Fieldwork Journal: A Stop for Supplies, and Sweets, in Saigon

by AMNH on

From the Field posts

Mary Blair, assistant director for research and strategic planning at the Museum’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, is blogging from the field during her spring expedition to Vietnam. 

After a snowy, frigid New York winter, it’s great to be back in the hot, humid, and sunny climes of south Vietnam. Since arriving a few days ago, I’ve been traipsing around Ho Chi Minh City with my research team.

De Tham Street
Looking down De Tham Street in Saigon, in District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Mary Blair

One of our main tasks is to amass supplies for our upcoming six-week field trip to survey for slow lorises—endangered, nocturnal primates—across several forest sites in south Vietnam.

Pygmy slow loris grasps a slim tree branch.
Pygmy slow loris at the Endangered Primate Rescue Center in Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam.
© M. Blair

We need all sorts of items, from mosquito hammocks to first-aid kits and batteries. But in my opinion, the most important supplies are actually leech socks. There are two kinds of leeches in Vietnam: green leeches, which fall from the trees like ticks and are—luckily—very rare, and black leeches—which are more or less ubiquitous in the forest. To protect yourself, you put thigh-high leech socks on over your socks and pants before putting on your shoes—the idea being that they will prevent the leeches from being able to find any skin. It usually works.

If, on the other hand, you do get bitten, what you do is pull the leech off of your body with a quick yank. You also have to wash and sterilize the bite to help prevent infection and stop the bleeding—when leeches bite, they inject an anticoagulant to keep your blood flowing. The Vietnamese tell me that leeches are really nothing to worry about and that "yellow flies" are far worse—biting you with venom that lingers for years. I might see some this next field trip, they say, although I hope not!

I can’t wait to get to the forest to survey for lorises, but I do always enjoy down time in the cities of Vietnam, where there are some really interesting and delicious foods and treats that I can only find here. I like salted kumquats, dried jackfruit, candied coconut, and my favorite and most anticipated treat here: chè.

My favorite Vietnamese sweet treat: chè. This one had durian, mung beans, and gelatin, topped with coconut cream.
Mary Blair

Chè is a traditional Vietnamese sweet beverage or pudding, typically made with mung or kidney beans, jelly/gelatin, fruit (mango, longan, durian, lychee, jackfruit), and coconut cream. Chè comes in lots of different shapes, flavors, and sizes, and when I am here, I just can’t get enough of it. I like to think of it as calorie-loading before arduous night surveys in the forest looking for lorises.

This work is supported in part by a grant from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund.

Read the next post from the expedition, Getting the Word Out About Lorises.