Chasing frantic chickens and enjoying the simple life was not what I expected during my first trip to Vietnam.
After snaking through the beautiful, exquisite Mekong River in a wooden boat, my family arrived at small village in Ben Tre that was hidden among luscious coconut trees and surrounded by water. Once we were shaded by towering trees, the unbearable tropical weather didn’t smack me in my face as much. Bustling villagers, waddling ducks, sleepy dogs, and buzzing creatures lounged around, enjoying a typical day at home.
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My aunts warmly invited us into their cool, cozy hut with dirt-covered floors. It was open yet dark because there was no electricity. The light source came from the summer sun, which was mercifully blocked by giant leaves. My extended family was thrilled about the long-awaited reunion, and everyone hugged and chatted with overwhelming excitement. Then my aunt announced, ‘Kids, time to eat!’
I saw a pack of tan, half-naked children stampeding like angry bulls towards the house. At first, I thought they were coming in to wash their hands in the bucket of fresh rainwater, but they zoomed past the house. The chickens heard the noise, remembered what happened to their deceased comrades, and began squawking and waddling for their lives. I watched the scene in shock, while my devoutly Buddhist grandmother ran from the house screaming, ‘NOOO! Don’t kill them!’ From the clucking chickens, shrieking children, barking dogs, gossiping housewives, and banter of old men, I soon came to realize that this amount of noise is normal in the typical Vietnamese household.
One victorious boy grabbed a chicken and held it upside-down, while my aunt stared incredulously at my grandma with her butcher knife raised. The old men lounging on hammocks chortled at the peculiar scene. Another aunt whispered that she had killed and cooked two chickens at dawn.
I noticed the coal-fueled fire where lunch was being prepared. My uncle explained that without refrigerators, they have to gather and cook the meat and veggies for each meal. The lively family production ended two hours later. Everyone sat down and ladled piping hot soup, fresh veggies, and chicken into their bowls of rice. Vietnamese cuisine is always fresh and delicious.
I understood their Southern dialect, and listened as my dad explained the wonders of microwaves to his fascinated audience. Even after lunch, everyone sat around talking about past raging monsoons and the abundant fruits of that season. My uncle played the traditional “Dan Bau”, a monochord instrument, while we sang folk songs. We laid under the star-filled sky that was crystal clear at night, and enjoyed orchestras of crickets and bugs filling the air.
That was only one day in my month-long journey. From endless, peaceful rice fields to deep, surrounding oceans and towering mountain tops, I learned much about what this Southeast Asian country has to offer.
Coming back from the unforgettable trip, I was more appreciative of my refrigerator and pre-cut meat. I don’t think of my aunt’s house as a hut in the woods, because the love and life that family brought into it made me realize that family, not material possessions, is irreplaceable. Now, I am determined to graduate from medical school, learn Vietnamese, and return to my roots to help needy people such as my uncle, who didn’t have the opportunity to be treated for cancer.
I’ve come to realize that I enjoy the simple life in Vietnam. When my golden years roll around, I plan to live near my family in the beautiful countryside, with starry nights above me, and a flock of clucking chickens.
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