Saturday, September 5, 2015

South Vietnam - Thu Thua (Ken's Family)

So our final day in Vietnam happened to be the anniversary of the death of Ken's paternal grandmother.  In Vietnam, birthdays are rarely if ever celebrated, but the anniversary of your death is celebrated for 3 generations.  It is a time for family to come together and honor the memory of their ancestors.  The celebration began in Ken's grandmother's former home (now occupied by his Aunt who took care of his grandmother in her final years).  We paid respect at the shrine in the home and then we drove to her burial site nearby to pay respect there as well.  Then we returned to the family home and enjoyed a wonderful meal together.  I think there were nearly 40 people in attendance and Ken's 83 year old aunt made a 6 course meal for everyone.  It was amazing!!!  I tried to explain the concept of potluck, but I don't think they grasped the idea.  :-)

I only wish we had taken a big group picture before the meal.  Everyone finished eating at different times and then most everyone went off to take naps in various places throughout the house or yard.  People left before others woke, so we never had a chance to get everyone at once. 

Ken really enjoyed visiting with his family and seeing the village where he grew up.  He was in Saigon 15 years ago, but he didn't come to Thu Thua on that trip, so he hasn't been here since they left Vietnam in 1978.  It was entertaining watching him see his old village through the eyes of an adult ... so much had changed and yet so much was still the same.  Ken couldn't get over how much smaller everything was in reality compared to his memory.  It was an incredibly special day for everyone ... the boys LOVED seeing where daddy used to live.  So very different than where/how we live today!!
Entrance to school where Ken and his siblings attended, his mom was a teacher, and his dad was the principal

Ken's elementary school
This used to be the house where Ken grew up.  Apparently the Red Cross used it during the war, but it no longer remains in the family.  It is right next door to his grandmother's house.
Front room of his grandmother's house ... the entire wall is a shrine built for the family members that have passed away.  It includes gifts of fruit, incense, and flowers.  There are pictures of each of them on the shelves.

Close up of part of the family shrine.  Ken's paternal grandparents are in the middle and that's a picture of Ken's sister on the right.  She passed away last year.  On the left are cousins who fled Vietnam during the war and were never heard from.  They are presumed dead, but no one knows for sure.
Ken and his dad with his Aunt.  She lives in the house we gathered and was responsible for the all the delicious food and drinks we enjoyed!!!  An amazing lady!!! 

This is the kitchen where they cooked a 6 course meal for 40 people.  They had a 2 burner gas cooktop and a toaster oven.  I was blown away!

This is additional space for an outdoor kitchen area .. where they prepped food and washed dishes.  This area was added to the house in recent years.

Ken's mom with another one of his Aunts

Empty creek that ran the length of the property between the house Ken grew up and his grandmother's house.  He remembers playing in the giant river all the time.  Note:  if full of water it would be about 3 feet wide!  :-)  And he also learned it was never part of the natural river behind the property, but was actually a small fish farm his grandparents built and used as a source of income.

This is the foundation to the old outhouse.  Ken remembered it was a LOOOONG haul to get out to the out house (especially at night) and then you would practically scale a mountain to get up to it.  And it emptied into a giant lake.  The reality:  it was maybe 10' from the edge of kitchen and you had to climb 3 steps.  Can you see the giant lake in the picture??  Probably because it was tiny!!!  Love the memory of a child where everything was SO much larger than the reality!  Jaden and Nicholas were most grateful that the house now had indoor plumbing!!

Meeting one of their cousins

A 100 year old bed that remains in the family.  It's used as a table, desk, bed, anything.  There were several people sprawled across it after lunch taking naps.  No need for pillows or blankets.  You just crashed on top the way it is.  Seems so uncomfortable to this spoiled American!

A few of the uncles greeting us on the front porch

Jackfruit tree on the patio ... my favorite tropical fruit.  I wish they made jackfruit scented candles!  I love the smell almost as much as I love this delicious fruit!!!

Burial site for Ken's paternal grandparents

The incense is brought to your forehead and then you bow 3 times before placing the incense in a pot under the pictures of the grandparents.

Boys did a great job following their cousins and doing as they were asked.

Picture of his grandmother at her gravesite

The graves are located in the middle of rice fields, tucked away where you would never know.  It was very private.

Front porch is set and ready for lunch

Some of the food ready to be enjoyed ... those are giant shrimp in the front and 3 huge whole fish that were battered and fried. 

Ken's Aunt's dog Jackie got a lot of love and attention! 

Mrs Doan adored the dog!  I didn't know she was such a dog lover!

Ken's cousin teaching Jaden proper use of chopsticks.  (Grateful he sat at our table ... one of 2 people that spoke English!)

Ken's dad offered a toast before the meal

Enjoying the food

These were some delicious spring rolls!!!  Loved that sausage!!!
 After lunch we tried to take some pictures of the family before they all left...
The boys wanted a turn to sit on a motorcycle...



 More pictures of Jackie...

Me with Ken's Aunt and her son.  He was HILARIOUS!!!  He didn't really speak English, but he sat at our table and loved to drink with others.  Every few moments he would say "Yo!!" (Vietnamese equivalent of "cheers") and clink glasses and have a swig of beer.  Eventually I couldn't keep up with him so instead of saying "Yo!" in response, I started saying "No Yo!  No Yo!"  The guys continued to drink, but I had had enough!  He was a good sport about it!

We were sad to say goodbye and to have to leave this beautiful family and this amazing country. 
We hope to return again someday soon!


South Vietnam - Saigon and Cu Chi

We took another domestic flight from central Vietnam into Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City).  Ken hasn't been back to Saigon in 15 years.  He was amazed by the change.  It was a modern and beautiful city with sky rises, wide streets, and lots of green space!!  Drastically different from the capital city of Hanoi!  We spent our first day exploring the city.  It was also drastically cooler in Saigon.  I don't know if it was just because of the cloud cover... it was very overcast, but it never really rained on us.  No complaints from us though, we loved the 80 degree temps every day!!

Cathedral down town ... only cathedral we saw in Vietnam

Post office.
The town hall was my favorite building in Saigon...very French looking and situated at the top of a hill that was entirely pedestrian all the way down to the river (and our hotel).  It was a fabulous place to let the kids run off energy and people watch.  There were also lots of fun street performers at night.  Very fun place to explore!

The town hall

Pedestrian zone connecting the town hall to the river ... lined with sky scrapers, restaurants, and shopping

Fountains in the pedestrian area
lots of green space down town!
Selfie in front of iconic skyscraper downtown ... taken from the pedestrian area

Visiting a temple in Saigon ... built for a women that saved her family at sea and believed to bring protection in the water to all who worship here

Dragon bush in the temple cute!

typical street scene in an older district of the city
Donuts anyone??
We ran into this donut man on the way to do some shopping at the market.  Nicholas was grumpy because he didn't want to shop.  He wanted to stay at the hotel and play minecraft. 

Famous market in Saigon ... we found prices to be significantly elevated compared to Hoi An!!!  Even with Mrs Doan doing the negotiation, it was still significantly more expensive here!!

Parking lots look very different when everyone drives motorcycles

dried goods at the market

Snack stalls were everywhere at the market

poor guy lugging 3 boxes up the stairs on his back

For father's day, Ken wanted street food for dinner.  The pork sandwiches were good, but we actually preferred the ones in Hoi An. 
We went to the opera house to see the AO show.  It was spectacular!!!  It was an acrobatic show weaving in tradition Vietnamese farming tools and traditions.  I'm sure that doesn't come close to describing it, but it was an amazing show!!!  We really enjoyed it!!!

Bad lighting, but love the devilish look on Nicholas' face

Waiting for the show to start

Happy father's day!

I get some love too!  Didn't know that Nicholas was giving Jaden bunny ears though!!
 Our hotel in Saigon, was right on the river... here are some pictures from the rooftop....

We took a day trip from Saigon to visit the Cu Chi tunnels.  These are the tunnel systems used by the North Vietnamese during the Vietnamese war.  We learned a lot about the war and I think it was a bit hard for Mr and Mrs Doan to see.  Mr Doan was put in jail during the Vietnamese war because he was educated and wealthy and therefore deemed a threat to the communist cause. 

Jaden popping out of one of the personal entrances to the tunnel system in Cu Chi

Boys thought it was so fun ... just their size!

Ken was a bit more cramped.  He's holding the lid used to hide these entrances/exits in the jungle

once covered, you would never know where these tunnels exist

My turn to try it

Larger entrance for equipment and supplies

learning about some of the traps used by the north on the American troops
more traps
a very dense jungle

Looks like a giant anthill, but it's manmade.  Their way of ventilating the tunnel system ... and allow an escape for smoke from their cooking underground

An abandoned American tank becomes photo op

Yes that's a scorpion in our path!

Some kind of centipede in our path

Learning about various bombs and shells used in the war

Ice cream break!  (It's hot in the jungle!)

Footwear for the Vietnamese soldiers and their families made from the rubber of old tires.  Reduce Reuse Recycle right?

About to enter the tunnels

Entering a portion of the tunnels we were allowed to explore

Inside the tunnels.  Nicholas could stand, but even Jaden had to stoop a bit. 

Not only were they short, but narrow too!  Ken barely fit and he's not exactly a large man.  No wonder American troops loaded with supplies struggled to fit through the tunnels.

One of the dining halls underground

Underground cooking.  The smoke from the stove was piped several meters away and the smoke came up through one of those anthills. 

Silly boys

That's a cashew nut