HCMC Dining Guide

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Drinking with Commies

While looking back through my posts about the H2H bike ride, I realized I never wrote about our visit to Cat Dang, the community where a large chunk of the funds we raised will go, the day before we left Hanoi. I promise this will be the last post about the ride.

Cat Dang is a town in a rural area two hours outside of Hanoi, and after boarding a van and driving past the city's dirty sprawl and pastoral rice paddies we arrived at the town's primary school. It was a misty, chilly morning, and we welcomed the warmth of the school's new library, which was built with funds raised by last year's H2H group. We poked around the building, met local Communist Party and community leaders, and then split into small groups to visit individual classes. 

The teacher of the class I visited had obviously worked hard (in her limited English) to drill basic conversational lines into her students, but they were so terrified of talking to native speakers that we all ended up standing around smiling awkwardly for about 10 minutes before we left.

After that we piled back into the van for the short drive to Cat Dang's kindergarten. We parked in the courtyard of an elementary school and then walked through a fascinating little neighborhood before getting to the kindergarten.

While the new kindergarten has already been built, funds raised through this year's ride will reimburse Cat Dang for the cost of the facility. Located right next to the old school, the new two-room facility was bright, colorful, and chock full of materials for the students. It was great to see tangible evidence of what money raised by H2H has done.
In with the new...

...out with the old
After inspecting the small school we were taken to another building where we were greeted by the sight of several tables covered in bowls, plates, and bottles of home-brewed rice wine. It was time for lunch, and it looked like we had a feast ahead of us. 

We did, and as dish after dish arrived we wondered how the hell we were going to eat everything: chicken, fried spring rolls, mounds of rice, steamed vegetables, tofu in tomato sauce, pork, shrimp, and boiled potatoes with beef. Everyone tucked in, knowing that we would need all of the energy possible for the beginning of the ride the following day.

The local Communist leaders (all men) we had met earlier were there as well, and they seemed overjoyed by our presence. Within minutes they began taking turns going up to tables, pouring everyone a shot of corrosive rice wine, and downing them with us after a hearty "Mot, hai, ba, dzo!" (One, two, three, drink!). No one was allowed to say no, and the bottles began to empty quickly. We alternated between shoveling food into our faces, taking shots, and chasing the potent liquor with beer. Little did I know that this was good training for the intense drinking that took place at the wedding several of us crashed on day five of the ride.

The Party members were great company (not that they spoke any English), and were a far cry from the usual stereotype of Communists that is presented in the U.S. They didn't even denounce capitalism once! It was clear that they were relishing the opportunity to take an afternoon off of work to get hammered with a group of Westerners (probably one reason this place can be so inefficient), and we were all well sloshed by the end of the huge meal. (We did wonder how such a small, presumably rather poor town was able to cobble together such a massive amount of food for us.) Once the plates were cleared the people organizing the visit decided that at this point it would be a good idea for us to interact with children, and we went back outside as a group of kindergartens was preparing to perform several musical numbers for us. They were absolutely adorable.

After the performances we goofed around with the kids and bid farewell to the shitfaced government officials ("COMMUNIST HUGS!") and headed back to where we had been dropped off earlier.

As we returned to the elementary school yard, we were absolutely mobbed by the children there, and their rambunctious energy combined with our well-lubricated minds led to 30 minutes of complete chaos as we chased kids around, snatching their hats and trying not to trample anyone. Most of us fell asleep (alright, passed out) on the ride back to Hanoi, confirmation that we had had an awesome day. Thanks, children and Commies of Cat Dang!


  1. As usual the pictures of food look amazing. And.any experience with the.communist party is way cool. Shame they didn't speak English as I'm sure a fellow Poli Scier could have had some interesting conversations. Id be lying of I said I wasn't jealous

  2. Yea it is a shame, although I'm not sure how willing they'd be to talk politics...