Report From Việt Nam -- Part VI

While Mrs. MC has been busy taking beautiful and artistic pictures on our trip (follow her at DenieDM on Instagram), I’m making it my business to get a few pictures of things you will not see elsewhere. I don’t do Instagram or Facebook, so why not post a few of these here?

For example, you are probably dying to see what Việt Nam’s electricity infrastructure looks like. We were told that about 25% of the people in the country continue to lack access to electricity; but those 25% are located mostly in remote and mountainous areas. In the cities, and also small villages in the Mekong delta, electricity service was generally available, although many small homes in the villages did not appear to be hooked up to it. But even in the major cities the system looked like it was put together with chewing gum and duct tape. Here is a picture from an intersection right in the middle of the old quarter of Hanoi:


Notice also that there is no traffic light at that intersection. In fact, there are almost no traffic lights at all in downtown Hanoi. Every attempt to cross a street is a new adventure.

Speaking of electricity infrastructure, here is my very favorite picture from Việt Nam. It shows a large power plant located east of Hanoi on the road to Haiphong.


Coal-fired of course. I wasn’t quick enough to get a picture of the coal barges moving up the adjacent river to the plant. Note the plume of smoke. That’s good old-fashioned soot and ash — not like the nearly-pure steam and (invisible) CO2 that you can observe coming from the smokestack of a U.S. power plant, often falsely portrayed as “pollution.” This coal plant in Việt Nam makes the real thing. Per Việt Nam’s Power Development Master Plan VII, 26 more of these are on the way by 2030.

Off to some small villages in the Mekong delta. You see lots of hens and roosters walking around. They are being raised to be eaten. And then, you see substantial numbers of roosters in cages. We saw these roosters outside the town of Ben Tre:


They are being raised for the sport of cock fighting. It seems that confining the roosters in cages helps to make them more aggressive and angry, and thus better fighters. The sport has been made illegal, but is still widely practiced in areas outside the gaze of the authorities.

At a medium sized town along the Mekong (Long Xuyen), vendors at the local open-air market sell every possible variety of exotic and unusual foods. The number of different plant and vegetable products is easily double what you would find in the best-stocked U.S. supermarket. And then there are the seemingly edible animal products, which include snakes, spiders, tarantulas, you name it. Take a quick guess at what is shown in this small display:


The local guide used the term “mice,” but they looked way to big for that. Undoubtedly we would call them “rats.” Apparently, they catch them in the rice fields, skin them, and bring them to the market to sell.

There is no such thing in Việt Nam as a general old-age pension system such as our Social Security. However, former members of the army — which in the South mainly means the Viet Cong — do get pensions. In one small village (on Gieng Island), the largest and nicest house belongs to a guy who had served as a medic in the Viet Cong, at the level of a captain. Here he is decked out in all his old medals:


Up above his front door, we find the heart-warming portraits of Marx, Lenin and Ho Chi Minh:


Probably you’ve been feeling guilty lately that your use of plastic water bottles and straws is filling the oceans with things that are endangering marine life. But here in Việt Nam you can observe the real mechanism by which zillions of plastic items find their way into the ocean. Here is a shot from along the banks of the Mekong (near Can Tho):


You can’t see the actual river in that shot because it’s a few dozen yards away. But this is the dry season. When the rainy season comes, this spot is well within the area that the river will flood, and all of this stuff (along with much more of same from hundreds of other sites) will float on out to sea. The local guide says that the government is aware of the issue and has begun to address it. They have a very long way to go.

And finally, they have some truly enormous spiders around here. This one was so gigantic that it had succeeded in capturing the moon in its web:


Fortunately we were able to free the moon from the spider’s clutches in time for it to become part of the big eclipse that you were probably able to see a couple of days later over there in the U.S. (The eclipse was not visible on this side of the world.)

On to Cambodia for my next post!