Monday, July 23, 2018

The Occupations of Vietnam: Silk, Coffee, and Cricket Farming in Dalat

Students and kitties munching on crickets in Dalat
I'll begin with my least favorite stop on our farm tour - the cricket farm. We visited the large boxes in which they breed the crickets. An orange kitty started flirting and following us at this point. She came back to the table with us and got her share of crickets fried in lemongrass. I didn't even consider partaking in this local treat, but most of my classmates did.

Lets go snack on crickets

Mr. Phu's cousin and neighbor with his silk
worms, munching on mulberry leaves.
We visited a silk factory in Dalat province, guided by the charming Mr. Phu, a farmer of coffee, macadamia nuts, jack fruit, and peppercorns. Now I know where silk comes from. Silk worms are kept by local farmers, who feed them masses of mulberry leaves.

Silk worm pupa
The farmers bring the silk worm pupa to the factory (as seen above).

Close-up of silk work pupa, which are boiled
to release the one long thread of silk
thread they are made from.

Silk factory. The white disks at the top
of the frame are strands of silk, fed up from the hot water below.
Silk factory workers place the pupa in hot water, loosening the one long strand of silk that the pupa is made of. They attach the thread to a machine which spools it. Above you can see the white disks - those are silk threads - raw silk. Mr. Fu explained that silk factory workers are likely also coffee farmers. They can come and go as they please at the factory. They are paid for how much they produce.

This buddha is happy because they store coffee in his belly.
The highlands of Dalat are thriving with a combination of farm crops, factory jobs, and tourism. Farmers grow coffee, macadamia nuts, peppercorns, silk worms, and mulberry. Locals can combine multiple crops, part time work in silk factories, and, sometimes tourism to make a living. This way of life requires creativity, but affords an attractive flexibility.

Elephant Falls
We climbed slippery rocks to be drenched by the back of Elephant Falls. Exhilirating! Sadly, even this popular natural wonder was polluted with floating trash.

Behind Elephant Falls

Mr. Phu, demonstrating his coffee farm

Mr. Phu let us taste the red coffee berries - sweet and slightly bitter, with two giant coffee beans inside.

Coffee berries!

Coffee on Mr. Phu's farm

Mr. Phu's wife, daughters, and neighbor boy served us
coffee in their home.

Caffeinated and happy on Mr. Phu's patio

One of the weasels who eats the coffee to poop it out.
Weasel coffee is some of the most expensive coffee you can buy. We visited a farm, where they feed the weasels the red coffee berries. The weasels swallow the beans whole. The beans are cleaned, then roasted and made into coffee. I was mystified as to how this seemingly insane custom had started, and Mr. Phu explained that fermentation is prized in Asia and the beans become slightly fermented by the weasel's digestion process.

Weasel poop coffee brewing over the coffee fields.
We tasted the coffee on a terrace overlooking the coffee fields. It was tasty, but so strong I could barely drink it. That was partly because I drank too much coffee on Mr. Phu's farm beforehand.

The whole San Jose State group

The Occupations of Vietnam: Dalat

Helmet for children billboard - most kids I saw on
motor bikes in Vietnam were not wearing helmets. 

The city of Dalat is at a higher elevation than most of Vietnam, providing a cooler atmosphere, which I welcomed with open arms. Dalat produces coffee and flowers. 

Crazy house

Our first stop was the Crazy House, with winding stairways and paths, toadstools, trees, and organic shapes. It was reminiscent of Spain's Gaudi, but not as breathtaking. Workmen continue to build onto the Crazy House today. They rent hotel rooms as well.

Sea monster bar in the ocean-themed ballroom at Crazy House

Mushroom tea party at crazy house

Gondola ride to Truc Lam Pagoda

Gondola to Truc Lam Pagoda
Truc Lam Pagoda can be reached via gondola - so of course we chose that route! They grow strawberries near the pagoda, making me feel right at home, since I live in Santa Cruz, where we grow strawberries as well. Vendors sold the fruit near the temple entrance.

Truc Lam Pagoda

This blue flower

Dalat King Palace - the summer palace of Bao Dai, Vietnam's last king

Linh Phuoc Pagoda

Linh Phuoc Pagoda is located on the outskirts of Dalat, down a small unassuming street. I was blown away by this mosaic modern temple. I climbed a seven story tower, saw countless mannequin monks, a buddha covered in orange strawflowers, and simply felt awestruck by the pagoda's quirky beauty.

Linh Phuoc Pagoda

Lin Phuoc Pagoda

Notes from worshippers on the giant bell, so big they use a
tree log battering ram to ring it. Lin Phuoc Pagoda

I love this temple! Lin Phuoc Pagoda

"Vietnamese Pizza" as they called it - a rice paper disk
with an egg, sausage, and a few kinds of sauce.
It tasted like dried shrimp, not my favorite.
Walking along the lake to dinner in Dalat I passed vendors cooking and selling barbecue sweet potatoes, corn, and eggs. Later, at the night market (above) countless people cooked these "Vietnamese pizzas". Street vendors are everywhere in Vietnam. It seems anyone who wishes to make a little extra cash finds something to sell, and often, that something is street food.

The Occupations of Vietnam: My Son

The My Son ruins, near Hoi An, are from the years 900-1300 AD. They are reminiscent of Angkor Wat because they were built by the same culture - Hindu. The Hindus from India were in Vietnam seeking spices.

The site was full of depictions of the god Shiva, lingams, yonis, elephants, and lots of seated meditation in limestone (grey) and local clay bricks (burnt orange).

Our guide pointed out these American shells found on the site. During the Vietnam War the Viet Cong used My Son as a base. The Americans bombed the site, doing much damage.



Two bomb craters between two of the largest temples at My Son

This temple was badly damaged by American bombs.
This dog led us around the entire site!

Bomb crater on the left


The Occupations of Vietnam: Hoi An

Transport for a boy with cerebral palsy

Hoi An is in the center of Vietnam, where its even hotter than Hanoi. We were there to volunteer at Children's Hope in Action (CHIA), an organization that helps disadvantaged Vietnamese children with health, education, disability and housing. The first floor of their building hosts a day care for children with special needs. The ages ranged from infant to 9 years old. The floor staff includes parents and one physiotherapist. At the time of our visit there was an Australian occupational therapist volunteering full time and a Belgian woman volunteering full time doing art activities with the children.

CHIA - the clinic where we volunteered
During our volunteer shifts at CHIA we played with the children. We tried to work on needed skills, such as coming to midline and core strength. The daycare is not equipped with enough developmental toys. I wished we had known that so we could have each brought something useful from the U.S. to the clinic to share with them.

CHIA's website:

Hoi An Ancient Town

La Rue beer and White Rose Dumplings
(shrimp in translucent rice dough),
a Hoi An specialty I couldn't get enough of.

Hoi An Ancient Town

City of 1,000 lanterns

Pho for breakfast

Scraping paint at a local school for CHIA
The school where we helped with the paint job.

This plumeria fell on me at the pool.

Our resort was stunning - Hoi An Trails Resort. Our room had a living area, and a patio overlooking the gorgeous pool.

Hoi An Trails Resort, from our room

CHIA - sponsored nutrition seminar in a small village

We attended a nutrition seminar in a small village. The seminar was in Vietnamese, but our teacher Uyen, who is from Vietnam, translated some of it. The speaker talked about the benefits of breast milk over formula, then demonstrated how to make beef porridge, porridge, with egg yolk, then shrimp porridge for babies 12-24 months of age. When I asked her if the women have breast pumps for milk, she said most women do not and they pump by hand. As an experienced milk pumper I felt for the women who work with nursing babies.

They explained that the town's main occupation had transitioned recently from farming (with a loose, family-based schedule) to work at a new large amusement park (with schedules that have mothers away from their families for hours on end). Working at the amusement park creates logistical challenges for the mothers.

Cao Lao - local dish of Hoi An - pork, rice cakes, noodles,
and herbs.

The color mustard is everywhere in Vietnam. 

Periwinkle paradise

An Bang Beach, 6pm - locals wait until evening to visit the beach 

Incense cones

Shrine on temple grounds

Cua Dai Beach