One question I’ve gotten a lot has been “What was the best part of your trip?” My answer has been easy, the people.
The people we encountered in Vietnam were fantastic. The hospitality we received was over the top everywhere we went. I’m talking about a group of 30 Americans dropping in on homes, farmers working, and more, and they rolled out all the stops to talk with us, make us feel comfortable, and open up their homes to us. Every single place we went we were greeted with tea, smiles, and asked if we needed anything or if everything was up to our satisfaction.
There are a few people who stand out in my mind that we encountered.
One of the first farmers we visited was kind of on a whim. Our bus has pulled over to a rest stop and we asked earlier if we could see some of the rice paddies up close. Our tour guide went across the road and set up and arrangement with one of the women who was transplanting rice to speak with us. In Vietnam, women are some of the hardest workers out there. Women are often seen in the fields versus men. The men are often seen socializing, drinking, or playing games with others as that is often their job – to be social – while women are working.
At first, this woman was embarrassed because she was dirty, and was worried she didn’t look very nice. But as farmers, we all completely understood what it was like to be muddy and in work clothes. She talked to us about her work, and what she did all with a smile on her face. A few of my classmates thought they would try transplanting rice with her. I think it was an art form none of us were cut out for. She had straight lines and was so quick it was unbelievable. Whitney, Ben, and Lona on the other hand definitely struggled a bit. They all said they came away with a new-found appreciation for just how hard that is, even just staying in the bent position for so long while transplanting.
Next, was the farm family that our bus dropped in on while touring pineapple fields. We were allowed to go see the fields and tour them, but being that we are a bunch of rural folks for the most part, we wanted to talk with those who were working in the fields. Again, our tour guide went and asked a family up the way if we could talk with them about the pineapple farm we were visiting. They graciously opened their home to us to come visit with them, see their kitchen, ask questions, meet their family, and so much more. They gave us a glimpse into what life was really like for them, and the culture of family that was so important to them.
When one of my classmates asked what was most challenging for them as pineapple farmers, the farmer answered the weather and prices. We all laughed at that answer. We went half-way around the world, and found common ground with them, as that is exactly what we worry about as farmers back home.
Even though we had a language barrier with the family, we were able to communicate with smiles, gestures and with the power of technology, photos on iPhones! One classmate, Luke, gave one of our Minnesota gifts to the farmer. The farmer reached up and hugged him and even kissed him on the cheek with tears in his eyes! Clearly, this was a pretty special moment for all of us, but I think Luke had the experience of a lifetime with that gesture!
Finally, I want to talk about our last tour guide, Steven. Steven had quite the story about his Dad and the Vietnam War. One choice by his Dad set the course for their life in Vietnam post-war. Steven often said he asked his Dad why he didn’t go to America to make a better life. He said many times, he would love to come back to the U.S. with us.
Steven was an amazing tour guide. He was extremely knowledgeable, extremely gracious, and we had an absolute blast following his pink raccoon around all of our tour sites. We never left anyone behind so his trick must have worked on our big group! Steven worked hard to make sure our every need was met as a group, and dealing with all of us can be quite tricky sometimes! When the request was made to try real, roadside Vietnamese coffee, he found the perfect spot for us and even paid for all of us! Mind you it was only $17 for all of us to have coffee, but what an awesome gesture of hospitality!
I think what struck me most about Steven was how entrepreneurial he was. He operated as a tour guide for hire and you can follow him on Facebook if you ever visit Vietnam and need a tour guide – I highly recommend him! Plus, he owned real estate that he rented out or would sell at a later date when the prices increased with the growing tourism and economic state of Vietnam.
We received these stand-out encounters with everyone we met from those who rowed us in Sampans to those who greeted us at hotels. We asked, and they delivered. We
loved learning about their culture from their love of family to their work ethic. I want to end this post with some additional photos of the faces we met in Vietnam. I don’t think my snapshots do justice to the people we encountered, but I wanted to share a few just the same.