The Liberty Gazette
January 30, 2018Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: A Boeing 777 brought us to Saigon where a trip down the Mekong awaits. Our private guide, Vi, has a full day planned.
The Communist name is Ho Chi Minh City but the people say their home is Saigon. With pride in their city, their history, and their identity, many call it “MySaigon.”
The journey from the heart of Saigon to the Mekong Delta takes a couple of hours by car. Not a minute is wasted. Vi is a pro. She’s brought a binder full of pictures and maps. Artfully, she tells stories of her land and people. In the SUV, we’re moving through culture, time past and present, like a documentary, only better.
Distance grows between us and the big city and soon we’re cruising the countryside. Vast agricultural land is only partly rice fields. Pig farms and cattle ranches feed carnivores. We witness the variety of vegetables and fruits sown and harvested. Rivalry claiming who has the sweetest bananas exists among the countries in Southeast Asia. At every farm ancestors’ crypts guarantee the property won’t be sold.
Into “Coconut Kingdom” we head, through Tiền Giang Province, Mỹ Tho City. Coconut oil is good for the skin and this city earned its nickname, “Beautiful Girl Village.” Nam Phuong, the last Vietnamese empress and three-time Miss Indochina was born in Mỹ Tho. Princes may flock to this town to find a wife but we move on.
Further south is Ben Tre Province. During the rainy season you can boat through the wet market. Tightly packed booths brim with meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, coconuts, flowers, grains, herbs, and spices. Farmers’ markets in the states pale in comparison to the size and variety. Displays are colorful, layouts well designed—a photographer’s delight.
Vi says tigers roamed this area long ago. Not wanting to waste land, the king determined to colonize the southern part of Vietnam. But he couldn’t risk losing family members to ravenous felines so prisoners were sent to colonize the area. I ask where all the tigers went. Vi grins.
Mike: A short distance from the wet market, Vi leads us down the riverbank and onto a traditional wooden boat. Our captain chops notches in three coconuts and impales them with straws. He is at home on the Mekong. We sip the native juice as Vi acquaints us with legends and traditions of the people on the river.
Floating lazily past thick, twisting mangrove trees, I am lost in thought about young men barely out of high school patrolling these waters in U.S. Navy Swift Boats. There was no safe place; danger was their closest companion as they scanned the trees, twin 50-caliber machine guns ready to fire.
Nearly fifty years have passed since that violent era but the river doesn’t know it. Mangrove and coconut palm trees still grow and the Mekong still provides for the hard working people. It is still their home.
See you next week, with more of the taste of the delta.