Traffic at Sunset

Glowing clouds and brake lights from the top of Hotel Xoai in Can Tho.

The sunset in Can Tho looked like it was shaping up to be pretty spectacular, so Quan and I headed up to the rooftop bar at our hotel. From that vantage we had a perfect view not just of the sunset and moonrise, but also the rush-hour traffic. They say that the traffic in Can Tho is downright tame compared Saigon, but it’s enough to give you a sense of the rules of the road—or lack thereof.

Sunset.

Moonrise

Rush hour red light backup.

My favorite tactic (in the most incredulous sense) is the method for cutting over to the other side of the street on a motorbike. From the curb, you point yourself head on into oncoming traffic and make your way across to the other side at a diagonal. It’s insane, but I suppose that way you can see what’s coming straight at you.

Oh little bicycle…you should have tried crossing head on:

Red lights seem to create particular backups and headaches for a traffic culture not accustomed to stopping. And if you’re a little green car, apparently you can try to cross over wherever and whenever you want:

Crossing at a crosswalk is its own adventure—no yielding for pedestrians here.  If you keep walking at a steady pace, the motorbike drivers can guess your trajectory and swerve accordingly. But it’s still a stop-and-start ordeal, trying not to get broadsided from either direction.

Here you can experience crossing the street for yourself. Sorry for the camera shake—I was definitely looking at the oncoming traffic and not through the viewfinder!

The rooftop sunset also means I got my own impromptu photo shoot. Thanks, cousin Quan!

Photo by BảoQuân Nguyễn.

White Lotus

Finding something familiar when you are far from home resonates a particularly strong internal chord. Especially when it is something you know and recognize, but have never actually seen before.

I have been studying and practicing Buddhism for the past four years with a group based in San Jose and Santa Cruz. It’s been a challenge trying to find time for cultivation with all the demands and stresses of graduate school and internships. But those worldly pressures are often the very things that drive me to seek out a bigger perspective and a more centered mindset through Buddhism.  I’m hoping that I can start developing more focus with my practice and better integrate it with my everyday life. And I’m hoping to spend a portion of my current trip meditating and contemplating.

Monks’ robes drying.

The many Buddhist temples throughout Vietnam serve as a helpful reminder. Here in Cần Thơ, the most eye-catching has a shiny golden spire, a gleaming, ornate point of light that breaks through the urban skyline.  After spotting this golden temple from afar over the past few days, my cousin and I decided to pay it a visit.

My Buddhist group has a special practice called the white lotus meditation. Essentially, you visualize that your body transforms into dozens of white lotus flowers that gradually bloom, then dissolve.  I’ve seen many pink lotus flowers and could surely picture what a white one looks like. But I was never positive I had actually seen a white lotus—until now. There was something quite special about finding this flower in this place and feeling this particular connection to it.

Though this Khmer temple represents a different branch of Buddhism than the group I belong to, the essence is the same. One of the monks came to talk to me, probably to practice his English. The temple is also a school and some students, like the one pictured with us, are studying subjects like IT, economics, or English. The monk had taken a trip to study in the United States including a visit to San Francisco. It’s fascinating how travel can help two vastly different life paths intersect.

A student (left) and monk (right) from the temple take a photo with me. Photo by Bảo Quân Nguyễn.

Oh, and I was quite taken with this rug. Sort of a flower in its own right.

Hot Pot Alley

If you google “Can Tho,” the city I’m currently visiting, you will find a Wiki Travel page that tells you about “Hot Pot Alley.” Despite the catchy name that smacks of a tourist trap, this place is apparently a well-kept secret.  It really is an alley lined with a half dozen places that all specialize in hot pot dishes.  The entrance is actually right across the street from our hotel, but you’d never know it – the sign just says “Alley 142.”

My cousin and I have visited twice now, sampling two different versions of the local specialty: hot pot with duck.  The staff plunks down your own personal burner and a pot of broth full of hunks of duck, mushrooms, sweet potato, and uh, duck blood (I passed on the latter). Wait for the water to boil and add heaps of tofu, noodles and greens to your liking.

The heat of the weather did make me question the sanity of sitting with my face close to a boiling pot of water and an open flame. But it’s sort of a cleansing sweat, like going to a sauna.

Maybe it’s the off-season, but these back alley restaurants have a decidedly hole-in-the-wall feel, full of locals with not another tourist in sight. I’m not really helping to keep it a secret since I’ve been telling every other tourist I meet about it.  I guess it feels good to think you’ve got the inside scoop on something and fun to share it with others.

I’ve learned that “dô” (pronounced “yo”) is slang for “cheers.”  Definitely a must-learn vocab word for travel to any country!

Dô! Photo by BảoQuân Nguyễn.