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Published: June 27th 2008
A Tale of Two Villages
The last two weeks I was in Vietnam, I was invited to visit two small villages. I don't turn down those invitations because they give you a more real impression of Vietnam. Most tourists are impressed with the hustle and bustle of the cities and the world class museums, world heritage sights and wonderful beaches. The real Vietnam is out in the country and life in the Villages. With all the growth in the cities, still about 80 % of the people live in the country.
It is also quite there. The people are more authentic and very friendly. The best food I have ever eaten anywhere in the world has been prepared on an open fire, outside, in these small villages.
The first village Khanh Hong is about 100 KM southeast of Hanoi. It is about 21 KM west of Phat Diem, home of the famous cathedral. I was invited to go there with Loannie's family. Loannie first told me that Khanh Hong was the village of her Grandmother. Going there Loannie's Dad would stop and ask directions, got lost once, and I wondered why he didn't know how to get to
his Mother's village.
I asked too many questions so Loannie finally said: “Okay Uncle Kent, I lied to you. We are not going to my Grandmother's village. This is hard for me to explain so I just tried to make it simple.”
The real, true story was actually a beautiful story. I learned a custom of Vietnamese that actually is very remarkable. The real story was that Loannie's Dad had caused a young man's death. It involved an automobile accident, and I don't know who was at fault but a young man about 23 years old who was in the army lost his life. So, the custom as I understand it, is that the two families join together, meet and repeatedly observe a ceremony celebrating the young man.
The actual ceremony was solemn and respectful. The rest of the all day's gathering was very happy and cheerful. With all the laughing, joking, they did seem like one big happy family. They all prepared a great meal that everyone enjoyed.
When we were at the cemetery for the ceremony at the grave of the young man we met a very interesting person. I forgot his name but
he was 96 years old, and he was there to build his own tomb. He told us that he wanted a fancy tomb so his Grandchildren would come and visit him after he died. I put my arm around him, and he was not a frail man. He had tremendous shoulder muscles. I also noticed he still rides his bike.
The second village I visited was Hung Yen, about 50 KM southeast of Hanoi. I was invited there by a young man of the street. I met this young man Cung at a motorbike accident. A young lady had lost control of her motorbike and ran into a parked motorbike. I watched this as both sides were getting heated up at each other. Cung, a street peddler of trinkets stepped in and calmed the situation down. I got to talking to him afterwards and like most street peddlers who sale tourist trinkets he could speak English pretty good. I ended up asking him to coffee and got to know him. We would see each other occasionally and got to be friends. One day he asked me if I would like to go to his home village with him. I
accepted and before long we caught a bus to his village.
Cung is just one of the thousands of Vietnamese who have left their homes in the countryside to “find their fortune” in the cities. A lot of them can't find jobs so end up peddling things on the street. They are not on their own. They are set up in business by middlemen or businesswomen who give them the trinkets to sale. The middleman like most everywhere makes the most money but these people can earn some money depending on how skillful they are and if dealing with foreigners how well they learn English and sales techniques.
Cung had a hard life. He lost his Mother during the war from bombing which severely injured her and then later she succumbed to breast cancer. His father had remarried and he didn't hide his feelings that he didn't like his step-mother very much.
We were greeted by one of Cung's brothers who lived on the highway. He made a living by going to Hanoi on a motorbike and buying produce for the local village market that wasn't grown locally. It was the reverse of what normally happens. Most
produce grown locally is taken to Hanoi to sale.
We went to his Uncles for lunch which was another one of those great village meals. The Uncle prepared it himself and did a great job. He was a former North Vietnamese soldier, and he had the heroes of the revolution on the wall.
His Dad lived in a new house that was very nice. He evidently had married a woman who had some money. The house had an elaborate Buddhist altar. Cung had told me that they were Christians so I asked him why the Buddhists altar. He said that it doesn't hurt to pray to the Buddha. I find that true with a lot of Vietnamese that they commingle religions. One told me he didn't want to bet just on one. He wanted to cover all bases.
If you ever get the chance to visit a small rural village in Vietnam, don't pass it up. It is not only good for us as foreigners but the Vietnamese at Tet consider it a must, to visit the village of their ancestors. They mention going back to the land, to their ancestors and usually, the place of their
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