We met Mr. Phong at the restaurant he works at in Hoi An. He seated us, made small talk, and then brought out two journals full of testimonials of visitors he had taken to his village. He asked if we had motorbikes and were interested in visiting his home to see “real Vietnamese life.” We told him we had plans, but would consider it. The testimonials in the book were very complimentary (as if someone would write something bad there) but the internet seemed to agree, and so we decided to spend half of the day with Mr. Phong in Thanh Quit, his village about thirty minutes outside of Hoi An via motorbike. He met us outside our hotel in the morning, and off we rode.
When we arrived to his house, his wife came immediately outside to greet us. She didn’t speak any English, but her hands wrapped around mine in a way that you just know it doesn’t matter that you don’t speak the same language. They welcomed us into their front entrance/what felt like a dining room, poured us some cold water, and Mr. Phong launched into lesson on the Vietnam War. It was fascinating, even though at times hard to understand. I felt a little like I was back in school again, which is a lovely feeling (for me at least) but a coffee had I woken up in time would have benefited my concentration greatly. Mr. Phong fought for the South in the war. His uncle and cousin fought for the North. Other family members fled to the States. The most fascinating part for me was that he said there is no ill-will between family members of different sides. I have a hard enough time with my family member’s conservative political views, and that’s without the VietCong involved!
After we learned more about his “re-education” and what life was like farming under Communist rule, (I liked it when he made an example out of me and Andrew. I was the good farmer, who worked hard, took short water breaks, and yielded a good score at the end of the year. Andrew was the lazy farmer. He took really long water breaks, and didn’t get a high score, therefore didn’t get a good stipend at the end of the year.) He gave us a tour of his house. It was two stories, but there was only one room, and one balcony area for the house altar. Second floors are necessary because the first floor gets flooded every year. He pointed out water lines to prove it.
Technically, Mr. Phong is a registered farmer. Andrew and I debated
1. How much he makes from doing these tours on the side.
2. How much he greases others’ palms when he does these tours on the side.
3. How much money he possibly hides away, because it didn’t seem like he was living in the lap of luxury, despite that he has to make far above the Vietnamese average by doing these tours on the side.
He took us across the street where his neighbors run a “happy water” (rice wine) distillery. It was as if we were wrapped in a blanket of rice wine the air was so thick. Rice pulp lay out on a tarp, barrels were full of the happiest of water, and pigs around back slurped up excess water (I’m not exactly sure how that works and the pigs don’t get drunk noshing on the stuff) that was not needed for the wine. Mr. Phong dipped a pitcher into a barrel and the tiny taste I had was enough to put some hair on your chest! Wooooweee!
On our way to the market, we crashed a funeral (which felt a little awkward) and once we were at the market, we learned how to properly chew an areca nut wrapped in a betel leaf. We had seen this a lot in Burma. In Vietnam however, we learned that only the women chew this, and only the men smoke. I thought it might be interesting to try, until the woman smiled, revealing a mouth full of black teeth. Hmm, nevermind!
(Hey Mom, I thought you might appreciate seeing the Vietnamese have Kubotas too!)
We walked through other houses, watched some women pull tobacco leaves off of the stem, peaked into a kindergarten, paid our respects to the monument that had names of those from the village who died in the war on it, and then… we crashed a wedding. It was… intense. Music was several decibals too high. Everyone was staring. Men were posing for pictures, asking me to dance, then asking me to marry them, then apologizing to Andrew. At first, I was handed a small loaf of bread on a stick, with a piece of gelatin on top. When the gelatin slipped off the stick (oh darn!) one gawker guest quickly replaced it so I was not to miss out on this culinary gift. (oh… darn…) We were invited to stay a bit longer to have a drink. “But just one drink!” another guest insisted. “You drink one drink! Only… maybe… ten minutes… not drunk like…” and he motioned to his friends. “Right, Of course! We will only have one drink, and then we’l go!” Andrew and I insisted. “Yes! Yes! One drink, and then…” he said again. “We’ll leave!” we assured him.
We walked out of the wedding, thanking everyone, we may have agreed to see them again tomorrow, and then we looked at each other wondering what on earth had just happened. Back at Mr. Phong’s house, his wife cooked us this amazing meal, and then we climbed onto our motorbikes to head back to Hoi An.