On the drive back from Ha Long bay, about an hour or so outside of Hanoi, our car unexpectedly rolled to a stop along the highway. We rubbed our tired eyes and took in the landscape, miles and miles of little rectangular rice paddies. My dad instinctively reached for his camera. We got out, and Thuan led us along the highway toward a small village of houses, the Tu Phong village in the Bac Ninh Province. We passed a woman wearing a conical paddy hat (“non la” — leaf hat) drying rice on the asphalt. We stopped to snap a picture and then raced after Thuan, who was clearly leading us somewhere. It soon became clear that this wasn’t just another quick picture stop. We turned onto a dike, skirting the edge of the rice fields to the right, farmhouses to the left. The small, one-room houses had equally modest backyards, decorated with hanging laundry and littered with drying rice. We passed hens, roosters, and ducks along the way, including a family of chicks that attempted to fall in line behind us.
Next, we turned up the hill on a rocky path and found ourselves in the courtyard of a typical village farmhouse. Much to our surprise, Thuan walked right up to the front door. We exchanged confused glances and timidly followed. We heaved a sigh of relief as the woman at the door held out her arms to embrace Thuan. Full of surprises, that Thuan. The woman, who looked about 50, flashed us a gold-toothed grin and motioned enthusiastically for us to come inside. Her name was Mrs. Han, and she he had a hearty laugh and a vivacious personality. Although she didn’t speak a word of English, she made us feel instantly at home. We left our sandals at the door and entered the tiny room, decorated with two mattress-less beds, a small TV set, and a child-size dinner table. We sat down and Mrs. Han’s 4-year-old granddaughter jumped up to wipe the tabletop clean. The little girl was thin and covered in dirt, but she was quite the social butterfly. She proudly showed off her hot pink hair clips and introduced us to her favorite doll. Mrs. Han’s daughter-in-law was also there, along with her two sons (ages 1 and 2) and nephew (age 6). Every day the men go to work in the fields and the women stay at home to watch over the children.
After we sat down, Mrs. Han served us a jar of home-made moonshine and a bowl of peanuts from her peanut field. After undergoing rigorous training from my dad and avoiding all fresh produce and water, I waited for him to make the first move. He happily took the glass of rice wine and took a sip. I should’ve known he wouldn’t turn down moonshine. It was delicious, although I couldn’t have more than 2 glasses. I took a mental step back and realized I never once in my life thought I’d be sitting in a Vietnamese farmhouse, laughing and getting to know a Vietnamese family over moonshine. Amazing. I really got a kick out of watching the kids — the rambunctious little girl jumping up and down and performing for us, the little boys squealing and waddling around the room. As my dad said, kids are the same everywhere. When my dad told the woman that he had 4 daughters, she started laughing. Since I would be worth about 8 or 9 water buffalo (I’ll take that as a compliment?), she told him having so many daughters was going to be very expensive. When it was time to go, we thanked Mrs. Han for her hospitality and gave a big hug to the kids. We also got to meet their chickens, fighting roosters, ducklings, and big potbellied pig on the way out. Meeting the Han family was definitely one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. We made sure to get their address so we can send the little girl a new doll, and hopefully go back to visit one day.