Rural Morning, Phú Thọ Province, Vietnam

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.

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Scott Farm, near Brattleboro, Vermont

During my stay in Amherst, friend Kate and I drove up to Brattleboro Vermont to take a look. Among other things, we struck out to visit the home of Rudyard Kipling, which is located a few miles north of Brattleboro. It had never occurred to me that Kipling wrote part or all of Kim and other stories about India in a rustic New England location. File that under life is full of small surprises. In any case, the Kipling house is rented out to private parties – one cannot even enter the grounds to look at the house from the outside. Undaunted, we continued down Kipling Road for a ways until we came upon the Scott Farm. We turned into the driveway in search of apples – mid-September is apple season after all. The farm did indeed have apples, and it also was home to something called The Stone Trust – a school that trains and certifies people to build dry stone walls. School was not in session during out visit, but it was interesting to walk around the grounds and see evidence of the students’ efforts.

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