The Mekong was once, not that long ago, a site of brutality that was inflicted on many innocent Vietnamese. Hundreds of boats selling fruits and vegetables along the delta were homes to people who were directly affected by the war. Yet when I boarded the wooden boat that propelled by the hundred others, I saw faces of warmth and gratitude, not bitterness. And the home that the boat brought us to was full of similarly beautiful people.
Smaller paddleboats, no wider than two and a half feet, snaked us through the reeds to our sleeping quarters while our large grass hats caught the impact of the rainy season. We hoisted ourselves up to the porch of our host's stilted, turquoise home. This man was amazing. He lent us a room of tented cots, a porch with six quiet hammocks and a pre-dinner performance with his extended family… who all stayed in the home with us.
After the sun set his family strolled out from their rooms with a guitar, a sitar-like instrument and a very small but very loud wooden clicker. After five traditional songs, including a Vietnamese “rap” about the fruits and vegetables of the Mekong, they played Old-Langsyne so that we could sing something for them.
And then there was dinner. Sitting cross-legged on bamboo mats, we followed the lead of our host and pulled pieces of elephant fish off of the skewered animal that stared at us from the floor. We passed around plates of Thai basil, cucumbers and hot soy sauce and heaped them on rice paper that were quickly rolled up and inhaled. The dessert of pineapple and jackfruit picked from the trees out back were just as delectable.
This sure isn’t Jersey because… the host of the house didn’t have a last name, only the number ten to signify his place in the family.