We wanted to call some bicycles or motor bicycles to carry us to visit the poor and remote hamlets and schools that could not be reached by cars but were told that there were no kinds of transportation there. When we suggested that the students’ parents receive parcels for them because those parcels were pretty heavy for the children, the volunteers burst out laughing and said, “Children on the highland are used to climbing with dossers on their backs, so there was no problems bringing parcels home.”
We were told that the school would invite us to stay for lunch after the gift giving at the first location; we declined because we didn’t want them to spend much time for us in this issue. We said that it was better to have a quick lunch at some inn then went on with our plan so we would be on time for next tast. Kien said that there was no inn on the highland because people there were so poor; no one would afford eating out.
The fact that our three suggestions were declined proved that we were lacked of experience about life here, what we have thought was different from reality. This trip would be a good chance to teach us a lot of new experiences.
Each gift was composed of some pieces of clothes for summer and winter. Usually families in mountain land were big ones so our gifts were not for students only but for other members of the family as well.
We did not buy anything made in China. Each parcel contained:
* 1 comforter (made in Ha tay) Vn $75,000.00
* 1 sweater (made in Dalat) 22,000.
* 1 set of knee length summer clothes (made in Saigon)
*1 pair of pyjamas (made in Saigon)
* 1 winter jacket (made in Saigon) 65,000
* 1 pair of sandals (made in Saigon) 12,000.
* Candies (from Uncle Sieu’s group in Hue)
* One set of clothes bought from foreign aids stuff of all sizes from $40, 000 to $50,000.
Each gift distribution at different provinces made us understand the nature of the people. At these two locations, we found out everybody, from the teachers to the parents and the students, were patient and honest. They waited to be called out to receive gifts. They did not jostle and were not demanding. Everything happened in good order and quickly. The students were well-behaved and looked very lovely with innocent faces.
THROUGH OUT THE PROVINCES
Departing from Hanoi, we went to Thai Nguyên then Bac Can, first location and Cao Bang, the second one. Then we went on to Hagiang, Laocai, Laichau, Yenbai, Phutho, Vinhphuc, and back to Hanoi.
We had a chance to watch the rice fields beautiful as pictures. But behind the marvelous and imposing sceneries of nature was the poor and hard life of farmers who had to earn their living on the high mountains of limestone without soil and water. With difficult conditions like that, the farmers could not produce much so their meals were only ground corn and salt, they called this food is “mèn mén.”
To get ready for the mountain pass trip through deserted villages, we prepared some VN millions dong in large bills as cash gifts so that we did not have to carry heavy stuff; and we could get to many places as well. We were told to give money as a gift to women only so they could take care of their families. We should never to give cash gifts to men because once having money, they might drink.
We gave money to old persons on the mountain pass with big bundles of sticks on their backs. When too tired, they could not put the bundles down and had to lean against the rock wall to rest for some minutes then went on with their trips.
We also gave cash gifts to young mothers working in the fields with their babies carrying on their backs. Some babies were crying some were sleeping soundly under the bright sun. They sowed corn kernels in holes. In each hole, they put in a piece of soil with one kernel of corn inside, mixed with a little bit of manure then some water. With that way they sowed over the whole rock hill. Looking at them working while carrying their babies on their back on the high limestone mountain without enough soil and water; we wondered how they can survive in these difficult conditions.
We met groups of women working or resting, we came to say hello to them and gave them some cash gifts. Only when asked to come up, a woman came and received the gift while the others sat there looking. They waited until we asked another, and then another. They were so well behaved. They did not jostle. They were so poor but not greedy. We admired their good nature so.
BAN PHO VILLAGE:
We entered Ban Pho village to visit the elementary school. We asked the teachers to visit each classroom. We gave each good student and the ones with difficult financial situation from $300,000.00 to $500,000.00 and one pen from Nguyen Tam and Duyen in Canada according to each case.
From the teacher’s information, we knew some students with tragic situations. We hugged the ones who lost their mothers because of the people from big cities coming to the mountains to lure women for the trafficking market. According to the teacher, those students came to class crying for many days. Their fathers suffered losing their wives, did not know how to take care of the families. Some of them went up to the mountain to drink while waiting for their wives. Those women got small sums of money about VN 500,000.00 dong( 25 dollar) from a stranger with a promise of good jobs in the city. They were told that with good jobs, they could support their families better. Actually they were sold to China for labor, or for sex trade, or even for organs.
There was no way to describe all the hardship of life there. What we had seen, what we had heard made a deep impression in our mind. The stories of motherless children and wifeless men touched us the most. We embraced the children and kissed them. We gave them all our love. They felt our love and moved, too. Touching their tousled and unwashed hair, looking at their old and unwashed clothes we had knots in our throats.
BA BE LAKE
We came to Ba Be Lake at Backan late in the evening. It was a sunny evening, and the cool breeze reminded us of early spring in Canada. From afar, the lake; scintillating under the sun; contrasted with the blue sky, made the mountainous scenery more beautiful. The clear atmosphere and the scent of the forests gave us the impression of living in a paradise. Ba Be Lake was a big lake surrounded by ranges of mountains. Its water was transparent and calm. This area was not easy to approach so the mountain pass was deserted. Once in a while a car passed by hurriedly in the calm evening.
We came to the dock and rented a boat to row on the lake. The boat ran through ranges of green rocks. We felt the clear and peaceful atmosphere of the vast forests and high mountains. The natural music of Mother Nature sounded in the scenery of immense mountains and water on Ba Bể Lake. Everything was like the masterpiece of a talented artist. Perhaps the high mountains and deep water here was a natural obstacle to prevent tourists so the Lake still kept her beauty intact. We sat quietly to admire the natural, breath- taking beauty. Our mind became calm, so calm. We could hear water splash against the boat. All sufferings of worldly life disappeared. We enjoyed the deep peace and calmness. If you were proud that you had visited all the beautiful landscapes of Vietnam but you had not visited Ba Be Lake, you did not really know all the beauty of Vietnam.
We stopped at Meo Vac Valley of Bacgiang and spent the night there. Meo Vac was a deserted district near the border with a peaceful life. Its market place was small and simple. It took you only about 2 hours to walk all around the district. That night was very cool. We dropped in a special eating place to enjoy its special called “Au tau” congee. This was a kind of congee cooked with Au Tau; a kind of root which the natives believe that very good for your aching bones. It was special because if you ate it raw you would die without any cure. We were a little scare but wanted to try although no one felt tired after the long trip. We talked with the owner and knew that she had to go to the emergency three times because of trying the congee before serving it to her customers. We were such stupid guys to try this kind of congee! It was sweet and tender but Au Tau was bitter. It got sweeter aftermath. We talked and laughed while eating.
BACK TO HANOI
HSCV and Hoe were old friends who had worked with us for many years, only Kien, the one who transported our goods free was a new friend. To transport the goods, he had to go to the parking lot reserved for trucks far from Hanoi to put the big, heavy loads into his car. Because his car was small he had to make five trips to the mountain to carry more than 1,000 parcels of gifts. It was such a big job! I had a chance to talk to him. He asked me how old I was; I said that I was 53 years old. He said that I should take ginseng when I was over 50. Then he made a call and asked a person to dig him some ginseng. And we talked about our families, I told him that Minh, my husband, did not enjoy things like other men, he only liked to collect statues of Buddha. Kien then made another call to ask someone else to carve a statue from the piece of wood he had asked him to keep.
Later we knew that the man with a small van was a man with a mind of a businessman, and he also had a lot of acquaintances. No wonder with just a call he could solve any problem. He invited us to a restaurant belonging to his family to meet some of his friends who were in entertainment business. All of them liked to participate doing charity works within and outside the country. So there was a complete understanding in our talks although it was the first time we met. Kien’s wife told us that in the past few days, her husband left home early and got back home very late looking haggard, unshaven with wrinkled clothes, ruffled hair. She said that seeing him like that, she was so worried. At that time we found out that Kien had spent much time to transport our stuff from Hanoi to Backan and Caobang. When we asked him why he did not rent a big van to do that, he laughed, glancing at his wife, and said that he did not know there were so many gifts. He also said that he had promised to help, so he had to accomplish what he promised; moreover all were for poor people, so he was happy to help. He laughed again.
After this trip, we wanted to go on with the plan to help the students who had to stay at school during the week with food. They had to stay at school because they lived about 10 kilometers away from school. The means of transportation was walking. They walked in small groups of through mountain passes or through the clearings. Every Friday afternoon they walked home, and on Sunday afternoon they walked back to school bringing “men men”, the dish of ground corn kernels cooked with salt. Some had to quit school because their families couldn’t afford food.
This plan will provide food to help the poor students to go on with their education, to improve their health conditions as well as the standard of living of the youth on the mountains. With compassion we try to do so with the hope to share what we have and to make the gap between their standard of living and ours a little bit smaller. Because of their naivety, they are so easily taken advantage of by the wicked and greedy people. If educated, they might be able to take care of themselves, and their lives might be better. The image of untaken care of small, motherless students nags our conscience and encourage us to continue doing something for them.
Plans to improve the students’ health will be sent to you in the near future. All contributions can be sent to the fund of The Kitchen. Due to the help of all friends and volunteers. our long trip is a great success. We also thank Mr. Chuck DeVet, the founder of HSCV. And of course, without all of your contributions, the trip could not be made.
When we got ready to leave for Hue, we heard the news that my mother- in- law just passed on. We hurried to Hue to take care of the funeral. She was 94 years old. She just passed on without being sick. All her children were there; everything was fine, cozy with the visitation of friends and families. Especially the monks came every night to pray for her and gave us dharma talks.
The Quan Yin statue carved from Ngocam wood that Kien and his friend Phuc gave us was put on the altar; the fragrance of the wood seemed to support my mother-in -law’s soul in the everlasting world.
We send here two verses from the calligraphy of Tu Hieu Temple ,Dieu Tram.
Vase of Nectar from Bodhisattva hand
Pouring into desert to transform to vast green Ocean