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Published: August 15th 2017
Our eyes popped at Moon Garden
! We were invited by an attentive staff to take both hot tea and a special cold tea and banana cake on the plaza in front of the main house. Lush trees and bushes gently outlined the stone plaza and the pathways down the hill to a lake. To one side was a full-size household shrine.
The couples were assigned to share three cabins, and the singles were to share the traditional-style house on stilts. This was revealed as a large common room divided by curtains and mattresses on the floor, making about ten spaces around an arrangement of cushions on the floor. After our initial surprise, and a bit of shock, we joined in the spirit of sleeping in Vietnam. At first, our group’s single male was included in this tradition, but Thuy relented and found him a room in one of the other houses. Our group occupied the entire hotel.
After an hour to get settled, particularly to repack suitcases for morning departures to the airport, we were invited back to the plaza for a cooking demonstration. All of us refused the opportunity to sit on mats on the ground – our hips
Charming to have friends help make our dinner
and knees can’t take that, since we haven’t been practicing it all our lives. Thuy, Ming and two women from the staff made special rolls for dinner. A prepared batch of sticky rice, cooked in a 4:1 ratio with water, had been beaten into mashed-potato consistency. This was spread by a ladle onto cassava (tapioca) leaves, to which was added a filling of mixed chopped pork, mushrooms and spring onions. They rolled the leaf long-ways into a tube, the ends were folded over, and bamboo “strings” were used to tie it all along the length; then a second leaf was rolled and tied over it to secure the filling. They were to be steamed for 40 minutes, but we didn’t stay to see that.
Thuy invited us for a village walk; only Elizabeth, Karen and myself wanted to walk in the dusk. The village wasn’t far, and she took us to the home of the local guide that works at the hotel. He greeted us with great joy and enthusiasm, introducing us to his mother and one of his two daughters. We sat down with them for tea and photos. Karen asked about his experiences regarding the war and
Visiting a local family
Honoured to be hosted with great friendliness
the starvation period afterwards; he was born in 1971, and said he was too young to know much. On the other hand, his mother had suffered, because her husband had been a soldier, although being in the north meant their family had not experienced death. (His father was in the bedroom but had recently suffered a stroke, thus only received Thuy.) I changed the subject, in a rather obvious way, to be able to engage the daughter in English conversation. Her name was Linh, she studied in a secondary school three kilometres away; her favourite subject was art, specifically drawing. While slow, her English was quite fluent, perhaps improved by her father’s work with English speakers.
Returning to our communal room, we indulged in girlish delight over the silk traditional dresses left for us to wear for dinner. I unpacked my own dress made in Hoi An (might have to lose five pounds at home!). Doing up the snap buttons from the neckline, across the chest and down the side will take time at home; here we all helped each other. Elizabeth and I returned a bit late to the plaza, embarrassing ourselves because we were late for the
My Ao Dai
Very proud to have such a spectacular souvenir!
evening’s Buddhist worship being conducted in front of the main house shrine. On their knees, wearing dull-coloured gowns, Thuy, Ming and another woman followed the chanted words of a fourth woman, bowing to the ground each time she rang a small gong. The service lasted about ten minutes; Thuy later told us that every family has a shrine, if possible, to make worship easier.
Our Farewell Dinner took place in a seventeenth century church that had been dismantled and brought to the property, restored and decorated in a modern style. As always, the extensive use of solid wood impressed us who come from a modern society of veneers. Our dinner was special, including wine brought by Thuy. Rather than trying every dish this night, I made my dinner of the prawns and vegetables. I missed the simple dipping sauce of salt, pepper and lime. Our conversation was light-hearted, recalling some favourite times on the tour.
This was not the end. Thuy’s son, Duc and his girlfriend, Bich, came with gifts of candied coconut and ginger, and peanuts to say farewell. Then they sang karaoke for us. (Karaoke is very popular in Vietnam.) We sat around a big bonfire,
Household shrine at Moon Garden
Ever-present expression of faith
soaking our feet in wooden tubs of warm water and mud wort. (Wonderfully smooth feet now!). They encouraged us to participate in their dances. Thank goodness Carol and Jill thought of the “Hokey Pokey” so we responded with a participation dance of our own. The staff offered us snacks of sweet potato and roasted sugar cane, both deliciously sweet, but really we were stuffed from dinner.
This now was the end. Elizabeth and I made our way back to the communal room, tried to finish packing the last items, and did our ablutions. The last experience of Vietnamese traditional culture saw Ming accompany me to the bathroom and showed me a thermos of hot water and lemongrass to use for a dipper bath. I poured a good quantity of this traditional “soap” into the little tub, added cold water and performed a brief bathing.
I couldn’t sleep all night. Not sure why. Possibilities include the antihistamine I took because my sinuses didn’t like the lush environment, the strangeness of the bedroom arrangements, anticipation of our early departure this morning, and the slight swaying of the stilt house that produced a rhythmic creaking all night.
Our breakfast was
planned just for Elizabeth and me, plus Thuy and an undesignated fourth. Except several of the others were awake and came in to the restaurant/church. Thuy had arranged noodle soup for us, and she rushed off to arrange more breakfast for the others. Elizabeth and I had to concentrate on leaving at 7:00; finally, we left in a car with driver about 7:20. Nevertheless we arrived as scheduled at the big modern airport at 8:30, had no trouble checking in, nor going through security, nor finding our gate. International travel is marvellously standardized.
A few hours later in Hong Kong airport, we struggled to find tea amongst the myriad of shops and restaurants, resigning ourselves to Starbucks, which at least does have a standard product that meets expectations. I was desperate for lots of hot tea, because after disembarking and changing terminals, we had to go through security again and of course they took away our water. After relaxing and chatting for a while, I shopped for liquor at the duty-free shop and didn’t buy because it was more expensive than at home! All the shopping was outrageously expensive! Nothing to buy - less to carry. The last moment
Why eat anything but shrimps?
came when I went to my gate and Elizabeth to hers.
Book recommendations: The Sympathizer
and Dogs at the Perimeter
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