Editor’s note: LeiChandra Truong is a Vietnamese American who spent two years living in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. She submitted this story to Tuoi Tre News from the San Francisco Bay Area, where she now lives.
On the peaks of the Himalayan Mountains, springtime warmth melts abodes of snow, sending icy water on its 4,500 kilometer journey south, to the Mekong Delta, known as Mien Tay or the southwestern region of Vietnam. The water brings an abundance of growth, so much so that it’s overflowing with locals set to reap its benefits.
Sitting on a rickety wooden motorboat, my friend Nancy and I playfully splashed water on each other, mesmerized by the vast expanse of green foliage on this riverway, verdant trees shading the path, and floating lotus lily pads resting on the water’s surface. It was like entering a different world, where life moves slower.
It was nice for both of us to escape the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City. My friend was working for a seafood export company and brought me along to the city of Long Xuyen for a few days. Though my visit to the Mekong back in 2011 was short, the place, people and culture still hold a warm place in my heart.
After our boat trip, Nancy introduced me to some of her friends. They are a generation older than us and I was shocked that I could address them as anh and chi (brother and sister) even though it’s not socially or culturally correct. They wanted to place importance on the friendship and not the typical hierarchy of seniority inherent in Vietnamese culture. Without a doubt, my new friends were the coolest people ever.
A colourful woman rows her load of bananas towards Chau Doc Town in the Mekong Delta for sale at the market. Photo: McKay Savage
We all spent time together at the beach, coffee shop, restaurants, and spent time in the mountains as well. I loved being with them because of their hospitality and kindness. They would playfully joke around, all smiles, and showed that they cared about our well-being. After being in Ho Chi Minh City, I was accustomed to people who were more business-oriented and said things that they didn’t mean, leaving me wondering about the true message behind their words. However, with Mekong people, the message was straightforward. They are blunt, honest, and say what they mean.
People in this region are more easygoing than people from other regions of Vietnam because of the plentitude of food available. Over 50% of Vietnam’s rice production is from the Mekong Delta region. There are also lots of fish. If a person is hungry, he or she can just catch a fish and eat it. When people don't have to worry about being fed, they relax and take their mind off survival. The weather is hot all year round here so people don't have weather out the cold either. There’s always going to be enough food and warmth.
Though the Mekong Delta region is great to visit, the area has its issues. Those residing in the outskirts of cities like Long Xuyen and Can Tho live in poverty. Women and children are prone to becoming victims of human trafficking.
Pollution is another problem the region faces. One local told me that people used to be able to eat a fish the same day it is caught. Now, because of water toxicity, people put live fish in a bowl of water for a week to purify its flesh before cooking it.
In spite of the problems in the Mekong, I enjoyed my visit and have hope that things will change for the better there. There are several NGOs working towards sustainable farming practices and human trafficking prevention, among other issues.
It’s been several years since I last visited the Mekong. Though I can’t go back and visit often, I aspire to be more like the Mekong people – kind, generous, truthful, genuine, humble, and thankful. Abandon the scarcity mindset and know that there’s always going to be enough to go around. The earth, water, and rivers will provide enough resources for us all. There’s no need to worry or hurry, just lie back in a hammock under a tree and sip on some coconut juice.