“Whatcha know about ‘That Delta Life’?” Not much. But I’m starting to figure things out around here. Slowly, and somewhat surely. Can Tho, located in the heart of Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, is my home for the next nine months. I live in a concrete house amongst a long row of similar houses at Can Tho University. Despite being slightly dystopian, the open-air home is actually quite charming – if you’re a spartan, that is. It could use a deep clean and serious renovations (the hole in our roof that leaks when it rains is first on the list). But I like it. I’ve begun to embrace the heat, humidity, and constant sweat that swamps my backside and leaves me damp throughout the day. Actually, I’ve gone above and beyond, facing the heat head on. I jump rope almost daily (sometimes at midday) and was invited to play tennis with the middle-aged Vietnamese professors at the court across the street. They may be beyond their physical prime, but they’re savvy fellows who understand angles far better than young bucks. Soccer at the miniature fields flanked by murals of Messi and Ronaldo is soon to become a weekly event. If you can’t handle the heat, stay out of the Delta. If you love a good perspiration that persists an hour after physical activity, you’re built for the Delta. Take solace in knowing that you can cool off when the afternoon monsoon rolls in. Toads sing their lullabies after the rains…and it goes something like this: “I want to knowww, have you ever seen the rain.”
I’m almost never alone here. My roommate Drew and I share our house with lizards, beetles, roaches, and other critters that are more adept at concealing their presence. Our bug nets keep them out of the beds at night, and they respect our privacy for the most part. We also have some great Vietnamese (human) friends who have been invaluable during our adjustment period. The man, the myth, the legend…Khoa, has showed us the ropes from Day 1. He’s helped us procure motorbikes, SIM cards, and takes us to the best local eateries in town. Loc, the biggest Kendrick Lamar fan in Vietnam, has also been key in the clutch. Most everyone is really friendly here. We get quite a few stares, since Can Tho isn’t a particularly touristy place, and people are interested in getting to know us.
Driving motorbikes around town in the organized chaos that is Vietnamese traffic is quite an adventure. It’s a dance you learn with time. My favorite dance move is the frogger-like left turn through oncoming traffic at busy intersections. Every successful “lefty” triggers a sigh of relief and a sense of accomplishment. Driving my motorbike is a lot of fun, but requires focus, caution, and a high level of awareness. Also, you wouldn’t believe some of the things you see being transported on the back of motorbikes here. True. Grit.
Thus far, my teaching schedule consists of Speaking & Listening classes at the university. Students are motivated to learn English and are fascinated by cultural differences between Vietnam and the United States. Many of them love pop music, counting Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez among their favorite artists. That’s cool, I guess. But what’s really cool is the throwback 90s boy band music on repeat at the Mega Market superstore. They respect the glory days here. Backstreet is definitely back, all right.
I’m also helping to manage a nonprofit called the Can Tho Youth Empowerment Project (CTYEP). Founded by my Princeton in Asia predecessors several years ago, CTYEP volunteers with orphans in Can Tho. We play games with the kids, host movie nights, and provide English and computer classes. The children are incredible. Quirky, hilarious, and loving. This has been and will continue to be one of the most rewarding experiences during my time in Vietnam.
Hopefully this post offered a glimpse into life in the Delta as I’ve experienced it so far. Oh, and the weirdest foods eaten award goes to: duck fetus and congealed chicken blood (separate dishes). This, however, has been the exception. I prefer to rock with a bowl of Pho, or old faithful: Bahn Mi sandwich.
Until next time,