When Minh and I decided to visit his father’s family home in Phú Thọ in northern Vietnam, I assumed Phú Thọ referred to the city I found on Google Map. Later as we bounced along country roads in a very uncomfortable minibus that had passed the city of Phú Thọ 45 minutes earlier, I realized Phú Thọ was the name of a province as well as that of a city. We did eventually get to our destination in high country with terrain in between hills and mountains. We were in the northwest of the province about 150 km from Lào Cai on Vietnam’s northern border with China. This is farm country that grows upland rice, and we arrived at harvest time.
The setting was magnificent. The rambling ranch-style farmhouse was at the top of a small rise overlooking golden colored rice fields ready to be harvested. If it had not been 105 in the shade during the day and not much cooler in the evening, the visit would have been perfect. The house had fans, but no a/c. The weather was exceptionally hot; even the Vietnamese living there were wilting in the heat. I did not envy them cutting rice in the fields by hand or cooking in a stifling hot kitchen. Good time to be a guest who was expected not to lift a finger.
While Minh’s father no longer lives in the ancestral hometown, a huge extended family of uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews, nieces – all of the latter being referred to as brothers and sisters – does. Minh had not been to visit for a long time, so it was a homecoming to begin with. And he arrived with a foreigner, quite the oddity in those parts, making the visit a genuine event. There was delicious food and plenty of it, featuring a chicken from the chicken coop, plenty of vegetables from the garden, rice grown on the farm, and beer and Vietnamese spirits in plastic jugs vs containers with labels from factories. Interestingly for Vietnam, there was not a cup of coffee to be found anywhere, even in the small town near the farm. The people in these parts were tea drinkers, downing quantities of strong green tea grown on hillsides next to the rice fields.
All in all, a great visit with welcoming, friendly people living in beautiful country. And in case there is any question about the photo, that is early morning haze, not smog, in the distance.