Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Day 21 - Nha Trang Biennial Beach Festival

Got picked up in the morning by my new Couchsurfing friend, Quang, whom I met in Saigon. He works in trade marketing at Pepsico in Saigon, but is originally from Nha Trang, and happened to be home this weekend to see the beach festival. This would be my first live-in couch surfing experience, living with his family for a couple days. This would probably be more authentic than the homestay I experienced in Can Tho, Vietnam.

Arrived at his home in the morning where I was able to have my first homecooked meal for breakfast - a nice hearty bowl of Pho. After that, we headed to a remote area in the northern area of Nha Trang to check out some caves where Salangane Birds build nests. Apparently Nha Trang produces some of the most expensive Birds' Nest (saliva) products in the world, and these birds are miniature, which explains why it's so expensive.

We chilled in the area for about an hour, finding shade and soaking our feet in the water, and this provided a good opportunity to learn more about Vietnam. He told me a little about his job at Pepsico and the difference between trade marketing (push marketing) and marketing (pull marketing). We talked salaries and I got a sense of the wage disparity between people in U.S. and Vietnam. Of course, the cost of living is much lower in Vietnam, but it still seems that taking this into consideration, they make much less, and it's harder for them to save money. The average teenage worker at KFC in Vietnam makes about 10,000 Dong per hour ($0.50). All trip, we ended up figuring out the cost of everything in KFC hours whenever we had the chance. One beer on the beach? 1.5 KFC hours.

His desire is to move to the United States sometime in the future, finding a job in marketing. He's been to the U.S. a couple times in his life already, participating in Work/Study programs and couchsurfing throughout the states. I suggested that he should maybe work and live in highly-concentrated Vietnamese areas to improve his English and ease his way into American culture, but he wouldn't want to just move to America and work at a job that doesn't use his skills or experience. If he wanted to do that, he would have just illegally stayed in the U.S. when he was here. Instead, his strategy is to work at his company for a couple of years and hope to transfer. I told him I'd try to help him find a job here in the U.S., but the process of getting a visa would be difficult and time consuming. We'll see what happens in the near future.

We talked a little about the credit crisis in America and I learned a little about the value of money in Vietnam. About 20,100 Vietnamese Dong equals $1 USD. The inflation rates (as reported by the government) is around 3-4% every month! Quang says this is just a report by the government, but believes the inflation rate is even higher. Interest rates to take a loan out are around 18% and saving money in a bank produces around a 12% return. No one really saves money in a bank because of the inflation rates, which is the reason why it costs so much to borrow money from the bank. There isn't much of a supply.

I asked Quang about the woman I met on the Funky Monkey Boat Tour and got a better understanding of her relationship with the man. He believes there's a mutual understanding between the two people. One, that the man was only there to party, have sex, find companionship while on vacation without any intent on getting married. Two, the woman understands this, but still likes to entertain the man, getting everything paid for while she entertains him.

We headed back to his house for another homecooked meal. I gave my passport to his father so that he could report it to the government. Your location is reported to the government every night you stay somewhere, whether it be at a hotel, homestay, etc. After his father reported it, we found out that I wasn't really supposed to stay over his house, and that only relatives and family are allowed to stay over. Most people who have friends over don't really report any of this though. It was OK for me to stay over this time since he wasn't aware of the restrictions. I guess it's one way the government knows exactly where I am everyday.

In the afternoon we headed to the beach to swim around and check out some of the Beach Festival activities. There, we saw a map of the islands surrounding Vietnam/China and I learned about a new recent international issue between the two countries over the ownership of a group of South China Sea islands. The territorial dispute actually involves six countries - China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, Philippines, and Malaysia, but most of the tension currently is between China and Vietnam.

I also learned that there is speculation that Vinh Van Phong, which is an area north of Nha Trang, might become the biggest harbor in S.E. Asia, surpassing Hong Kong and Singapore, and that the city will become the biggest (surpassing HCMC) in the next 100 years because the sea level is much deeper than in Hong Kong, which will allow larger ships to pass through safely. Who knows how much wealth it will bring to the country in the future.

At the end of the night, we headed back to the beach to check out the Beach Festival, which is a huge celebration that brings Vietnamese from all parts of the country to Nha Trang to celebrate the beautiful beaches in the area. I had never seen so many Vietnamese people congregated in one place, not even in Little Saigon near my hometown in Southern California. There were probably about a hundred thousand people (my estimation skills may be grossly off) walking around the streets and on the beaches. I don't think the festival planners anticipated such a huge turn out because the seating area to watch the stage show was not big enough to accomodate even 5% of the people who showed up. Nonetheless, it was an incredible moment to be able to celebrate with the people, who were very proud of their beach city. Quang and I watched the stage show on the sidelines, before almost being trampled by a float that was trying to pass through. A little poor planning there. The show featured pyrotechnics, dancing, famous singers, Vietnamese models, and a presentation of the different countries who were a part of the "39 most beautiful bays in the world." I saw the U.S. represented once with our San Francisco Bay, but am unsure if there were any others from my country.

There was a huge 15 minute fireworks show along the beach at the end of the celebration. It was fun to watch everyone get excited at some of the big moments of the show when they started clapping and "oooohing" and "ahhhing." At the end of the night, we headed to a beach party where they had a live cover band sing pop songs. Typical pop songs - Lady Gaga songs were performed 3 times, but it was really fun to dance on the beach intoxicated.

I think it says "Do Not Trespass"

Secluded cove in the north of Nha Trang

In the caves where the Salangane Swallows build their nests

My new friend Quang near the rock formations in the cove

Home-cooked lunch!

You will see many street peddlers trying to sell you these lottery tickets. Quang says that each ticket costs 5,000 dong and the seller gets 10% of the sales. It's an easy way to make a little cash since you don't have to carry anything heavy, just walk around with these tickets.

Nem Cuon - Looks exactly like the spring rolls at Brodard back home! Quang corrected me when I called them "nem nuong." The rolls were just as good as Brodard, although I thought the sauce could be better.

Grilled nem nuong - I'm used to seeing these in Little Saigon wrapped in cellophane and refrigerated. Inside the leaves is pork, pork skin, and black pepper. 

The street vendor making Nem Cuon

One of the many entrances to the Nha Trang beach festival.

The stands could not accommodate all the guests... they climbed the scaffolding.

Various pictures of the stage performances.

Fireworks on the beach

Beach party to end the night right!

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