Lately I’ve been drinking milk tea (trà sữa trân châu) almost daily because I have no strong appetite for anything else. I partly blame Khau, one of the Bich Duyen staff members, for my new reliance on the sugary sweet drink.
It began when I introduced her to the Thai tea from Con Voi Bac restaurant. She had never tasted Thai milk tea before and didn’t like it very much at all on her first try. She told me that trà sữa trân châu was much better and much cheaper than the Thai tea, so I let her buy me a cup.
I didn’t know whether I would end up with a bootleg version of the bubble tea that I came to love in Houston’s Chinatown or if I would get the real deal. I should have remembered the bubble tea that I purchased in Ha Noi three years back and how delicious it was. The tra sua tran chau that Khau bought for me was no exception
So now I’m stuck with a terrible appetite for actual food and an addiction to Vietnamese coffee, Thai tea, and tra sua tran chau. I don’t even feel like eating pizza or Thai food these days but they end up the default meals when I’m not in the mood for Vietnamese food.
Unfortunately, although I’ve been eating my fair share of really delicious home-cooked Vietnamese food lately, I have had to essentially force myself to eat it. When I was in Houston I used to eat Vietnamese food at least twice a week, and even though I am in Vietnam, I probably haven’t increased my intake of the cuisine by that much.
I really should ditch the pizza, Thai food, and western menus sooner than later. Although, a part of me wants to indulge myself as much as possible because next week I will be moving to Can Tho. There I won’t have the food temptations of the big city surrounding me, so I’ll have no choice but to eat Vietnamese food every day. But I promise that you’ll hear no complaints from me about that.
As I was returning on foot to Bich Duyen last week, I noticed a xiclo driver staring up into the sky and repeatedly throwing a small piece of fruit into the air. It appeared that each new toss brought on new laughter from the man as if he and God were playing catch. I was wrong.
It wasn’t Heaven who this man was throwing fruit to but a small monkey, chained by the neck to the second floor balcony of another small hotel in the area. I cannot rightly say why but at the very moment that I glanced up and locked eyes with the small animal, a great sense of grief went through my heart.
The monkey’s hands were just like mine, only smaller, and his eyes and facial expressions were so human that I could not help but feel connected to him. I am not an animal activist, a vegetarian, or particularly moved by the sight of goldfish in a small tank, but at that moment I felt a million pounds of frustration for the monkey, whose outstretched hands fought with all of their might to secure the small piece of suspended fruit.
I took this photo three years ago at Enterprise 184 in Mui Ca Mau. I was reminded of it when I saw the monkey on the balcony and wondered if he had at any point in his life lived in the wilderness like the baby above.
It’s astounding how my perception of the monkeys from 2005 was one of revulsion and fear. They stole pieces of my group’s luggage, food from our dinner table, and kept up quite a racket. Big as I may be, the monkeys at Enterprise 184 looked as though they wanted to start a fight with me. I laugh about it now, but I was truly terrified at the time.
To be honest, I don’t even like animals that much, but when I see them chained by the neck I feel a little queasy, especially if it is an animal that looks so much like a human in chains.
I lived in Ho Chi Minh City from 2008 to 2009 and took the following photos during that time. Ho Chi Minh City was the first Vietnamese city in which I lived (2004) and it will always hold a special place in my heart.
As part of my Fall 2005 semester with the School for International Training (now known as SIT Study Abroad) I visited Sóc Trăng, a southern city famous for its Khmer-influenced pagodas. My favorite part of this trip was chatting—at the time my Vietnamese was limited—with the children I met and photographed there.
As part of my Fall 2005 semester with the School for International Training (now known as SIT Study Abroad) I visited Enterprise 184 in Mũi Cà Mau, the southernmost point in Vietnam. The city of Cà Mau is Vietnam’s largest exporter of shrimp and prawns.