A trip to the Mekong Delta

One of my favourite experiences during our visit to Vietnam earlier this month was a trip to the Mekong Delta. It was a fantastic experience, organized by one of our sisters. Even though we participated in an organized tour, I felt like a true adventurer (my childhood dream was to be Indiana Jones!), especially as we paddled along one of the channels of the Delta.

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The Mekong Delta produces over half of Vietnam’s rice as well as many kinds of tropical fruit, like jackfruit, mangosteen, bananas, and others. The vegetation is lush and exotic, particularly to my Canadian eyes.

On the day of our trip, we left Ho Chi Minh City early in the morning and traveled two hours to a spot along the Mekong River. From there, we took a boat down along the river to explore a few different islands. On our first stop we observed how rice paper is made. We also had a delicious traditional Vietnamese lunch – fish, pork, greens, and yummy fresh spring rolls. At each stop there were tourist souvenirs on display.

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Coconut monkeys!

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Wending our way through the jungle.

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The river is brown but it’s not dirty. It is rich with mud and sediment that keeps the Delta fertile.

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Rice paper drying on racks.

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A paste of rice is bubbling away. Soon it will be rolled out into paper.

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I was so tempted to buy a Vietnamese hat.

 

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Our feast! Notice the remains of the elephant fish. It was delish.

After lunch we were taken to another island to visit a bee farm and to taste delicious honey tea.

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I found the water mesmerizing.

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Honey tea – nectar of the gods!

From the bee farm we were led by donkey to a local restaurant to listen to traditional South Vietnamese music and to enjoy a selection of tropical fruit.

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It was a rather bumpy ride.

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Not a great shot but I was trying to capture the ornamental dogs on top of the gate posts. I noticed a lot of houses with ornamental dogs or dragons.

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A feast of fruit! Watermelon, longan, pineapple, dragon fruit, and rambutan.

Finally, we went to a third island to learn how to make coconut candy and try a sample (or two!).

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Coconut candy being mixed. It had an enticing aroma.

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Samples on offer.

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Coconut candies drying and ready to be cut and packaged.

My favourite part of the trip was our jaunt along one of the Mekong channels. It was beautiful and enchanting.

 

At the end of the day I was exhausted but I felt so blessed to have had a little taste of Vietnamese culture.

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Beautiful Vietnam

The members of our novitiate house had the incredible opportunity to travel to Vietnam last week to visit the IBVM community there. It was a whirlwind week of new sights, sounds, and tastes. I loved exploring Ho Chi Minh City with our sisters (usually on the back of their motorbikes) and learning about their culture. I really fell in love with the city, the culture, and the people. Such an intoxicating mix of East and West.

More to come soon on our visit but first a selection of photos to whet your appetite!

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The Post Office – a beautiful example of the French architecture found in District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City.

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A portrait of Ho Chi Minh is prominently displayed in the main hall of the Post Office.

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At Ben Thanh Market.

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Bags, bags, and more bags!

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Bowls made from coconut.

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Amazing embroidery work – gorgeous scenes stitched by hand.

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“The Church of 3 Bells” or the “Dominican Church” – an extraordinary example of the fusion of East and West. The church was built in the style of a traditional pagoda as a way to incorporate the Catholic faith into Asian culture.

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A pair of dragons greet you at the entrance to the church.

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A mountain of fresh spring rolls!

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I visited the museum that commemorates the American War (Vietnam War) – shocking photographs of the atrocities of war and the effects of the war on generations of Vietnamese. A lot of propaganda as well.

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After the museum, I visited Independence Palace – the seat of the Vietnamese government in the 60s and 70s.

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If you visit Ho Chi Minh, look up! Tangles of wires greet you everywhere.

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It’s a work of art.

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A hem (lane) leading into a Japanese neighbourhood.

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Beautiful Vietnam!

The flora and fauna of paradise

I’m still reflecting on the graces I received during the retreat and am taking time to process everything that happened but I wanted to share more photos of the retreat centre and its grounds. Here are my favourite photos of the beautiful plant and animal life that made the retreat centre such a special place.

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This was my usual view for my first prayer of the day. It was so wonderful to be outside.

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These flowers were fiery bright – I loved seeing them in the morning sun.

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These trees with aerial roots were amazing.

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I could see this tree out of my window. It became very special to me during the retreat.

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When we arrived it was so dry and the earth was cracked like this everywhere in the property. When we left it had begun to rain so the cracks were beginning to close up.

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My favourite place to pray in the late afternoon with the golden sun.

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The yellow version of this beautiful flower.

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I took this picture at the end of our retreat. You can see the grass is starting to turn green again.

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A seed pod beginning to open. It was the size of a corn cob!

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And here are the seeds embedded in a sort of cotton.

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Another favourite place to pray in the late afternoon.

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The sheep had free reign during the day to graze where they liked. They tended to follow a very particular route and timetable as they travelled the property. I usually saw this parade of sheep around 8:30am.

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Our beloved “mini lamb”, or “lambie”. Also known by his given name, “Cha-Cha”. As a little lamb with fleece as white as snow, he was spoiled by everyone. He was later adorned with a little cross pendant, like a little monk.

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A rear view of the two other lambs – they did not want to pose for a picture.

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The nocturnal amphibian.

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We couldn’t escape the roosters, even at the retreat centre – another noisy bunch.

30 days in paradise

We’re back from retreat! We’ve been back a week already, taking time to settle back into our regular community life routine. It has been slow going for me. The retreat was an incredible experience, filled with so many gifts and loving revelations from God, and I’ve been trying to hang on to those feelings and graces this week back in the real world. Consequently, I’m not quite ready yet to share a lot about the retreat just yet on this blog. I still need time to reflect and ‘appropriate’, as it is termed. Time to come to a fuller understanding of how my relationship with God changed during the retreat, and believe me, it sure has changed.

So with that teaser for future posts, I offer you a selection of photos from the retreat centre, a true paradise. Set in the outskirts of Quezon City, Sacred Heart Retreat Centre was like entering a whole other world. Peaceful, beautiful, and gracious. I’m posting photos of the retreat grounds today, and I’ll follow up with photos of the gorgeous plant life and the entertaining wildlife in the next few days.

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A warm welcome from Jesus to all those arriving at Sacred Heart.

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The cloistered wing of the retreat centre (i.e. retreatants not welcome), home to the Jesuit novices and their novice masters.

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Rear courtyard with a shady sitting area. A lovely place to sit in the rain.

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The kitchen, on the ground floor, where our many meals were prepared. Breakfast, morning merienda (snack), lunch, afternoon merienda, and dinner.

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The beautiful fountain in the courtyard.

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Swings are set up throughout the property to help retreatants relax and meditate.

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The tree house! A great place for bird watching, contemplation, and people watching.

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We were so lucky to have this beautiful pool at our disposal. It was a treat to float around and pray or swim laps surrounded by gorgeous tropical flowers and trees.

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Mary and Joseph kept watch over us.

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A painting in one of the dining halls. St. Ignatius of Loyola prayed to Mary to ask her to intercede to God to place him with her son. This painting shows the Trinity’s embrace of St. Ignatius and Mary’s intercession.

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The Jesuit cemetery on the retreat grounds, a beautiful and peaceful place to pray.

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I enjoyed looking at the gravestones and I have to admit that I was overjoyed to find someone with the same birthday as me. Each day I walked to the cemetery to greet my ‘Birthday Brother’ – born on the same day, only 86 years apart!

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Fr. Thomas Green, SJ wrote a number of books on Ignatian spirituality and prayer.

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I am currently reading a book by Fr. John Carroll, SJ  -a collection of editorials he wrote for the Philippines Enquirer on politics and social justice in the Philippines. It’s a fantastic book.

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Recreational opportunities abounded – here’s the basketball court.

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And the badminton court. (I forgot to take a photo of the tennis backboard.)

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And bicycles!

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Strickly for females.

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And all of the equipment a retreatant could need.

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A bit of nightlife at the retreat centre. Jesus all lit up.

 

La Mesa Eco Park

This past Thursday we had the opportunity to visit an oasis in Quezon City. La Mesa Eco Park is a public park in the middle of the La Mesa Watershed Reservation and is the largest remaining rainforest in Metro Manila. The lush greenery and vegetation were a welcome sight. The air was fresh and clean and the temperature felt at least 5 degrees cooler than where we live in Quezon City. It was a real paradise to wander through and relax in. Enjoy the photos!

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So much to see and do at the Eco Park!

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Sparkling clean water of the fishing pond.

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Amphitheater

CIMG4389A gorgeous array of plant life

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My favourite plant – I don’t know the name but I love the shocking pink

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Beautiful dramatic flowers

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CIMG4415It’s a hard life – napping in the rainforest

 

Next steps

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One more sleep and I’m off. Off on the next step of this journey. To parts unknown and people unknown, and basically, a life unknown. The early hours of New Year’s Eve will find me flying over the U.S. and then across the Pacific Ocean to my new home away from home in the Philippines. For the next year, I will be living in the IBVM Formation House in Quezon City (part of metro Manila) with three other novices. We will live together as an international community comprised of Australian, Vietnamese, and Canadian women.

I’m looking forward to meeting my new companions and I’m also excited to spend the next year learning more about Mary Ward, the history of the Institute, Ignatian spirituality, religious life, and spend more dedicated time in prayer. The anxieties and worries I’ve felt over the past few months have slowly been subsiding and are being replaced by happy anticipation and a feeling of adventure.

Over the last couple of weeks I have been preparing for my move as best as I can. [With a wonderful Christmas interlude, of course, filled with festive fun and recreation – and the requisite happy hour(s)!]

Reading about the Philippines islands, the people, and the culture, as well as Australian and Vietnamese culture and customs, has fueled my excitement to travel and experience a new way of life. I’ve been stocking up on what I will need for the year (appropriate summer clothing – not easy to find in the midst of a Canadian winter!, books, etc.), and taking time for prayer and reflection.

During this time of preparation and transition I have been seeking the intercession of one of Mary Ward’s first companions, Winifred Wigmore, to help me on this journey. Although I don’t know a great deal about her (I hope to learn more over the course of the year!), I admire her spirit. She was a great friend of Mary Ward, she was counted on to undertake difficult tasks, and she was even imprisoned for supporting Mary’s work. I think her pluckiness and deep love for her friend is a good model for me to follow, and I have confidence that she will help me along the way.

I hope to continue my blog throughout the next year but I expect there will be a break of a month or so while I get settled in and transition to life as a novice in formation. I will do my best to update you all as soon as I can. In the meantime, I will be praying for you all and I ask you to please pray for me too!!

Goodbye for now! Paalam muna sa ngayon!

Manila Philippines from the air Aerial Pictures Metro Manila