Day 16 Wednesday 31 December 2014

We have been away from home over two weeks – this is probably the longest holiday ever, but as I no longer go to work it is perhaps more appropriate to say that this is the way we live now!

Sa Dec has a large retail market which we walk through.  The photos cannot really do it justice as  it would be boring if I posted a picture or each vegetable stall or each fish stall which replicate along the length of the market.  However merely one example of each hardly gives a fair representation either.  Also dashing around but not recorded are people delivering meals (usually some soup) plus the inevitable scooters weaving in and around the market. for the photographs.

At the far end of the retail market is a wholesale market and of course supplies come here in bulk before being broken down.  I suppose that Covent Garden was once like this.  I believe now that there is little direct trading at Nine Elms or at the other large markets in London, all of which have declined as the supermarkets have gained dominance.

Marguerite Duras lived part of her early life in Sa Dec and her most famous book concerned a relationship with a wealthy chinese man she met on the way to Saigon.  We had been shown the film the previous evening, but frankly I saw no merit in the story and gave up about halfway through!  The wife persisted to the end but no good came of it.  A few years ago it was realised that the house of the chinese man’s father remained in Sa Dec and it has been restored and can now be visited by passing travellers such as ourselves.  An interesting foot note but little substantial meaning.

We rejoin the local junk used for the journey from our cruiser to the town to travel a little further to see a church of a local important religion – Cao Daisim (or Dao Daisim).  Whilst relatively recent, being less than a hundred years old the religion beings together the teachings associated with Ying and Yang from China, the later developments of Confucius, Buddhism and Christianity, noting the significant overlaps and common teachings across these separate religions.  The religion has its home north of Saigon (see Sunday 4 January) and has a large number of adherents across the southern areas of Vietnam.  It was originally supported by the government and was not permitted after 1975 but has in more recent years become far more substantial.

In the afternoon we visit Cai Be.  The catherdral of St Joseph marks the continuing strength of the Catholic religion in the region and the area outside has various additional statues and has bought neighbouring land to permit expansion.  This has been achieved by money sent from church members now living abroad who are able to send money back to the church to provide the additional memorials.

It is noticeable this afternoon that a number of the group is smaller than usual with others choosing (as we did earlier on ) to stay aboard the mother ship.  Before we left home one of my wife’s main concerns was the transfers to and from our cruise vessel to land as this nearly always requires the use of a smaller motor vessel, capable of seating about 30 and for which we are required to wear life jackets (so we won’t drown – merely die of the pollution in the river) but each transit is between two vessels both bobbing around.  Pleasingly all of the transitions are made without a problem – except to my head.  Once again it is proven that I am significantly oversized as I clobber my head (despite the regular warnings given by all of the crew providing assistance) on the roof beam of the junk.  This time quite hard.  I cannot say I wasn’t warned.  They are of course built for people who generally are probably six or more inches shorter than I am.  This size problem will arise again.

Wandering in the group along Cai Be street enabled at last the picture of a small outlet selling wooden furniture.  Compared with some of the other larger scale enterprises we have seen this is modest and I am only glad that we do not have time to stop and buy (also I am not so sure how comfortable the chairs would be).  A separate album for Cai Be:

At the end of our walk is a factory producing variously popcorn, rice wine and fine rice paper.  The production processes are explained to us.  The rice wine here is not so near fire water compared with the Laos sample but on the whole I think I prefer a small cup of sake.  We wander around the processes and Jackie observes that the girls pressing the  toffee are doing so with bare hands whilst the sweet popcorn is being  packed by girls sitting on the tables.  I am sure they all wash regularly.

Jackie is particularly taken by the production of rice paper, wanting some authentic paper for a dinner party when we return but oddly it does not seem to be on sale here!  There is a shop but nothing catches our fancy.

After dinner it is time for “Mekong Prestige has got Talent” where normally the crew entertain the passengers.  But we have a surprise.  Among the Japanese contingent there is a trained dancer who has offered to perform and we have already see her twice during the day practicing.  She performs well and it is extremely brave of her to do so.

The crew have various party pieces – “YMCA” from one section, a great singing voice from the ship’s purser and the chief engineer is also a master magician with pieces of rope joining and splitting magically.  We are promised a disco and entertainment until the new year but all this fresh air and travelling means we go to bed.

In our cabin we note we are tied up alongside a form of pier and that on the quayside there are numerous containers.  If this is a passenger terminal then it is being seriously under-invested and gives a little weight to the comment made by the tour guide (Matthias who did a grand job over the entire week with three distinct groups speaking English, German and Japanese) that the facilities along the river are being stretched by the 16 cruise vessels now being operated along the Mekong.  When we went to the Nile some 20 years ago the numbers operating were much higher and there were facilities everywhere to tie up rather than using transfers.