It’s confession time! During primary school, I was kind of lying to my classmates. Yep, you got that right! I said to myself that it was high time to publicly admit it (if you are amongst my classmates, my apologies, guys!). But do you want to know what I lied about? Well, I said that during school holidays, I went to my grandparents, in the countryside. The fact is that I didn’t have much of a countryside to go to because I had urban grandparents: one pair was in Bucharest and the other in Timișoara.
But I lied because I found my classmates’ stories absolutely fascinating. They had a very casual way of telling how they spent they holiday, how they milked cows, they fed pigs or they got sun burned on the fields. I cannot complain about my childhood because it truly was amazing even without this. But somehow, when we are young, we have other ideals. And it seems that I was longing for some peasant activities.
As I don’t want to bore you, we will fast forward a bit, passed childhood, adolescence, and get to adulthood… When we plan our holidays alone, we choose whatever we like. Well, when Vlad proposed Vietnam as our next destination, bells, lights, GODDAMN FIREWORKS exploded in my brain and I said ok, let’s try something new, another type of accommodation – homestays – where you are hosted by a local family.
Once I started doing some research on homestays, I realized that this kind of accommodation, and particularly Vietnam homestay, was not at all something new. However, the kind of homestay that we were planning was exactly what I was longing for as a child – a homestay at farmers, in rural Vietnam.
What did our first Vietnam homestay mean to us?
It was by far the most welcoming type of accommodation that we had ever experienced. I am pretty naïve when it comes to human nature and I hold forth the fact that there is good in each and every one of us. Well, the locals in the Lào Cai Province (a province in northwest Vietnam popular for trekking, rural life, ethnic tribes; the most famous town there is Sapa) managed to convince me that I was not wrong. Our hosts in Ta Van village, a Vietnamese family, didn’t speak English. We got along through smiles, childish signs or even simple looks. At dinner and breakfast, we were lucky enough to have our guide join us. Thus, we could communicate easier with the family.
We never felt uneasy or any kind of discomfort during our Vietnam homestay. They welcomed us with open arms and made us feel like home. When we got to their house, I actually had a terrible stomach-ache. They instantly realized I wasn’t well and without us saying anything, they came to me with a bowl of fried rice and fresh ginger tea.
I have been a big ginger fan ever since. They gave me a lot of ginger tea and indeed it made me feel better. The mother in the house was extremely nice to me. She came with a huge smile on her face and asked me “You OK? You OK? Or no OK?” I was definitely OK from all that warmth.
I am pretty sure there are a bunch of naysayers out there saying that it was something normal for them to be nice with us because we’d paid them to host us. Yes, I agree it is normal to pay for your stay. But no, I don’t think (I don’t want to think) that they were nice for the financial reward. It is hard to believe that they are all so great actors and fake so much gentleness, kindness, warmth.
It’s family dinner time!
Given that our Vietnam homestay was our first one in Asia, it was there where we lived the so-called cultural shocks. However, if you come to think about it better, at least by comparison to Romanian rural life, there aren’t that many differences. On the contrary! Through such an experience, you get to realize how much we humans are alike, no matter where we are born.
During our Vietnam homestay, I enjoyed helping with dinner the most! I helped as much as I could, but I think that they soon realized how unskilled I was in the kitchen, so they insisted that they were fine and that I should simply watch. In the kitchen, they had some sort of snug were they made the fire and cooked the food. They took a giant cauldron, which they filled with all sorts of sauces and chicken meat cut in small pieces. After that they added some vegetables and the result was amazing. Of course, we also had a huge pot full of fried rice.
I have to admit that initially my heart skipped (not in the nice way) when I saw the hygiene in the kitchen. I cannot be a hypocrite and casually say that I had no problem with that. But seeing Vlad so calm, I realized I had to push some boundaries and enjoy their food because for sure I wasn’t going to die. Cross my heart, it was one of the most delicious dinners we had in Vietnam. And the way their faces lit up when I asked for some extra fried rice was pretty adorable.
After we soaked up some stories with the help of our guide, Vlad dared to have some rice wine. He was told very seriously that he should be careful because it was very strong. But just after his first glass he told me that it can’t even be compared to our palincă from Maramureș (a region in Northern Romania – palinca is actually a very strong drink, made by distilling fruit: apple, grape, pear etc). So maybe next time we do a Vietnam homestay, we’ll give them some palincă.
The night and the curious guests
After dinner, they sent us to bed. The following day was going to be a long one so we didn’t protest. We fell asleep under a mountain of blankets because it was pretty cold. However, in the middle of the night, some strange sounds woke me up. It was as if somebody was scratching some plastic. I obviously woke up Vlad, who casually told me Go to sleep! It’s the cat! My brain was too tired to get mad on his nocturnal calmness, so I fell asleep thinking that it was the cat… But convinced that it wasn’t the cat.
In the morning, I told our guide smiling that we heard something near our mattresses. She shook her head and told me that for sure there were some mice playing around. I kept on smiling but all I could think was Did we literally sleep with mice? I went to Vlad but his reaction totally disarmed me: Yes, of course there were mice, but I didn’t want to scare you last night! And yes, you should know that we have them back home as well, especially in the countryside, so there is nothing exotic about them.
He comforted me so well that when we did a homestay in India and there were mice running around the kitchen, I was on the verge of catching them to pet them. So yes, our Vietnam homestay helped me open up to new adventures! I truly believe that if you want to discover yourself, but also the amazing world we live in, you have to get out of your comfort zone, to push your boundaries. Yes, I have said it before here, homestays are not for everyone. But you definitely should try it!
What about you? Have you ever tried a homestay? How was it for you?