Thy Kingdom Come

One beautifully sunny morning in Vietnam.

We were just leaving the beach when a woman, an old woman, carrying big baskets of fruit approached us in hopes of selling her goods but we had just finished lunch, so we smiled, shook our heads no thanks and kept walking.

However, our daughter and son were further behind us and we didn’t see her approach them. So when we turned too look back we were shocked to see our daughter wearing the old woman’s baskets and hat posing as Banjo took her photo. We rush over a little disappointed in our children. To our eyes, it looked as if our kids were exploiting the woman for photo op.

Later however, we found out that the woman actually initiated the process. Apparently, she came up to our kids, took her baskets off her shoulders and thrust it onto Graciana, simultaneously taking her hat off and putting it on Graciana’s head. She snatched Graciana’s camera out of her hand, fumbled around with it for a bit and then handed it to him demanding him to take a photo. This all happened in a matter of seconds and then we turned around.

imageWe obviously didn’t know the backstory so we rushed over thinking surely we should offer her money for this unique photo op. We thanked her and handed her 10,000 dong. Which is about $.50 USD. She took her hat and baskets off of Graciana and we thought the situation was dealt with, but then she began to demand we buy a coconut from her. She took out her machete to cut the coconut and then badgered us to take the coconut. We asked her how much and she mumbled a number we thought was 50,000. Which is above the usual asking price but we thought OK, well just take it and leave. So we handed her the 50,000, she took it but began to shake her head (and her machete) violently. She wrote in the sand 500,000, which is about $22 USD!

Thankfully, by that point, a guard, some of the staff, and our host, saw what was happening and came over to help us deal with the lady. She was angry that they came to our side and waved her machete at them, clenching her fists around the money we had already given her. We all just stood awe as our host dealt with her. She let the woman know that her manipulation was unacceptable and that we weren’t going to pay her. I think we were able to get the 10,000 back but she kept the 50,000. Which was fine, we kept the coconut. She made a sour face and played victim as we all walked away. We left totally bewildered but we weren’t bitter. Honestly the interaction was so swift that we really didn’t have much time to process what was even going on until we walked away.

There was a sadness that came over us for her. What drives an old woman to become a thief? That’s really what laid heavy on our hearts. She was just a sweet little old lady, in the twilight of her life, meant to be enjoying the fruit of her children and grandchildren but here she was stuck in what was probably a long standing cycle of twisted thinking, desperate and demanding. She was roaming this life like a thief in the dark.

It reminded me of another thief, my grandfather. Who was shot (bullet lodging an eighth of an inch from his heart) trying to rob a club in Indianapolis, IN. My father and his twin brother were only 30 days old. I’m sure it wasn’t the first time my paw paw participated in what he would call a “lead pipe synch.” It was just the first time he was caught. It was during is his capture and imprisonment however that his spirit was awakened and he made a decision to change the course of his life. He made a decision to no longer live for himself but for the one who created him. This decision drastically changed the course of my family, this decision and the follow through after gave my family life.

All I could think of after we left this lady was how her con, although sly was so desperate. How I wished I would have had time to catch myself during the interaction to speak truth in love, to let her know that she was wrong for preying on us, but that the deceitfulness in her heart was a burden she didn’t need to carry. I don’t know why or how it all works, this idea of awakening but I do know that I long to see thy kingdom come… And it is during these moments that my heart aches for it most.

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The Highlands of Vietnam

Di Linh (Vietnamese: Di Linh; French: Djiring) is a district (huyện) of LĂąm Đồng Province in the Central Highlands region of Vietnam.

As of 2003 the district had a population of 154,472.The district covers an area of 1,628 kmÂČ. The district capital lies at Di Linh.

And, that is about all Wikipedia has to say about the place. But, we would add so much more!

IMG_7729First off, going from sea level in Phan Theit, rolling through hills up to about 4000 feet into the highlands was spectacular! And the stops on the way up offered a taste of some of the best coffee in the world. And, for those who don’t know, coffee is one of Mr. Hollands love languages.

The coffee city that gets the most attention in the region is Da Lat and I’m sure it’s a wonderful place for tourists. For us, however, connecting with locals and learning about life through their eyes is more important. So, we were pleased when our friend Joe invited us to come with him up to visit Di Linh, to share a meal, story and sacred space with his kinfolk, who all happen to be coffee farmers.

IMG_1214The community treated us to a traditional meal, coffee of course, and we sang together. We were honored to find out we were there first international guests! We shared our story and they shared theirs and what we learned is that they have the same struggles many of us have around the world with desires for a good, healthy, long life and dealing with the many obsticals that can get in the way.

IMG_1230We met Than, a generational coffee farmer. Thans ancestors had farmed over a hundred hectares but after the war, his families land was seized and he now farms about two hectares. From that 2 hectares he produces 10 tonnes of bean; Arabica, robusta and a third coffee which is a blend. Most is sold to dealers to be exported.

He taught us about the growing process stating that the trees last for about 50 years, and produce bigger yields each year. Harvest time is in December and he hires on about 6 extra migrant workers to help with the harvest. A tarp is set on the ground that catches the beans as the workers pull them off the branches. Then the beans are then set out in the front yard to dry for 10 days before being packaged. Than also grows red flamingo flowers in green houses through out the year and sells them to stores all over Vietnam.

Honestly, Di Linh could have been any little rural town in the US where folks are hard working, value the land they live on and care about their families and their faith. It’s off the beaten path but for us Di Linh and the people we met there will always hold a special place in our hearts. And the coffee, that was just the warm up to the truest love language there is, connection.

 

 

Red Apple School

Many people have asked how do connect with so many host around the world? Well it sometimes goes like this, we met a fello Muso at a folk music conference in Austin, TX named Emily Clepper. Over the next five months we became friends with Emily. When we were getting ready to leave Austin and looking at our east coast routing, we mentioned our desire to head up into Canada and hoped to roll through her hometown of Quebec city. She referred us to her friends, Vann and Chantel, who lived just south of the city. We introduced ourselves to them via good old Facebook and they invited us to come. We spent a lovely week with them, sharing meals, story and song. During our conversations, we shared our desire to explore south east Asia. Vanns interest perked and he told us about his friend, Tinh Mahoney, in Vietnam. Vann and Tinh met when they were young teenagers and had kept in touch over the years. Vann told us that Tinh was a musician and film maker and had a wonderful story that included building eight school in Vietnam. One particular school had a unique story as it involved a group of unlikely contributors. The story goes that Tinh was in the United States performing his music and was invited to a prison in Oregon. While there he shared his dream to build a school. The prisoners were touched by his story and collectively decided to donate one year of their wages towards the building of the school. We were inspired by the story and Vann introduce us via Facebook to Tinh. We begin conversation via email and Skype, dialoguing about a potential visit. We looked on the map to see where Tinh lived and began to course our routing his direction.
And that is how it works. And this is the story of our time with Tinh in His hometown, Phan Thiet, Vietnam.
We arrived late afternoon by bus and took a short taxi ride to the Red Apple English school where Tinh works and lives. We were welcomed by his team, Tam and her sister Nguyen. That evening we “sat in” as English speaking guests. Each of us sat at different tables and the students made the rounds visiting each table and practicing conversation with each of us. They asked all sorts of great questions and after the class we all jumped on mopeds and went for dinner. Tinh treated all of us to Pho’ and later we enjoyed a local dessert soup called Che.

The next morning we rose at 4:30 to catch a sunrise at the local beach. It was dark when we left the house and when we arrived, the beach was packed with all sorts of folks. They were exercising, swimming, running the beach, and burying themselves in the sand; as apparently that has medicinal value.

After the beach, we went back home and enjoyed a light breakfast called Xoi (pronounced soy), which consisted of rice black beans coconut crushed peanuts sugar and salt. It was served alongside a big bowl of exotic fruits. My favorite being Dragon eyes. We we napped during the heat of the day, had a light supper and worked with more students in the evening.

IMG_7636We caught another sunrise the next morning. Two sunrises in a row, that’s a big deal for us night owls, but it was worth it. This time we all rode mopeds to a fishing village and watched the fisherman bring in their catch. There were many women on the beach as well, carrying water and making street food to sell. We were absolutely amazed by their strength. And they were absolutely amazed by Craig’s mustache. 🙂

After, we stopped to see the famous red Sand dunes. Rolled up and down the hills. And enjoyed the soft silky red sand.

Then we went to a resort to visit some of the students we had met the night prior. They invited us to come and enjoy breakfast and when we arrived we could hear a beautiful guitar playing. We later found out that it was Tinh’s CD. The food was delicious, the resort was beautiful and the staff very friendly. We were very impressed that one of Tinh’s students named Nhi, could not only speak her Vietnamese and English but she could also speak fluent Russian! We discovered that many of the tourists come to this area are from Russia.

That evening while our hosts taught school I made a simple dinner of Fish, mango salsa, rice and vegetables. We slept hard that night and the next day Craig helped Tinh build the stage and get the side yard ready for that evening’s concert. We took afternoon naps and then begin to prepare a meal to serve all the guests that would come. About 75 guests came, students, parents and a few foreign guests we had met at the resort. The evening was filled with music, laughter and joy. Many of the students performed and even one of the guests who was visiting from Slovenia shared a song. Our set was jolly and we were able to teach many of the students our lyrics so they could sing along, we especially loved hearing them sing “Old Man’s Town.”

The only thing that could have topped our time with Tinh and the Red Apple School would have been to have Vann and his family there to share in the memory. Thankful for those who send us on as connectors and thankful for those who receive us on the other end!

Moped Nation

IMG_1110We traveled from Saigon south to Vung Tau on a 1 1/2 hr ferry ride at $12.50 each. Vung Tau is a beach vacation destination for Vietnamese tourist and was an RnR location during the Vietnam war. Over the years many ex-pats from the US and Australia have decided to open businesses or retire here. There is also a small international population that live in Vung Tau because of the oil industry. The town boasts the second largest “Jesus” statue in the world. The largest being in Rio. There is also a large statue of Mary on one of the mountain sides. All remnants of the 100 yr French  (Catholic) occupation.

imageOur host, an old college friend, Andrew (from the states) met us at the dock on you guessed it, his moped. And, like Siagon, Vung Tau had a stream of mopeds weaving here and there, organized chaos. Andrew, a teacher at an international school, welcomed us to his home and introduced us to his girlfriend, Mi, pronounced Me.

Serendipity allowed us to arrive to Andrews on Thanksgiving and so that evening we were welcomed by Andrew, and his friends/fellow teachers to a thanksgiving celebration. There were folks from all over the world including, South Africa, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, the US, the Philippines and Singapore. It was a bit surreal to dine with them, sharing turkey and potatoes but we enjoyed our time and talked of meeting up again over the weekend.

IMG_1113The next morning Andrew had to work, so we ventured out on foot looking for lunch. We stumbled upon a little hole in a wall with a line out the door. It was open air with ladies cooking near the front of the stall. As we stood in line (the only westerners in the joint) we observed trying to discern what they were making in hopes of reducing our uncertainty, especially regarding all of the horror stories we had heard about street food and digestion problems. By the time we reached the hostess we had built up our confidence, had a basic understanding of the etiquette and were ready to dive into the experience. We were glad we did as the place turned out to be a goldmine! You know, the kind of place that Anthony Bourdain might showcase on an episode of his popular food show.

IMG_1111The venue, called Goc Vu Sua, served up Banh Khot, a speciality, only found in Vung Tao. It consisted of shrimp fried on a flour/egg batter, served with bean threads and herbs, wrapped in butter lettuce and dipped in fish sauce. We watched the packed house of locals eat and followed their lead using a combination of hands and chop sticks. We saw a frothy yellowish drink sitting next to many of the patrons and asked for them. Then turned to watch the server use a large press to make fresh sugar cane juice. The drink was served on ice and tasted sweet but not too sweet. It was delicious and we later found out (via Google) that the juice has major healing applications including cancer fighting properties. So we lightheadedly started skeeming ways to bring one of the juicing machines back to Australia or the States in hopes of making big bucks on this superfood.

Each of our meals including our drink 52000 Vietnamese dong ($2.50USD) Goc Vu Sua was top notch local fare and if you ever make it to Vung Tao you have to give it a try. Just make sure you keep your knees of of the table.

Another highlight of our time in Vung Tau was renting mopeds. We walked down to a guesthouse and found two mopeds available. We rented them for two days at 600,000 Vietnamese dong, which translated to $27 USD total. We had to fill out a release form and leave our passports to be picked up once we finished with the mopeds.

IMG_1131The driving learning curve was intense but quick. Within the hour, we found our way weaving in and around the roadways, flowing with the locals. At one point our daughter made a comparison to Mario Cart. We all laughed and concurred.

The mobility offered us more flexibility as we were able to move at our own pace and explore. Over the next few days we rode up Small Mountain and Big mountain, stopped for coffees and mango smoothies, went to mass at the local cathedral which was quite moving, specially hearing the choir. We visited the market, went to a movie in a cinema as well as enjoyed a day at the beach. But the highlight was riding our mopeds, instruments in tow, into the evening sun to a local bar called Haven where we performed for Andrew, his teacher friends, a handful of ex-pats and a few locals.

It was a blast to see an old friend and experience life in Vung Tau through his eyes. If we ever have the opportunity to visit again, we will. Firstly to see Andrew and all of our new friends but as a close second, we’d go back just ride mopeds and to eat Banh Khot again!

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