Phu Quoc – when you know you are part of the problem

We all want what we know is not good for us. What we know that might break us in the end, and yet we fly towards it. Always wanting the thing we cannot have.” – Madonna (Crave)

What it is about hotel companies and corrupt governments that believe the idea of building large structures only 15 meters from the water is a great idea. I could only think that when they first built some of these holiday accommodations on Phu Quoc they might have been 100-200 meters away. (I told ya mum you will have a water front property soon) The Russians and Chinese flock here even though they only have a foot of sand to play with. I kept on thinking, why would you want to come to a resort on the beach where the water is grey and looks like it’s nearly run out of oxygen? It was not the first time that I have seen water like this and I am sure it won’t be the last but I did fear for their health and happiness. Certainly the marketers have done a great job selling the dream. Says something about the world we live in. Profit for a few and destroying a way of life and the environment for those who have no voice.

It was not all doom and gloom, the sunset was divine, the bustling street markets selling plenty of food and voices of happy people singing to all hours their favourite Karaoke tune.   When I eventually found the beach where the locals meet, sleep and eat I started to see how, maybe within my life time, Phu Quoc was a beautiful place. However as I strolled along the foreshore it was sad to see the environment totally destroyed thanks to hap hazard rubbish collection and a lack of regulation. The fishermen and their families lived on the shoreline in homes made from any building material they could find. I wondered how on earth could the government allow this to happen? I started to get a picture in my mind that although tourism has a positive effect for a few, for the majority it actually is devastating.

As I continued my walk along the beach towards the main town, (separated by a river from the tourist center) there was a huge pier that I needed to navigate, however it was fenced of. I had hobbled to far to go back so I weaved my way through horrible piles of rubbish and filthy gunky puddles and managed to crawl and rock climb the man made shore breaker. About 100 meters in front of me were domestic buildings and what looked like a thriving village. I didn’t want to arouse the locals but that was impossible. At first I think they were also shocked to see me. I gingerly smiled, feeling like I was intruding in their private business but they were more than happy to show me the right direction. With my hiking/walking stick in hand I disappeared into a maze of laneways. After a short time I had lost my sense of direction so the best thing to do was to roam and observe the people going about their daily life. I stood out like a sore thumb especially with my camera so I decided to put it away, rather than focusing within the frame. I needed to see, hear, feel, smell and taste this world. I’m glad I did. I mean what was I going to take a photo of? I think it was around this time that I started to question the purpose. Because what I was seeing was not right? How can one not be appalled at the millions of people that have been taken advantage of? How can I not question myself?

Before arriving in Vietnam many people spoke about how great the country was. I met those who took advantage of the cheap travel; accommodation, transport and simplistically of life. I met those who took advantage of a party one can have. I met those who can stay long term because it’s cheaper than home. I met those who went for the cultural experience, for whatever that might mean. I met those that went for the food. I met those to experience the beautiful landscape. I met those who want to have a ‘real’ experience. I then met myself.

When I left, I felt empty, betrayed, cheated and angry at myself for being everything that I thought I might not be. The privileged. We come and go and leave a country that is in such bad shape environmentally which we have contributed to. We view through a prism, the market places alive but dead, the beaches and their resorts a fake reality, we take advantage without giving back yet when we leave we speak highly of the time we had. We get home or go somewhere else and thank god we don’t live in Vietnam.

I am glad I went to Phu Quoc, if anything it has reinforced my view of the world and the idea that we must fight for decency, dignity, fairness and making the untouchables accountable. We live on one planet, pity some think it’s all theirs.

So what are some solutions? Maybe with the money we save we could give to local organizations that help the environment, fund educational programs for the people by the people or subsidize community programs to help to regenerate the land we are quite happy to use. Choose resorts that have taken the effort to engage with their employees that help promote education and environment problems. Take the time to engage with the local community you are visiting. Pay a fair price for goods. There are many people who have made goods that are more expensive and the money goes to the local community, not to someone from another country, ie China. Stay at resorts owned by locals rather than multinationals. Book accommodation through their website rather than the big chains. The money goes overseas not to the locals who have no control over their bookings. If you use plastic bottles make sure you use them again. Don’t use a plastic bag to carry what you have bought. Ride a bike rather than a motorcycle, take public transport, it’s hard but u still get to the same place.

Finally, I keep on thinking about my own country. Is this what happens when human rights are disregarded? Here we have a country like Vietnam (and many more) where people who are a position of power. They control by means of corruption or through the threat of physical or psychological violence? Yet here we are in Australia thinking we are above all that. Yet are we? We are certainly not trying to hard to reconcile with indigenous Australia as facts and stereotypes are often distorted. We continue to destroy our environment and treat the less fortunate with disdain and blame them for all our woes. We also think by dismantling the basic tenants of human rights that many fought for is some sort of conspiracy that takes away our freedom and opens up our borders to terrorists. More than ever we need to take a good hard look at ourselves, because bit by bit it won’t be immigrants, the poor or indigenous Australians who threaten our so called lucky country but those who have the power to stop anyone who disagrees and challenges their agenda. It happens slowly and history has a habit of repeating itself.

 

Video of Vietnam

 

 

 

 

Apartment 101

Siagon– calm surrounded by chaos.

When you arrive at the airport there is a nervousness you feel as you go through customs, work out money and try to organised transport especially late at night.  You feel somewhat relaxed with the drive towards the city as you look out of the window from the air conditioned car.   You can’t see the hustle and bustle or hear the constant noise.  It’s like you are immune to all its vices.  It’s not until I hop out of the Cab (on one leg) and struggle to gain my breath as the humidity slaps me in the face, that I realise we are going to be in for on one hell of an adventure.  The driver dumps our bags on the driveway in front of what looks like a car depot but it’s the building for our Airbnb. ‘Holly molly’, where the hell do we go. The only clue as to where our room is was via the message we received when we booked the place. No meet and great here.  So with no other choice Jody has to carry not just her own bag but mine as well.  She is a strong lass but I am feeling a tad sorry for her and I’m sure she is thinking, ‘what the hell have I got myself in for’, as she leaves me behind disappearing down through the carpark entrance. Eventually and I mean eventually Jody comes back, she is obviously flustered and didn’t realise there was a code, she has left the bags at the front door.  We need to get there quick smart but I cannot go more than one hop at a time so the journey to the 8th floor was certainly an eventful one, including the issue of the elevator attendant, who knocked of at 11pm and it was way past that time.  So we eventually arrive on the 8th floor, sort out the code and let ourselves in.  The room is just that, with a loft and a small bathroom and a smaller kitchen.  Believe me smaller than the cooker I had when living in the bedsit in London.  However it is clean, quiet and hospitable, except that when we booked the place we didn’t realise that it had a loft and only a double bed.  Luckily with further investigation there was a spare soft mattress and with great effort Jody managed to carry it down the stairs to the ground floor where I would sleep.  After a while we were safe again, just like in the cab oblivious to what is happening 8 floors down.  Although in the back your head you know that in 6 hours when the sun rises you will have to learn on the run (or the hop), how this place ticks.

The apartment was one of at least a hundred on each floor within a vast apartment complex. I loved the short time we stayed mainly because I got to meet the locals who resided on our floor. In the evenings I would sit in the corridor next to a wired window that provided a breeze and a view of the world outside, although a narrow one. This was a time when the kids would take over whilst their parents where having some me time. Running up and down the corridors and the stairs, playing chasey, cops and robbers, dancing and singing you name it.  This would go well into the night. A young girl would often sit with me so I could help her with her English grammar book and she seemed very happy indeed that I would take the time to help and listen.  She would run of and tell her parents the new words she learnt. (can someone tell me why Giraffe is a word you would teach to new english learner)  I am sure they had no idea what words were spoken.  During all this mayhem Grandmothers would also help out mum and dad and push the toddlers on their plastic bikes trying to shove food down their throats. I was happy to help at times, pulling a few funny faces often did the trick. The other aspect of apartment living in Saigon was the community of shops and businesses within the complex. Hairdressers, convenience stores, juice bars etc. also the elevator man who controlled the elevator sitting at desk all day, however he also used his time wisely by knitting.  Mainly kids clothes, the quality amazing.  I often hear from people how they couldn’t live in a apartment complex and I totally get it. However if this is an example about how to live as a community within close quarters then this is the way to do it, oblivious to the rest of the world.

Video Link

Vietnam

 

 

 

American Pie

Making the decision to stay in Pia for two weeks whilst on crutches was the best thing I could do. I paid a little extra to have my own room, with balcony and easy access. The bonus was the room faced a beautiful garden and like Pai itself very peaceful. The owners bent over backwards to make my stay enjoyable. The other bonus was that I was only 5 minutes from cafes and convenience stores. The downside is that when you stay in your own room you often miss the interactions of other people. Not that I really cared as I was struggling with myself after the accident. However that all changed in a flash when a new guest (Jody) booked the room next to mine. We hit it of straight away. We had many things in common at the time. Jody had quit her job as a Research and development chef (geez I hope I got that right Jody?) and she was looking for new options in life. One was not to be controlled by others who could only see the bottom line. I am also sure there were heaps of others reasons, but she wanted to travel and most importantly focus on her online business.

Food is her passion, but not just food per say but the process that goes into each completed dish. I was fascinated by her work and folks if you are wondering about flavor in processed foods well Jody is the inventor of those flavors. She also was a chef in many places including New Orleans and what I love about Jody is her passion and willingness to make a success of her life. Jody was also searching for a place to stay and make a base. She was also traveling solo for the first time. It takes courage to give up everything you know and embark to countries and cultures unfamiliar. So the timing of us meeting up was meant to be. I suppose for Jody meeting me, helped her adjust to the oddbods travelers you meet. Pai is a place where the lost often head to. Pai reminded me of where I was at 30 years ago, without a dime to my name. I understood the many reasons why travelers ended up here. That is the beauty of traveling without an itinerary, everyone is on their own personal journey. Not what society expects you to do or should I say the pressures that modern life makes you feel you should do. The comfort of a job that brings in a wage is also the devil in disguise. Work, make deadlines, and then have a performance review so the boss can get their bonus for all the work you have done. Jody also felt this also.

When time had come to leave Pai and travel to Chang Rai (I had another doctors appointment and my plaster was removed) we were happy to start our journey together. I had spent plenty of time in Chang Rai, so it was like a homecoming. I also had to spend a week staying in one location to rehabilitate and get some confidence back. For Jody she again wanted to investigate the flavors of northern Thailand. This was great because I could share food for a change and we certainly had fun doing so. Jody also for the first time stayed in the hostel for a few days. For Jody this was well out of her comfort zone, however apart from the odd issues with sharing a room, she made the most of a hostel I would rate the best I have ever stayed in. Always good to make good first impressions. I knew that it was going to be hard to follow. So after a week we came to the decision that we would go to Vietnam. For me I don’t think I would have gone on my own, as I was still very limited in my movement. We were both super excited and now when I think about it although it was the beginning of backpacking together it was also the beginning of the end as well.

After 2 weeks we travelled from Saigon to Phnom Penh in Cambodia then went our separate ways. It was nice and also a relief to have a travel buddy especially when I was trying to get back onto my feet. I will always be indebted to her. I also hope I had a positive influence, however sometimes living 24/7 can be a challenge and we were starting to find that we wanted to take a different path. Jody atm is based in Vietnam (update now in Bali after 3 months in Vietnam) and uploads daily posts through Instagram the amazing food safari she is on. Here is her link, please follow and do yourself a food favor. 

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Thailand to Vietnam

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Wunderlustandrootvegetables