In February, I was able to take the trip of a lifetime with my MARL (MN Agriculture and Rural Leadership) classmates. Our international trip one of the big things we all look forward to as participants of MARL. The only catch, when you sign up, you have no idea where you are going. We started in November of 2014, and didn’t know where we were going until June of 2015, when it was announced that we would be traveling half-way across the world to Vietnam!
There is no way I can cover my trip in one blog post, so I am going to be doing a series of 5 posts covering 5 topics from the trip. There might be a little overlap or stories used twice because they fit both places so hang with me!
Here are the topics I will be covering in my series–
- Vietnam War
- Looking to the Future
So to start this series off…
The whole time I was in Vietnam my news feedback home was filling up with post after post about the Governor’s water summit. Some were pretty negative, others positive. The small protest that ended up being part of it just proved once again it is better to be part of the conversation working towards a solution than just looking foolish. Now, if we were in Vietnam and that happened you would have landed in jail.
You know how sometimes you have to travel somewhere else to see what it is like to realize just how good you have it…well, that was how it was for me in Vietnam. I was talked to before I left on the trip multiple times about how I should only drink sealed bottled water, and to be diligent about making sure it was sealed. I was told to never have ice in my drinks. This was all because Vietnam lacks clean drinking water, something we take for granted every single day.
Yes, we have clean drinking water. We are concerned with parts per billion, and over there they are importing bottled water from the United States. They drink purified water out of coolers, and all their ice comes from a single shop for safety. I never once brushed my teeth with water from the tap. How many of us can say that we can’t do that at home?
I was also surprised by the amount of trash in Vietnam. The lack of garbage disposal was seen from Hanoi all the way to Saigon. We all mentioned multiple times just the lack of trash bins in general. We are so used to seeing trash bins on corners, in parks and other public spaces, as well as recycling options here in the U.S. that it was weird to see a country without that. It is such a norm for us, that I would have never even realized that garbage disposal would be an issue. The trash often finds its way to the rivers and the ocean.
Vietnam is 4th in the world for plastic pollution in the ocean. It was definitely noticeable. I think about our rivers, streams, and lakes and the clean-up efforts that surround them, and even without those clean-up efforts, they aren’t even a fraction of how littered the streams and channels in Vietnam were.
As farmers, we often complain about over regulation, and truth be told, there are times where we are over regulated, but touring a country where health regulations concerning things like trash, chemicals, and pollution weren’t really at the forefront, really puts into perspective how our regulations and systems are put in place for a reason.
There is a fine line between enough regulation, not enough, and too much. That is something that every country will need to figure out.
That being said, the water issues they clearly have in Vietnam didn’t take away from being in awe of their irrigation and drainage systems for their rice paddies. The systems of gates and channels they used was so simple, yet so complex that it was easy to understand why they continued to utilize them. Although, they do transfer water by hand with a basket or bucket from some fields, and that is something I am glad we do not have to do.
We spent some of the time on a cruise of Ha Long Bay. Ha Long Bay is considered to be part of the new 7 Wonders of Nature, and is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I had never been on an actual cruise, so it was fun to spend a few nights on the water, and explore Vietnam on the water. We were able to visit the Surprise Grotos as part of this trip as well.
We spent a lot of time touring by boat while we were in Vietnam, which lets me get a glimpse into how important water truly is to their livelihoods. We were rowed in sampan boats – sometimes our rowers were rowing with their feet! We were able to see how much of the Vietnamese culture depends on the water as we visited fisherman, where we got to try our hand at casting nets. I never realized how heavy the nets were, and they definitely make it look effortless when they throw them out. We were also able to see some of their floating markets, and learned that people will come from other villages for weeks at a time to buy and sell goods on the water. We even got to ride in a basket boat – a small boat that they used to use for fishing. I honestly can’t imagine ever fishing from one, just being in one with our rower bailing water every 10 minutes made me nervous!
We also realized how important the oyster industry was both for eating and for pearl harvesting. We visited a pearl visitor center where we learned about how pearl quality is determined and how they are harvested. We also passed many oyster farms on the trip as well. We unfortunately, weren’t allowed to visit the actual oyster raising parts due to disease. It was interesting that they had watch towers placed in case of theft. This part of the industry obviously depends completely on water!
We also visited a terminal, Top Clients in top Terminal (TCIT) at the Tan Cang – Cai Mep port. Obviously, this kind of business is completely dependent on water. It was really interesting to see some of their maps and where their container ships go. The TCIT terminal is a joint venture with Vietnam, Korea, and Singapore with Vietnam owning a 51% stake, and they are the largest terminal in the port. It is kind of hard to fathom how some of our products get from one destination to the next, and it isn’t something I routinely think of when I pick out an item from the store. It was really eye-opening to hear how they are working to expand business and how they set themselves apart from their competition at other ports. It was also interesting to hear about how one of their ships literally just broke apart in the sea with containers floating all over. Needless to say, their insurance got to deal with that one!
Vietnam depends heavily on water from irrigating their crops to finding sources for clean drinking water to shipping goods or receiving goods. It is easy to take for granted what we have here in the United States, and how well our system and regulations really do work at the end of the day.
Watch for post 2….all about the amazing people we encountered in Vietnam!