Today we woke up at 5am to watch the sunrise over the Mekong from a small wooden boat. Our guide took us on tour of the branches of the Mekong Delta. We started by visiting two floating markets, where we bought fruit and chatted with one of the lady vendors. Later we toured rice paddies, and visited a place where they produced rice noodles. The whole process was fascinating. It begins with boiling the rice and making a paste. Then the paste is poured over large griddles to form translucent crepes. The stoves are fueled by rice husks, and then the ashes are dispersed over the fields as fertilizer. Loving the whole closed-loop production cycle! They lay the rice crepes on bamboo mats and let them dry in the sun for several hours. Then they pass them through a machine that slices them into noodles and they bundle them up into 10kg packets, ready to load on boats and ship to the cities!
We noticed that while the men were often shirtless in the heat, most of the women not only wore the traditional pointed straw hats, but also covered much of their skin, including their faces, to shield themselves from the sun. We had also noticed dozens of varieties of skin whitening cream in the supermarket in Ho Chi Minh City… It was very interesting to discover how much women prize whiteness over here. Stephanie noted, to my surprise, that outside of white communities, skin lightening creams are also very common in the States. I may be naive but I theorize that the pressures to have white skin here have less to do with race and more with your occupation and social status, i.e. peasants working outside have darker skin, whereas city-dwellers are fairer.
All in all, our day on Mekong Delta was absolutely lovely, except that I got a dreadful sunburn… evidently I should take a leaf out of the local ladies’ book and cover up!