Thursday, June 30, 2011

Bollywood Veggies Organic Farm

It's hard to believe there is an area designated to farming on this small, populated island.  We were actually shocked at how remote it feels.  A great place for lunch, if nothing else! You can't get any fresher than Poison Ivy Bistro, right on the farm!  Food is wonderful and there are other farms, including frog farm, fish farm, some sort of Dairy farm and other veggie farms in the area to visit too!  The kids enjoyed trying to catch butterflies and looking for different fruit growing on the trees, as well as, looking in the ponds for fish.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City ~ The City of Motorbikes and this is no joke!  Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, is the largest city in Vietnam. The center of the city, District 1, is still referred to as Saigon.  There are about 9 million people and 6 million motorbikes scootin' around.  However, most of the locals if asked, would say more like 12 million, all with a motorbike.  I have to admit, it was quite intimidating to leave the hotel with both the kids! 
The sidewalks are used for parking lots for all these bikes and the streets, well, we'll just say both kids were carried across at all times.  There is really no rhyme or reason to the lines in the streets and if you think you should look left for crossing traffic, you are most likely right, but that doesn't mean a few motorbikes, or cars won't come scootin' down the wrong direction beeping their horn at you to let you know they are coming. 

The first thing I was told after arriving in Saigon, "Don't stop or backtrack while crossing the street.  Motorbikes are trying to anticipate your movements to avoid hitting you."  They aren't kidding!  It's pretty uncomfortable the first few times trying to cross the street, but it does get easier.  Just as long as you aren't pushing a stroller.  Therefore, the stroller was parked, Riley in the backpack and Makayla holding my hand or also being carried by me ~ Yes, I am sure it was quite a sight!

"maybe we should just wait for dad to come back?"
View from our room at the New World Hotel Saigon
 This is a 2-way street and only 1 car going against traffic near the bottom:

After a day of looking out the window, the kids and I decided to venture out to see some sights.  First stop, Reunification Palace, where we started to learn some of our own history and the palace where the decisions were made.  After the French signed the Geneva Agreement and withdrew from South Vietnam in 1954, the palace was handed back to the South Vietnamese Prime Minister.  At this time, Vietnam was divided into North and South.  The North, a communist government; and the south, unstable from the recent turn of government, did have a Prime Minister that did not want Communism to take over.
The people of the south didn't all agree with this Prime Minister and fled the city (Saigon) for the jungle.  This group fought against the southern Prime Minister, who seemed to hold only Saigon, and were called the "guerrillas".  This is when, the South's Prime Minister called upon the U.S. and other ally states, to help him defeat the communist government from coming south and help protect Saigon for his control. (It doesn't sound as though this man kept many friends.)
The Guerrilla's fled to the jungle, where they built their city underground in a form of tunnels for protection, as well as, to give this small group an advantage when fighting (now called Chu Chi Tunnels).  Eventually, recruits had joined the guerrillas from the North Army, this group together known as the Viet Cong. With this, the Vietnam/American War that lasted 20-years.  After America and other ally states pulled out of Vietnam, the group was dissolved in 1976 when North and South Vietnam were officially unified under a communist government.
Reunification Palace Saigon:
 Prime Minister's Private Living quarters in Palace:
 Copy of US F5E used to bomb palace in 1975:
 1st tank to attack palace on April 30th, 1975 that ended war and united North and South Vietnam making Vietnam a communist government:
 Enjoying fresh coconut water outside of palace:

I must admit after studying this war through school and hearing about it from so many, that either fought in the war themselves, or had a parent or close family member in the war, I had no idea what the war was actually about or what brought it on.  So, forgive my complete ignorant mindset on any of this history, but I really found it interesting and disturbing at the same time, to finally learn some facts about what went down. 
I felt relieved to learn from many locals, that the U.S. was actually asked to come to Vietnam to help in some way, but feel completely ashamed seeing the damage done.  I had heard the term "Agent Orange" so many times, but never really knew what it was, what it was used for, or all the effects it left behind.  Who was the brilliant person that decided this was actually going to be used?  Whoever it was, I wonder if that person is still around to see the multi-generational effects that decision had on people all over the world. 
The War Remnants Museum is full of pictures and information showing the trail of complete destruction it left behind.  Killing everything in its path and sprayed on so many innocent civilians and military troops from both sides.  Like so many around the world, the area that it was actually used in, is still seeing babies born missing limbs, blind, deaf and other genetic diseases.  The effects of Agent Orange are expected to stay in the genes for at least 3 to 4 generations - so painful and disturbing to see this.  The War Remnants Museum is definitely not for the light hearted!  It is a very graphic and very descriptive museum of photos, stories and recovered material.

Tiger cages - cells with open tops for prisoners:

Chu Chi Tunnels, Vietnam

The day started with a 1.5 hour drive to the Chu Chi area.  Lucky for us, we hired a private driver and guide, because 25 minutes into the drive, Kevin was covered in vomit!  Makayla has inherited something from me, passed down from my generous aunt Connie ~ Motion sickness/carsickness.  This isn't the first time she has been sick in the car, but this was out of control!  We stripped her down, tried to wash her and Kevin off with a few bottles of water on the side of the street and drove until we found a kids clothing store a few miles down.

Makayla and I went in, found her cute new outfit with tags reading Children's Place, used the bathroom to wash our hands, walked out of the bathroom with dripping wet shoes, because the sink drained onto the floor below. Then, continued on our journey.  Tomorrow, she will try dramamine!

The Chu Chi Tunnels are fascinating.  Built in the 1940's and later, expanded by the guerrilla Viet Cong (the people that fled Saigon when the new leader took over in the 60's), they were used for living and combat. The tunnels were hiding places, as well as, communication and supply routes, hospitals and living quarters.  It took the people about 10-years to dig and build.

Interesting, one of the American military bases was built and set-up on top of the tunnels.  The Viet Cong could hear every movement.

Kevin going into the entrance to the tunnels used by the guerrilla group and the north trained recruits that had been sent south to fight with them, making the group together known as Viet Cong in the American/Vietnam War:
 As you can see, the tunnels were built for a much smaller person.  He stayed down there with the cover on, for just a couple seconds too long, which made me nervous.  Later, he admitted it was so small, he actually cramped up a bit and couldn't get the top off:

 A sample of one of the traps they spread throughout the jungle. This one is bamboo spears hidden in a hole covered with a revolving door, covered with grass. They once used these for hunting food, later, for wartimes:

 The kids wondering if they could go into the hole:
 They recycled everything.  Their bombs were made from the unexploded American missile's that had been recovered and rebuilt, some of the traps were made using fragments of our metal scattered throughout the area and their shoes were made from tires.  They made the wide part of the shoe to fit their heel and the narrow part of the shoe under their toes, to make the people tracking them think they were walking the opposite direction:

 American tank destroyed by a land mine in 1970:

 Kevin and I entering the tunnel, that has actually been made larger for tourists and were still EXTREMELY small and claustrophobic.  The ground here is made-up of clay and the tunnels go 3 levels deep:

Kevin shot a machine gun and an AK-47 that was used in the war: 

The kids hiding in the bamboo trees:

Washing up after running through the jungle and tunnels....or, maybe it was the chocolate ice cream:

On a side note, the trees you see in the background of the pictures in this area of Chu Chi, are all newly planted since the war.  Agent Orange was very effective in doing it's job of killing all of the flora for wartimes.

Mekong Delta, Vietnam

We didn't nearly see enough of this area to say we truly experienced it.  It is a large area, made up of floating villages and markets.  To truly experience it, we will have to go back for 3-day excursion.  The small portion that we did go through, Unicorn Island, was interesting, but definitely a tourist trap.  We crossed the Mekong River itself to get to the island. This river is huge - 2 miles wide and flows through 7 countries, making it the longest river in Southeast Asia.  Starting in China, it flows through Tibet, then forms part of the border between Myanmar (Burma) and Laos, as well as between Laos and Thailand. It runs through Laos and Cambodia before entering the South China Sea in southern Vietnam.

Trying Mangosteen fruit:

Making Coconut Candy ~ coconut caramel, durian caramel, mango caramel and of course his motorbike in the background:

Local music:

Traffic jam on the delta.  Keep your hands inside the boat at all times ma'am! We discovered the drivers of the boats, may think they are still on their motorbikes and try to pass one another, ramming into another boat and trying to race by with their paddles.  Might I mention these canoes are not real stable:

Riley asleep on my back:

Enjoying fresh coconut water on the Mekong River:

Rice Paddy Fields and shrines where they have buried their ancestors in the fields, so they can pay their respect to them everyday they are working in the field:

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Fort Canning Park

In my quest to get back into shape, we frequent this shaded park for casual walks and exploration.  Trying to make my exercising fun for the kids is challenging. There are many discoveries within the park ~ a spice trail, archaeological dig, huge fascinating trees, a pair of cannons, the Battle Box...

To avoid the stairs throughout the park, there are very steep paths to follow with the stroller, as long as the stroller has brakes!  Which mine does not. So, I end up walking backwards down the path, with the stroller riding on my back, to keep it from running away.  I don't know which is worse, going up, or going down ~ Gets the legs burning though!  It is worth it to stroll through this magnificent park, so close to home.

The Battle Box is an underground command post constructed for the British Military during WWII.  The story of the decision to surrender Singapore to Japan is now, reenacted, by life size figures in this 26-room center. We found the story intriguing; the kids just like to explore the underground corridors and touch the costumed figurines.

The Battle Box:

 View from the center on top of the hill:


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