By the Mekong

We got up early and had coffee at the lobby with Miss Vy, and then went to the travel agency where we booked the bus ticket the previous day. The same clerk was there and she rode with us on a van that went to the bus station, and then showed us where to go and said goodbye. We took a bus to the central station, and then another one to Cần Thơ. The ride took several hours, during which I wrote in my diary, listened to music, napped. It was a bit strange that I managed to pass long rides with my nose in a book without getting car-sick.

When we arrived at Cần Thơ, taxis and bike drivers gathered by the bus doors and offered a ride to anyone who got off. It was confusingת and we needed a few minutes to figure out where we are and where to go, when we saw a van going to the city center. Through the windows, the city seemed suburbian and cute. We stopped in front of a small hotel where a polite young man greeted us, gave us a city map and told us where it’s best to eat. After we settled down in our room we went out. The city is built on branching of the Mekong river, with the main street on its bank. At its center, there’s a humble marketplace, and simple city life – the sun stands high in the skies and underneath it people are working, eating, napping on hammocks. Some fishermen standing by the river, boats passing by. In the evenings there’s a night market, which has one street with clothes and a parallel with food stalls. After a walk in the city and a dinner we put together from several stalls we went back to the hotel, where we had beer with the receptionist (unfortunately I forgot his name) and went to bed.

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The next morning we got up at 4 thirty AM and had coffee at the lobby until we saw the guide for the trip to the floating market on the Mekong that we booked the day before. He led us to the docks where we went on a small wooden boat with a small middle-aged lady, that navigated with an engine on a board that she operated underwater.  The sun began rising as we sailed the quiet water and actual neighborhoods emerged on the river bank, with houses built on pickets on the water.

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Big ships greeted us on the entrance to the floating market, and then small wooden ones like the one we had – at first just a few, leading to heavy boat traffic. On the prow of each boat stood a bamboo stick with an example of what they sell hanging, mostly fruits but also various appliances. A cry from bellow of “Hellooo, coffeeee” caught our attention, and a woman who sat in what seemed like a floating tub sold us some coffee. We kept sailing slowly through the market that stretched on several kilometers. In the end there were fewer boats and we turned and made our way back through narrow canals, and the guide told us about life in Vietnam. He was a young man, an engineering student, and said that the labor market is tough for the young generation but there is always a demand in construction, since it’s a developing country. Right now they are dealing with global warming and the approaching rising of sea level by high construction near the shores. The sun was high and it was getting hot when we finally arrived back at the dock.

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We got off and said goodbye to the guide and the driver, and went to get some tasty Phở. I thought about that young guy, who seemed a bit sad and unpleased. I thought about the temporary jobs I’ve had as a student back home – serving coffee to tourists, on their way to or back from the beach, enjoying the sunny days while I struggle to balance my precious time between working and studying. When a tourist asks about life in Israel, go tell him briefly about the military, gentrification, corruption, violence. It made me think about all the things the guide didn’t have the time to tell about.

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Despite being told Cần Thơ was boring, we spent almost a week there. The main excuse was that we had to wait until the weekend was over to fix my phone, but the truth was, we liked the place. Passionfruit juice with books by the river and food stalls that served Xôi gà – a comforting dish of rice with chicken, vegetables and quail eggs. Tiny cafes, a marketplace with a load of strange vegetables. We met some people at the hotel – Thom from New Zeeland who traveled North with a rugged bike, and Keith, an English pensioner who roamed through South-East Asia and bought local women’s hearts with his retirement money. At the evenings we’d get dinner at the night market and then went back to the hotel and sit with the owner on the step outside, the humidity is high and drunk mosquitoes are buzzing around, drinking beers and talking in broken English into the darkness. The polite receptionist kept calling us “Miss” and “Sir” even after we gently implied he can lay aside the formality – possibly he felt more comfortable this way. He told us he was in the military but working in an office and study English in his spare time, and asked for help with his homework.

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As a new week began I went to a big store that fixes phones. I walked a lot on foot since it took a while to catch a cub, and when I finally did the driver and I had a hard time connecting because of language, but eventually we made it there. I walked into the big clean space and was greeted by a woman with a traditional Vietnamese dress, marching in tiny steps and smiling without showing her teeth. She served me coffee and sat next to me with a polite smile, waiting for me to speak. It seemed a bit odd but I tried to somehow explain what the problem with my phone was. She smiled and nodded and after I finished she remained silent and kept looking at me, and then referred me to a man in a tie that sat by one of the stations. I asked, “English?” and she said, “Yes, yes”.
I sat in front of the man, and told the problem again. He looked at me and I looked at him, and then he typed on his phone for a while. Eventually, he showed me the screen – a Google Translate page was open there with a text – “What is the problem with phone?” I took a deep breath and explained again, slowly, using the Translate and hand gestures. In the end, he picked up the phone next to him and dialed, and let me speak to another man on the other side. After I explained the problem again to the man on the phone, he asked me to wait.
I kept sitting there in awkward silence until the guy arrived – a man with wide bearded face and hands as big as paddles. He sat next to me and talked about politics, of how they are all corrupted and play with us like soldiers on a chessboard, and when I told him we call our prime minister Bibi he rolled in roaring laughter and slapped his knee. He took my phone and messed with it for a while, and said he fixed something in there but it might take a few days before we can know if it worked. I asked if I can get a new battery, and he said there are no phones batteries in the whole Mekong Delta.

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When I got back to the hotel Roni sat outside with Thom next to him on the sidewalk, working on his bike with hands black from motor oil. After he was done and the bike ignited successfully, he parked it and asked if we were hungry. We sat at a small street restaurant that served noodle soup and spoke about restaurants in our countries, and Thom said he used to fish and hunt his meals back in New Zeeland. It led to a long conversation about vegetarians and vegans, and about food-ideologies in general. After we had coffee together we went back since dark rain clouds appeared in the distance. In the evening we went to the main mall, possibly the biggest in the area, because they had a Galaxy store and I wanted to check one last time if they can somehow fix my phone – they only offered unnecessary gadgets, so I just accepted the fact that the phone is dead. next to it was a designed ice-cream parlor, a cinema and an arcade, and groups of teenagers gathered by them.
We had dinner at the night market at a stall with a woman who laughed at us because we are westerns, and then kept strolling for a while. In one stall they sold olives in what seemed like oil and chilly I was very excited since during the last weeks I developed a crazy craving for olives, and those seemed so nice and juicy, and it was only after I put one in my mouth that I realized it was some exotic and too-sweet fruit. We also got some durian – a big fruit that looked like a spiky melon, bright yellow on the inside, and a smell that resembles a pineapple. We got back to the hotel for beer with the receptionist. I tried the durian and thought it was gonna be sweet-sour like a melon, but it was so sweet it made me sick – kind of like gum for kids loaded with sugar. Keith also appeared in the lobby with a grumpy Thai woman, and while she went upstairs he stayed with us. He told us he speaks many East-Asian languages and showed us he was chatting in Thai with various women. He used to be a history teacher, and four years ago he retired and divorced his wife and since then he’s traveling in Asia and meeting women who are looking for an older man with money. He laughed and said his money was worth a lot in those countries.

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We went upstairs and booked hotel rooms in our next destinations, and went to bed. Even though I brushed my teeth twice, I could still sense the durian’s sweetness in my mouth.
In the morning we packed our bags and had a humble breakfast of bread with jam and butter at the lobby, when a van arrived and we took it to the central station. I said goodbye to the city through the window – the hotel, the river, the main street, the marketplaces, and the small restaurants and cafes. From the central station we got on a bus and began the bumpy ride to Rạch Giá, where we would take a ferry to Phu Quoc.

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