Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Cu Chi Wildlife Rescue Station

Some time ago, Gavin and I needed to escape the city for a day, so we headed up to the Cu Chi Wildlife Rescue Station.  The ride by motorbike from the city center was enough to make your backside numb, but it was well worth the journey.  Gavin and I arrived, excited to see some animals and meet Lam, the director of the center.  Lam was very knowledgeable and informative.  He led us through the whole center, explaining why the animals were there and what they were.  Most of the animals were rescued from the thriving black market.  They were found, often injured or on the brink of death, and brought to the station for rehabilitation.  Most of the animals will be reintroduced into the wild, but some are permanent residents due to near fatal injuries (e.g. a three-legged porcupine).  Without further adieu, these are some of the many animals we met during our visit.
 Lam and I
 A monitor lizard being tickled.
 A sleeping baby leopard
 A lone macaque.  Handsome and melancholic, I nearly adopted him!

 White-faced gibbons.  The most commonly encountered inmate at the center, these spindly acrobats numbered well over sixty.  We also have a video of them on the move HERE.

 Box turtles - victims of habitat destruction and the bush meat trade.

 A langur eating grapes.

Female gibbons (all gibbons are black in their adolescence, but the females start turning lighter with the advent of puberty).

 Adult river otters queuing up for lunch time. Check out a video of these maniacs HERE.

Pangolin.  Another victim of the bush meat trade.  One of the most expensive meats on the black market in Vietnam, going for about $100 a kilo.  We recently came upon a news article where police confiscated thirty of them from one clandestine truckload headed to the market.

Juvenile River Otters playing
Un-photographed animals include: porcupines, various reptiles and amphibians, nocturnal lorises, and several soporific sun bears that napped throughout our visit.

If you would like more information or would like to donate to the organization you should check out their website HERE.  They are really doing awesome work, but are understaffed and clearly have a lot of bellies to fill and animals to rehabilitate. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

This Weekend

This weekend was completely uneventful.  We each taught small, sticky children for an interminable amount of time.  Gavin and I had four dollars to make it through four days due to some banking issues and instead of borrowing money we resorted to strict austerity measures.  We ate in for almost every meal and slowly decimated our entire food stock.  A brief session of poverty led to a burst of creativity in the kitchen.  I spiced up some insipid instant noodles with boiled sweet potato chunks, hot peppers, silken tofu and spices.  Yum!
 I also made several stir-fries with egg noodles, bok choy, tofu, zucchini, cabbage, carrots, and hot chili peppers.
 Yesterday we finally were able to withdraw money from our accounts, so we splurged on a nice lunch.  We dined at My Son on Ky Dong Street in District 3.  This restaurant serves a special noodle dish (Mi Quang) with your choice of meat.  Gavin went for the Mi Quang Tom Thit (noodles with shrimp and pork) while I chose to go with just pork.  Before our noodle bowls arrived, we were brought crispy rice chips, small dishes of spicy fish sauce, and an assortment of greens to add to our bowls.  It was the strongest fish sauce I have tasted yet, but was tasty.

 Our noodle bowls finally arrived and we were delighted by their taste and presentation.  The bowl had a bit of broth, flat rice noodles, peanuts and peppers, covered with succulent bites of pork. The pork tasted as though it had been stewed all day and had a Mexican flavor about it (think carnitas burrito); it flaked right off the bone and fell apart in your mouth.  Perfect!

After lunch, we headed across the street for some frozen yogurt at Yobana.  Walking into Yobana was like walking into a plastic futurescape.  Tokyo in the roaring eighties comes to mind.  The shop was full of translucent neon plastic furniture, aloof teens, and oversized cushions.  To add to its otherworldly ambiance, the shop is self-service and stainless-steel robots spew the yogurt into your personal receptacle.  An over-enthusiastic sales girl walked Gavin and I through the line, guiding us through our mystical lactose journey by describing in detail exotic flavors such as chocolate and strawberry and strange toppings like sprinkles and maraschino cherries.  We ended up with heaping cups of overpriced, soft serve.  After devouring his cup in seconds, Gavin announced he would never return to Yobana while still alive, but I beg to differ.  I think I might throw myself a birthday party there.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


On Thursday afternoon, Gavin and I moseyed on down to District 5, known here as Cholon.  Cholon is Saigon’s Chinatown.  We went late in the afternoon by motorbike.  The sky was darkening, with ominous clouds closing in on the city.  We figured it would rain, but we knew we had a bit of exploring time before the storm opened.  We dipped through the streets and alleys until we found a parking lot and set out.  First we walked along Trieu Quang Phuc, a squat lane cramped with traditional Chinese herb shops.   

These herbs are mostly used for medicinal purposes and have a very pungent scent.  Walking into the stores left my throat tight and my sinuses aching from the muscular potpourri.   
 The shops were filled floor to ceiling with overflowing bags of different substances; including dried, crushed dandelion, bushels of unknown plant life, dark oval eggs, iridescent pearl powder, and dried seahorses.

From there we walked to a street side bakery where we snacked on a cream puff and a coconut pie.   
These fueled us for the rest of our journey through the neighborhood.   

We saw shops full of Chinese masks and capes, ornately decorated with bead work, sequins and feathers.   
I wandered into one shop that actually made illuminated Buddha’s.  The streets were thick with incense and the pagodas we passed were ornate, colorful, and meticulously crafted. 

We finally made it back to our bike and rode towards My Huong, a Chinese restaurant.  We shuffled through rush hour traffic until at last we came to our destination.  Within seconds of handing off our bike to the attendant and sitting down at our street-side table, the rain began to pour.  It is hard to describe what monsoon style rains are to the inexperienced.  As someone who grew up immersed in a constant drizzle from the skies, I thought I knew what rain was.  Think again friend.   
Buckets of water were dropped from the heavens as the sky quickly turned to an angry, murky orange.  Within minutes, the tent above us was sagging and we were herded to a different table as the wait staff deftly used a broom to push out the excess water.  Gallons came down.  The streets were flooded an inch or more within the first five minutes.  With clockwork precision, every bike on the street orderly pulled to the side, dismounted, hastily pulled on their rain jackets, started back up and continued on their merry way. 
While the rain beat down all around us, we proceeded to indulge in an amazing Chinese meal.  We ordered Com Chien Tom (Shrimp Fried Rice) and Thit Cua Xao Cai Bo (Crab Stew over Spinach) along with several bottles of Saigon Beer.   

The dishes were well-sized, tasty, and filling.   The ice was cold and the beer had alcohol, so we hung around eating and talking, drinking and laughing, waiting for the rain to subside.  And just like that, it did.