Yesterday, one student wanted to know why there were so many languages on a UE button "Unity!" -- just had not occurred to students how many languages people in America speak and how important immigrants and immigration are to USA.  And students are starting to check-out Black Lives Matter and $15Raise on social media -- a big connection to Vietnam where state will implement a 16% minimum wage increase in 2016.

So as before when we visited Vietnam, the people here are sure teaching us a lot about development, learning, working, transportation, and the different scale of living day-to-day.

Vung Tau -- Great Beaches, Petro Port, Great Food and WONDERFUL FAMILY HOSTS

All of us at the local tasty cafe for sea food and friendship
Vung Tau is a beautiful, medium size (about the size of Long Beach, CA) city located on the South Sea Coast 2 hours from HCMC by 9 passenger van.  The driver follows National Hiway 1A out of HCMC to the northeast and then we turned south on a newly built thruway as nice as our's in California. We passed through small cities, agricultural areas, and several shrimp fields, a major enterprise in the area.  When we arrived in Vung Tau we grabbed a small taxi from the private van station to Thi's home where her mom greeted us and quickly served us with a  lunch featuring local dishes including octopus, squid, shrimp, chicken and local  fresh vegetables.
Big Buddha overlooking Vi Bac Mountain and the bay at Vung Tau
 After eating and talking for a while Thi and her mom walked us around to our hotel two short blocks away.  It was a very nice: clean, comfortable, our own bathroom and only $18  per night (You can live/vacation inexpensively in Vietnam in the smaller cities and country areas and even in the big cities if you are willing to go "three star").  We had a little nap and then took a long walk up a local mountain Vi Bac that overlooks the bay at Vung Tau where we saw lots of fishing boats and oil tankers and container ships in the port.  We were impressed by the industrial activities and eager to talk with Thi's father who works in the Petroleum Industry.
Hey, its a beach.
The mountain climb turned out to be quite rigorous and by the time we got up and down it was time for dinner with the whole family since Thi's dad was home from work. We had dinner out at a local restaurant a few blocks from our hosts' home -- the picture upper left shows our group at the restaurant.

We got a good rest Saturday night after our mountain climbing and on Sunday morning went out to read books and drink coffee (below left) before going to the beach.  We also got into conversations with local neighborhood folks who were relaxing with coffee. 

The beach pictures barely do justice to the gorgeous, restful town and the people.  The area where we swam was very clean and not too crowded in mid-morning.  You might note to the right a beach umbrella,  table and as many chairs as we wanted were rented for $5 a day.  We were only there for maybe an hour but it was a good deal!  After a refreshing swim in a warm sea with pretty active surf, the tide was coming in.  We hung out on the beach for a while and then returned to Thi's home for another lunch with Thi's artist mom (she embroiders beautiful painting-like wall pieces), sisters and baby brother.  

Then after another sea food and chicken lunch we went back to grab some reading time at the coffee shop we had visited in the morning.  Thi and her family (her father was still at work -- overtime) relaxed at home with the typical early afternoon nap.

Sunday morning Coffee and Book reading time
The indoor-outdoor cafe/coffee house was a perfect place to relax during the couple of hours during "siesta time" for other people.  We were an oddity, not taking a nap during the afternoon.  Late afternoon Thi's father got home from work and we all got to enjoy a traditional fresh seafood dinner before we headed back for HCMC and the University.  We had beer to go  with our meal and afterward before leaving we had a drink of a favorite liquor made with mushrooms with a smooth but strong content.  To enjoy it more I had a second round with Thi's father and we both called out our mot, hai, ba, Yo as we downed our shots.  Then it was travel time.  Thi's Mom escorted us over to the van station.  I rode behind mom on her motorbike and just had a great old time as she transported me to the station.  The others walked!

The van ride back to HCMC was in the dark of night on a sometimes rainy highway and we passed one accident site where at least four motorbikes had crashed but we didn't see any casualties but having been a bike rider I just know it might have been serious.  The van would stop here and there to pickup or drop off a passenger.  In the seat in front of us were two women from Poland who had been vacationing in Vietnam for about a month and were returning home.
A Sunday morning street life shot in Vaung Tau

 The shot below is at Thi's middle school where we visited and enjoyed the company of not just Thi but of a class of students who were there on a Saturday preparing for a special exam. The other school picture is of Leanna and Thi by the statue of  scholar Vo Trung who the school is named after.

Leanna, Thi and Scholar Vo Trung

Mom and Daughter Thi at restaurant.
Talking with the students at the middle school

Proud poppa and his 18 month old son!
Leanna and two of Thi's sisters.

Celebrating Learning and Teaching in Vietnam

The teaching staff of the University
move up to the statue of Ton Duc Thang
to place burning incense in honor
of Teacher's Day and the Nation.
After the American War ended in 1973 and the nation was re-united in 1975, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam began the process of expanding the public education system across the entire nation with the realization that it was necessary to develop a nation with a high level of literacy to have any chance to achieve the lofty goals of the National war of liberation.  National self-determination could only be effected by an educated people.  According to the United Nations the literacy rate in Vietnam is now about 93+ percent, higher than most of the nations in the world.  This process pushed and organized by the government has relied upon the dedicated teachers of Vietnam who are highly respected and recognized.
Leanna stands with the artwork prepared by students to
honor the Teachers on National Teacher's Day

Leanna and Helena Worthen, another
volunteer teacher at TDT finish
the 1 Kilometer race!
No, this does not mean that every problem faced by the nation has been solved yet nor will that be true probably for a long period.  Of course the US has its educational problems: a conservative base of people who continually attack public education and have managed to cut the budgets so much that education offered in public education in Vietnam: music, arts and physical education is lacking in thousands of schools in the US, a rather amazing and disturbing development for those who believe in the education of the mind, not simply rote learning to provide docile, low paid employees to exploiting corporations but the explosion of "private" charter schools siphoning public school money into the pockets of private businesses.

Leanna crosses the finish line!

Teacher's day is both a solemn occasion with some speeches and special appearances on campus: the President of the VGCL (the national labor union), a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Vietnam, the Ambassador of the Czech Republic and many other dignitaries lead into the Auditorium of the University by our Mr. President Le.  The VGCL Union President, Mr Hung, addressed the gathering and then made a gift presentation to the University.  It should be noted that the VGCL founded and supports the University in the name of the working class of Vietnam.  Later the Czech President and our University President both addressed the assembled teachers.  There were video clips produced by students, songs and dance performances by students and a very moving speech by a first-year student.  All the students in the auditorium stood and sang a traditional song about teachers -- made Leanna cry.

Meanwhile, outside and on-going were athletic events including running, slow bicycling (How slow could the rider go without falling over before meeting the finish line -- our team mate Ms Vinh won 2nd place!), a fishing contest, football-soccer, badminton, tug-of-war, sack race,  and swimming.  Leanna won 4th place in her first ever running race!  Her aching knees!

Of course after all the competitions and the gala event in the auditorium there was a BIG Party in the Arena with hundreds of the faculty present and enjoying themselves.  Lot's of "mot, hai, ba, yo" salutes.  Students made bulletin boards honoring students, Leanna is posed by one above, and also hand-made artificial but very beautiful flowers that were presented to the various teachers.   There were also handmade cards that were gorgeous for every teacher.  Before the big party students presented us teachers with beautiful bouquets which we carried as we moved about on campus.

Have we ever got a lot to learn from Vietnam about celebrating learning and teachers!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Some tidbits!

Thanks to our friend Vinh, we have discovered CORN CAKE!  Since having a sweet tooth is a trait both of us share, we are always thrilled to find yet another Vietnamese dessert.  Here in HCMC there are evidently several bakeries known for making corn cake -- hard to describe a regular looking, circular, two or multi-tiered cake complete with icing that tastes delicately of corn and sometimes surprises you with a kernel or two of whole, cooked corn.  So when you travel to Vietnam and are in HCMC, be sure to ask around and try corn cake.  We highly recommend it!

Although we are housed in a different room at the TDT campus from our previous visit, we are pleased to share that our room has at least one resident "long" -- small lizard.  She is mostly nocturnal (we probably ruin her normal routine since we often work out of our room) and has a wonderful chirp/whistle.  We've had some stereo noise usually late at night, so there must either be others in the room or close by at various windows.  The longer we stay, the more we get to see the long wander around the walls.

And then...two of our former students Ngoc and Nhai have visited with us already (and we hope to meet up with many more of them soon) to share their news.  One of the great stories Ngoc shared is that after graduation from TDT, she and a couple of friends decided to hitchhike around Vietnam -- with little or no money.  Evidently this is relatively common -- although some parents probably aren't too thrilled with such an adventure -- practice for students today.  Ngoc's trip took around 30 days and she mostly headed into northern provinces of Vietnam where she wanted to learn more about the various ethnic minorities.  The trip made many BIG impressions on Ngoc as she and her friend (one of the buddies headed home fairly quickly) easily found rides (motorbikes, trucks, animal carts) and also fairly easily found people willing to allow them to stay in their homes to eat and sleep in return for some help with household work.  Ngoc's observations of different ethnic groups' cultures, opinions, differences between living conditions from rural to towns and cities, different agricultural crops, different types of work -- she really soaked up a lot in 30 days of hard traveling.  We are so lucky to get to know people here willing to share and learn together!

TDT's Got Talent!

Some of you may remember that during our last visit we got to see a talent performance and competition called "TDT's Got Talent" -- based on similar events on USA TV and popular all across the globe.  There is a national level competition that builds on local campus and other group competitions.  There are now corporate sponsors (very limited and different level of PR than from USA) so there are REAL cash prizes for winners at all levels.

We continue to find that culture is really connected here in Vietnam to everyday life -- just about everyone can and does sing, many people play musical instruments, dancing is very popular, poetry is beloved and often recited, storytelling is a real art, magic is very popular.  And tastes range from ancient and traditional poetry and songs and dances to Korean Pop, including all the many ethnic groups as well as art and culture from the 1940s-70s during the victorious struggle for independence and unification.

So...out of scores of initial competitors, the event final last night (which lasted several hours in the transformed sports arena) saw 14 different groups of students perform a wide-ranging and varied types of dances, songs, magic, shadow puppets and a combo of gymnastics-weightlifting feats.  In addition to the performers a huge crew of students were responsible for the event logistics -- everything from PR, ticket sales, staging with sophisticated lighting and sound, seating set-up.  There was a panel of judges including one of our Labor Relations professors who is also a well-known professional magician along with other cultural leaders.  At every level of competition student performers receive real feedback on how to improve, so last night we saw real improvements in several of the performances.  We were especially moved by a group performance of traditional songs from Hue and also by a group performance of songs from the American War.

One of the highlights of the event was a great video produced by the students about their "team building" work during the many months they all participated in the TDT's Got Talent project.  By team building they meant that they collectively selected a "solidarity" project so that they could "give back" to the community.  This particular year the students selected a community kitchen that serves very inexpensive food in a working class ward or neighborhood.  The video showed the students working under the direction of the older women who run the kitchen preparing food, serving food and then cleaning-up at the end of the day.  We find that this is a very common practice of young people, students and adults who are working together (or just socializing) always finding projects that "serve the people" to add to their collective routines.

Vietnam is a special place connecting everyday life, culture and collectivity and with a very different use of competition and "team building".  Vietnam has so much to teach us all!

PS  For videos and photos, check out Leanna's Facebook page and google TDT's Got Talent or check out Youtube for TDT's Got Talent!

Groom's Family Wedding Celebration! Moving tradition and modern fun!

8:30 AM (Vietnamese wedding proceedings start early!) The family of the bride (us included) assembled in the lobby of the hotel to wait for the groom and his family to arrive to "invite" us all to go to the home of the groom for the second traditional wedding ceremony in a modern version of a procession (of vans and cars).  In the past in rural areas like a village we would have walked through the fields and village streets escorted by the grooms family in a more traditional procession.
 In the picture to the left you see the nervous crowd (both families including parents, uncles and aunts, cousins, etc.) waiting in the hotel lobby with grand parents and parents assembled and waiting for the bride to join us and get underway.  We all knew she would be down, but when?  The lady in the center of the sofa is one of the paternal grandmothers who had chauffeured us on the train.  All of Thinh's grandparents are living, but one of the grandfathers was too old and ill to make the trip from his village hometown.

Ms Vinh arrives so we can move to the groom's home!

At last we saw the professional video cameras rolling so we knew the moment we had waited for had arrived and sure enough here came Ms Vinh with her Mother and a close friend.

We climbed into the three vans lead by a car for the bride and her mother and father for our procession and after a few minutes we arrived at the beautifully decorated home (While we did some sightseeing the previous day, Thinh's family was transforming the family home into a beautiful wedding setting of flowers, drapes, etc.) of Mr Tinh's family.  Parents Mr. Lam Trong Hung and Ms Do Thi Kiem met us when we proceeded up to the walk passing through the garden!  The garden had been started and maintained by one of the groom's grandfathers -- now Thinh's Father cares for the gorgeous garden.  A great combination of old and new elements.
 After entering the home the Ceremony was held -- the bride was presented to the groom, the family members placed gold rings on the fingers of the couple and presented gifts from the family members in front of the ancestral shrine.  When the grandmothers gave the couple their gifts of rings with special messages, every eye in the place was glistening with handkerchiefs in hand.  When the formal moment finished we all went out on the front patio area and had a many course lunch with soda, water, beer and laughs and toasts to the long health and good life of the newly weds.  And yet again a lot of delicious local food.

Later in the afternoon (after we all took a nap -- except the groom's parents) we all caravaned together to a nicely decorated hotel where there was a large wedding reception just after 5pm, after people had gotten off from work and could come and enjoy wonderful company, delicious food and just party with musical entertainment and toasts.  Hopefully one, maybe two,  short videos here will illustrate the good times of the evening.  It seems that at least a couple of hundred family and friends were present from this no too large of city!  One group of relatives who had traveled by van from 30 km away, was delayed by bad rain and a flat tire, but they made it and greeted with lots of attention and love.  Following tradition the families of the newly weds toured the large room sharing toasts with the assemblage.  At one point your "ours truly" made our own min-toast tour and saluted many tables.  And then the wonderful day was over and we returned to our hotel for a good nights sleep before getting the train back to HCMC at noon the following day.

Ms. Vinh and Mr. Thinh did not return to HCMC at the same time.  Instead they stayed for several days in the groom's family house where according to tradition, Vinh was busy helping to cook and clean (there certainly were major cleaning projects after all the decorations and partying!).  When she and Thinh told us about this tradition, they made it clear that today the groom's Mother always tells the new "daughter" to relax and get-to-know the family better.  But both Vinh and Thinh wanted to honor the sense of the tradition and were both planning to share some of the household chores while enjoying the family time and the more relaxed atmosphere of a smaller town.

For us it was GREAT to get to meet the groom's parents -- one of whom works for the Provincial "treasury" agency while the other is now retired (women retire at age 55 here with social insurance!) from a finance job with the city government.  Turns out that many of the wedding party guests were province, city and union leaders and their families.
Now we're looking forward to the wedding celebration here in HCMC on Nov. 14 when again we get to celebrate with parents, friends and families!

Up the Coast to Phan Rang for the Groom's family marriage of our friends Thinh and Vinh.

Late rainy dinner in Phan Rang
We hailed a taxi on very busy Duong Nguyen Huu Tho, named after a very strong activist in the National Liberation Front during the war of liberation, last Sunday, 3-11-2015 and began our trip by train up the coast of the East Sea to Phan Rang-Thap Cham to attend the second part of the wedding of our Vietnamese friends, Ms Vinh and Mr Thinh.  This Procession and Ceremony is organized and celebrated under the direction of the groom's parents just as the previous Ceremony was celebrated and organized by the bride's parents.  We were accompanied on the train, tour-guided, by Mr Thinh's grandmother who is 80 years old and a constant national and international traveler by plane, train and probably boat although we didn't think to ask.
Water Buffalo walk by our hotel
as we were waiting in the lobby
 Our train reached Phan Rang a couple hours after dark and we were moved off the train and into the station by our tour guide where we met by the groom's family lead by his mother and father.  After shared greetings we were off to our hotel (just a bock from the gorgeous beach) and then on to a BIG dinner at an mostly outdoor restaurant with a roof.  By this time it was raining like heck and the roof was a necessity although probably if there had not been a rain storm we would have eaten under the starry sky.  The food was delicious and both families were present in big numbers.  While we ate the delicious many course dinner: fresh seafood, fresh chicken (free range for everything), fresh beef, and fresh pork with tasty Vietnamese sauces and fish sauce and large amounts of very fresh vegetables along with rice and a final seafood hotpot and a lot of toasts, one, two, three bottoms up, (mo, hi, bah, yo!) with tasty Tiger Beer.

We caught a few hours sleep after the big dinner and then at 8:30am we met the families downstairs after a quick breakfast and boarded one LARGE Ford Van to zoom out to the Thap Cham beach area and the beautiful East Sea.  We went for a cruise around some of the bay area but our snorkeling was scuttled when the parents felt the water was too deep and they didn't want the young children, under 7 years old, going in the ocean.  We drove through beautiful mountains by the ocean looking for an acceptable beach but gave up after a while and skipped the swimming and instead went back to the

Fishing Boats in the harbor and the hills in the background.  A surprising feature
of the area was the large amount of cactus growing -- Hollis felt deja vu all over
again to growing up in Arizona.
hotel, rested for a while and then drove to a Buddhist Pagoda where family members offered prayers for the marriage couple. Next we went on to a large, very old (around 1600 years old) Cham Temple that was situated on a hill with an incredible view of the province and the city.  The grounds around these national treasurers of old times are being restored as budget and time permit.

Here we see the brides family and friends gathered at the bottom of the hill before we trekked up to the temple itself. At this time the grooms family were at the family home decorating and preparing for the ceremony which would be held the next day.  The walk up the hill was not arduous, but it was steep and required a lot of energy but when we reached the top the temple was well worth the climb and then there was also the view of the city below.

The metropolitan area has about 400 thousand folks so while much smaller than HCMC or Ha Noi it is not small.  Long Beach CA is slightly larger in pop and area for comparison.  Oh, by the time we got to the top of the hill it was raining and continued to rain while we toured.  The thick clouds did not help with the photography.
Phan Rang from a top the hill with the Cham Temple looking East, Southeast

and looking West Northwest if my sense of direction is right.
This province is famous for salt fields and production, grapes and apples, fishing, garlic, wool (so lots of sheep grazing everywhere), goats, cows.  We also saw a HUGE power plant along the coastline. Along with many government and people's organization buildings (this town is the capital of the province) we saw lots of parks - some especially for children - and an inspiring American War Memorial.

  After getting down off the hill in the rain we went back to the hotel to get a few minutes of rest and then off for a dinner at a locally famous restaurant serving chicken and rice, pickled and fresh vegetables and lots of toasts with ice cooled beer. Mo, hi, bah, Yo! again.  The next bog pages will be with pictures of the Wedding Ceremony and the Party!