Friday 27 March 2015

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside...

We've just spent the last few days in Phan Thiet and Mui Ne, little towns that are next to the coast of Vietnam. This experience has been a world away from that of being in Saigon. The pace of life in these rural towns is more relaxed, people taking their time doing what they need to do. However long something takes to do or cook or whatever, is how long it takes, the sense of urgency has gone. This, combined with being by the sea, has had quite an affect on me.

I love the seaside, always have done. Being next to the sea makes me feel connected to the rest of the world, rather than trapped in my own little one. It reminds me how utterly insignificant I am compared to the universe at large, it gives perspective... But I'll come back to that. My experience of the beach back in the UK was always significantly different. In the summer we would go to our gran's caravan in mid-Wales and usually make one or two excursions to the beach. British summer being what it is, it was mostly freezing and swimming in the ocean meant standing in the shallower bit until your whole body went numb with cold which would then allow you to swim about without too much trouble. Eventually our parents would call us out of the water either because it began to rain or we had been in long enough it was reasonable to assume that hypothermia would be setting in shortly. This never stopped me or my sister swimming because, swimming in the sea is still awesome, no matter how cold it is, and I loved those holidays. But the beach here... Wow. Just wow really, I've never seen anything like it. It's paradise, to me, or as near to it as I'll see in my little life, I'm sure. Warm sand, warm water, and the memory of swimming about in it while the sun sets will stay with me for a long time, hopefully forever.

But what marred the coastline somewhat, for me, were the miles of spa villages. They are these forced perfect environments where everything is sanitised and fake. They cover the natural sands over with grass that does not occur naturally and these have large climate controlled swimming pools and other weird fakery...Which seems just bizarre to me... Because the beach, with the palm trees and the sun and the raw beauty is there, it's right there dudes, why would anyone want to spend time in the faux beauty when you've got the natural beauty right the hell there?! Unfortunately the spa towns block the route to the beach and you have to walk through them to get to it. The tourists that use these spas do seen to be predominantly Russian, and while I am not judging any nationality based on a few representatives from said country, I was a bit dismayed of the way they treated the Vietnamese who were serving them. The only graffiti I saw in this area was all in Russian too. I mean, scratched into the soft stone of the rock formations next to an area of natural beauty called the Fairy Stream, was an alarming amount of graffiti. This is also the only area where I saw stuffed crocodiles everywhere, poor little buggers, and a cafe where they had monkeys chained up, I found that really hard to deal with. I wanted to run in and kick off and set them free. I know that the people who own the establishment are ultimately responsible for their actions and for keeping those animals in such conditions, but I can't help but feel that without the tourist demand for it, they would not be there. Maybe I'm wrong, but it was westerners having their photos taken with these poor little monkeys, not locals, and I've not yet seen it anywhere else yet beyond this specific area. It really upset me, because I felt that I should be doing something about it and yet I don't feel that it is my place to muck about with someone's business, and it isn't ultimately. But it was hard.

In Phan Thiet we had some interesting encounters with locals, including my being an idiot and accidentally ordering frog at a roadside cafe. How I didn't notice it was frog I have no idea! But as soon as I did I found it impossible to look past, it was the pattern of the skin that did it. I couldn't pretend it was anything else, even with the delicious sauce on it. As a recovering food phobic this was a step too far and my not eating it did offend the proprietor, something I am deeply regretful of, because it's not her fault I'm an I am unobservant fool. It's a mistake I don't intend to repeat, as I hate causing offence to a people who have overall been nothing but helpful and welcoming, especially when it was nobody's fault but my own.

The best experience was definitely when we were called over to a table of a group of locals in the bar next to or first hotel here. It turned out the chap who called us over was the proprietor and although I'm sure he only called us over at first because of the novelty of us being westerners, they plied us with beer and friendliness. Despite the language barrier we began to have a real laugh. When his son, who spoke some English, turned up, things became even easier and he tried to teach us some Vietnamese words and explain their lives there, while asking about ours. A lot at the laughs were at the expense of his cousin and his young girlfriend, unfortunately, as the phrase 'no baby!' was directed at him. This appeared to be a comment on his manhood, or a warning not to get her pregnant, but either way it did not go down well, a lovers tiff followed and the family had to do a bit of calming him down. I felt bad because I had been laughing along, mostly because it was something I understood and thought it was being taken as a joke by all involved. Afterwards our hosts were far too focused on apologising to us and explained that young Vietnamese men can be hot headed, at which point we said, show us a culture that doesn't have angry young men! But to be fair, who doesn't get fed up with their family winding them up?! When we left I genuinely felt that we had made a real connection and that made my heart glad, it showed me that there good people anywhere and language is not always a barrier to connection. I will always remember that night.

In regard to self reflection and the perspective that some distance can bring, it makes me sad to realise how in so many ways how I have let people down over the years. By not being strong enough, not being compassionate enough, not being self aware enough. I still have so much growing to do, so many bad behaviour patterns and so much personal damage to overcome. My defensiveness, my selfishness, my lack of consideration and care at points, are all things I feel I need to address if I am going to move forwards. To those of you I have let down at points, I am sorry, I am really bad for focusing on the wrong things and not seeing the wood for the trees sometimes, and all I can do is try to learn from these things and move forward, hopefully carrying less bullshit with me as I go. But enough side stepping into deep thoughts. Let's have a look at the perspective giving sunset that I defy not to make anyone feel both insignificant and connected all at the same time.

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