Binh Minh High School Reunion

20 years on and still looking good

My last planned stop in Vietnam was a trip to the Mekong Delta, to meet up with a friend from high school who I hadn't seen in 20 years, on holiday in his home village of Binh Minh. I arrived just in time for a party put on by Vinh's parents for a bunch of his family that all live in town. I met Vinh's wife of three months, who is still living down the street awaiting her Canadian visa. We spent the next three days hanging out and catching up on old times. Vinh took me on a market tour where I sampled some of the local fruit I hadn't had a chance to try – jackfruit, the fabled smelly, surprisingly creamy, rich, and somewhat gag-inducing Durian fruit, longans, some hard shiny green pear-shaped fruit, topped off with some of my favourites, litchi and mangosteen. Thanks to Vinh's wife Vi, we also visited a number of vegetarian restaurants, which came as a surprise since I hadn't known these existed, and wouldn't have recognised them had I seen them – the fake-meat pieces were convincing enough to have me asking for a double-check, and the fact that there were other customers in attendance on non-Buddhist holy days had me wondering if there weren’t more vegetarians in the country than I’d been led to believe.

Market on the muddy Mekong

Can Tho is the biggest city next to Binh Minh, and is one of the hubs on the Mekong River expressway where fruits and vegetables are bought and traded from different parts of the region. We hired a boat and drove out into the muddy waters of the floating market, where small wooden boats and larger ones were out doing business, a long pole at the prow with produce speared on the end announcing the goods for sale. Apparently the traffic is less these days now that there are more decent roadways and trucks, but we boarded a small wooden boat selling pineapples, whose owner told us he'd travelled 10hrs on the water to get there, a distance that would take around 2.5hrs to drive. It usually takes him 1.5 days to close to a week to sell his boatload, and then he makes the journey back. I had to stop myself from eating too much of the jackfruit drying in the sun on the awning of his boat, it was sweet like candy.

On the pineapple boat

I wasn't sure if there was more to it than what we saw – our short motor ride past a collection of boats selling produce had me wondering why a trip to the 'famous floating markets' is one of the must-dos for the Delta. We took a long detour on the way back via the town of Tra Vinh, purported to be one of the prettiest in the Delta. The main attraction was the nearby Khmer pagodas, one of which is known as the stork pagoda, with trees filled with nesting storks, where it was raining white droppings from the branches and both Vi and I got bombed. To recover from that and the heat we stopped off for a break at a roadside rest stop bar none – unmatched by any I've seen in the West, this kind is fully intended for extended resting and lounging. A simple thatched awning with drinks and without chairs – instead with hammocks for napping in the shade, nothing more perfect on a hot afternoon of cruising down the pavement. My sugar cane juice had some sludge floating in it, but the hammocks were just right. An idea ripe for export, to be sure. It was a needed break from getting my butt tenderized on the back of the motorbike, which along with the sun had me feeling fried by the time we got back, and I wasn't even driving.

Back in the village I filled up on my new favourite dessert – barbecued banana pieces in tapioca pudding, followed by too much gelatinous banana cake in milk. Vinh tried to convince me to try his favourite local delicacy 'balut', but I couldn't buy his argument that duck embryo cooked alive in the shell was tastier than a Cadbury's creme egg. Perhaps to those less easily grossed out by me, the idea and the sight of it alone was almost enough to put me off my dessert.

Paper Pagoda

Hanging in the afternoon

Aside from some touring around to Can Tho, we mainly sat around and chatted. Vinh is related to half of the town, and we walked down by the river and sat with his aunts and uncles out on little chairs on the sidewalk, who pass the evenings drinking tea and talking. I can't imagine a group of adults doing this night after night at home – partly due to the weather, but even in the summer months, life is more busy and impersonal it seems. It didn't feel like that much time had passed between Vinh and I and we had a lot to say, including talking about why I was too afraid of him to hang out and talk in high school. Maybe if I hadn't been, we might have had a couple of kids by now, according to Vinh. Who knows, but I'm glad we made up for some lost time at least. It was a good reunion.

The open streets of Binh Minh