Travel Souvenirs

Not keychains, nor building replicas, nor bells or spoons. Usually I buy from among their home products.

In Seville, it was a Lladro flamenco dancer. In Copenhagen it was a Royal Copenhagen ceramic mother and child figure in honor of our firstborn then. In Uppsala it was a ceramic jar that was handcrafted by a local artisan. In Munich, a music box. In Paris, a Goyard tote. A music cd of a guitarist in Salzburg.

Lately though, I have veered more towards food. It started 2 years ago when I bought cheese and mustard from a local house in the outskirts of Paris. That was a very good souvenir of our travel. The happy memories from our travel was extended every time we ate the cheese. And it lasted us almost a week. We followed it up with Japanese tea from a local grower in Kagoshima as well as barbecue seasoning from another Kagoshima grower. I realized that I rather prefer these kinds of souvenirs than the ones that went on my display cabinet.

So last year, we consciously leaned towards food as remembrances. Spec from Milan. Vietnamese coffee. Dulce de leche from Sao Paulo and Preserved goose from Esquel. And ice wine from Toronto.

Ice wine with cheese and apple tonight. As delicious as when I first tried it in Toronto.

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Saigon

On the strength of the interest of the boys in the Cu Chi tunnels, we decided on Saigon for our bonus travel courtesy of our award tickets from accumulated mileage.

And I thought two hours would be enough.  I was wrong.  We were there almost 3 hours and I still think we could’ve stayed longer.  As it is the tour was kind of rushed.  In this instance, we joined a tour to better understand and learn about the Vietnam War and the famous tunnels.

I never thought the tunnel networks, and we only saw a sample, would be so interesting.  

War is of course never welcome and brings untold miseries and sufferings.  But it has happened and we learned a lot on the tactics the Vietcongs used to fight the war.  Their torture traps and hideaways made for a very interesting tour.  

We chose to go down the shortest tunnel to see how it felt living underneath the ground.  And to think they had widened the entrance to accommodate Westerners, still it was very oppressive down there.  The air was dank and humid.  I was crouching while moving forward, sometimes squatting – like a duck walk.  It would probably have been better if we crawled but I didn’t want to dirty my knees.  That was only 20 meters but was I glad when we got to the steps going up.  The fresh air was delicious.  And the sunshine …  good.

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Afterwards we went to the War Museum, which was of course pro-Vietcong.  The bias is very obvious but as a good tourist, I kept quiet and just rushed through some of the photos that were very one sided.  The uniforms, guns, bomb fragments and other memorabilia made for an educational hour.  That is the most I could stand reading about the war.  Afterwards the boys posed with the tanks, aircrafts and other war machines outside while I browsed their mini bookstore.  I wanted to buy a book to better understand what happened to the country.  I didn’t want a foreigner’s point of view.  I didn’t want a military point of view.  One book caught my eye.  I don’t know why.  I bought it and when the guide saw the book I bought, she told me that it was one of the more popular books in the country.  It is taken from a diary of a doctor who was killed during the war.  Her diaries were found on her person.

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I read it when I got home.  Very poignant.  She doesn’t speak ill of both sides.  She mostly talks about the people she treats.  She also talks about the hardships of being a doctor in the jungle.  All in all, a riveting book but sad.  I was tired after reading the book.  It’s one of those that makes you think and sigh.

And not to forget that one of the reasons we chose Saigon is for the food.  It did not disappoint.  Well the fancy restaurant disappointed.  It was the street foods that captivated me.  I don’t know how many germs we ingested by eating food that was cooked on the sidewalk and prepared by the vendors with nary a glove in sight.  But hey, it tasted good.  And our tummies were ok the whole trip.

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I liked Saigon.  Someday, I will return.