I have cried tears of joy three separate times today, pretty much doubling my lifetime tears-of-joy count. This hasn’t just been one of the best birthdays ever, it’s been one of the best days of my entire life.
I slept well on the train last night and woke up this morning in Lao Cai. Then I got into a van with a bunch of other friendly tourists (again, not a single American) to make the hour-long, hair-raising drive up into the mountains. Even before I got to my hotel I was floored by the beauty of this place, but when I actually sat down on the seventh-story balcony to enjoy a nice bowl of pho for breakfast, I started to tear up.
I’m a pretty emotional person in every aspect of my life, but it’s not too often that I express joy so viscerally. Maybe it was a mixture of it being my birthday, which is normally a depressing day for me (to say the least), and the exhaustion that comes with traveling, but it was a positive feeling, so who cares!!
A Hmong woman named Mama Su, who found me in the street, took me on an adventure into her daily life. First we went to the market to buy food, then down to her house (in the most beautiful valley in the world) to cook it.
She made chicken (since I said that was my favorite) with mushrooms, bamboo, carrots and onions, fried in the fat from the last pig she killed, served on top of the rice her family harvested over the last year, topped with super hot thai chili peppers. After the meal she boiled water for green tea, then brought out a huge plastic bottle full of home made “rice wine”, which was insanely strong. It was more like taking shots of alcohol than drinking sake, and she laughingly called it her “happy water”.
Mama Su can’t read or write, but she is fluent in 5 languages, and was both funny and smart as could be. I stayed with her for over four hours, talking, cooking, eating, playing with her adorable children, looking at her rice fields, pigs, chickens, and ducks. She only wanted $20 for all this, and wouldn’t even take the extra money I wanted to give her (but luckily her husband did). We talked about everything from fashion to politics, native culture, modern technology, and just told each other jokes (she loved the elephant jokes, dad!) She did up my hair in the traditional Hmong style and gave me silver braceletes to take as a gift.
Her husband was smoking tobacco out of a hand carved water pipe, and when i showed him my e-cig he was so, so, tickled by it and asked a million questions (through Su, as he only speaks Hmong).
When I was ready to head back to the hotel (and only because I was ready, they offered to have me stay for dinner and even spend the night with them too), she had her husband drive me back up the mountain on the back of his motorbike for free, and he even let me wear his helmet.
I’ve never met such kind and hospitable people in all my life, or been exposed to such a drastically different culture than my own.
It just officially struck midnight a few hours ago on my birthday in the US, and the Facebook messages have started rolling in. I miss everyone back home, but honestly there’s nowhere in the world I’d rather be than where I am right now. This has been a truly magical day; that it was my birthday too just made it even more so.
I’ll leave with this. Mama Su and the other Hmong women who come to town to find tourists carry around little notebooks that people can write recommendations in, if they enjoyed themselves. I wrote my honest feelings down and then I said “Mama Su! The next time you see an English speaker, PLEASE show them my page first!” She said she would, but because she doesn’t know how to read she wouldn’t be able to find it. So I drew a heart at the top, and she had never seen a heart drawn before. I’m glad i was able to show her. ❤
Oh, and one LAST thing. They had PUPPIES!!!
Is this really only my third full day in this county? Wow…