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Connecting with Vietnam

While we were on our 2 week motorcycle trip searching for authentic textiles, we had an incredible experience connecting with the some of the people of Vietnam. There are a number of ethnic minorities living in the country, and we were fortunate to get to know one of them very intimately. 

We were having morning coffee just outside our home stay and getting ready to leave for our next destination. We saw a man walking around with several điếu cây, Vietnamese tobacco bongs. Smoking thuốc lào - strong pipe tobacco - from the water pipe is a big part of Northern culture in Vietnam, and we had wanted to buy an authentic one hand crafted from bamboo.

After purchasing one of his điếu cây and some chatting with our Vietnamese friend Lauri, it turned out that he had invited us to his village and and they had exchanged numbers. We learned that he was a shaman of the Dao people, an an ethnic minority in the northern mountains. So we decided to go the next day.

The shaman with his grandkids at their home. (Note: sorry for the poor quality photos in this post, the main camera battery had died so we were left with phone cameras)

We got on our bikes and followed him out of town to his village. He lived on a road up near the top of a mountain covered in rice terraces. An extraordinarily beautiful place. We arrived at his house, standing since the war time in Vietnam, where we were invited for a meal and rice wine.

The view from his rice terraces. (The roof of his house is visible in the bottom left.)

Of course, we couldn't refuse and changed our plans for the day, as we certainly wouldn't have been able to drive after the large quantity of rice "wine" (whisky) that we would likely end up drinking. After an lunch of pork (raised by his family on their farm), vegetables, and fermented rice porridge, we explored a bit and soon learned we were invited to spend the night.

Lunch time! (left to right, Jurri, Drew, the Shaman, Lauri, the Shaman's sons, and Mitch)

As evening fell and we met and drank yet more rice wine with some family and friends of our host, we ended up back at another house of his up the road. This one was perched high on the cliff side and surrounded by creeks, which they had redirected into their house for running water.

Here he showed us some ancient texts, which he uses in his shamanic duties to his people. They were easily 150 years old and written in ancient script that is no longer used in Vietnam. He is a rare example of someone who doesn't study the language and script academically but has carried on the tradition from ancestors. 

The Shaman reading the ancient texts to Drew

Evening had fell and we were drinking yet more rice wine, when all of a sudden our host went outside. He reappeared in the house holding one of his goats by its horn.

"What's he doing with that goat?" (Also note the half finished bongs on the ground)

 

 

(Warning: the following may be considered graphic)

 

If there was any question, his excitement about the goat removed all doubt: this goat was for us. We gathered around and watched as the goat's life was taken to feed us. It was an incredible sight. They first punctured the goat's neck in order to collect the fresh blood. It was soon void of life, and they prepared to butcher it. First the fur was burned and scraped off, then they carefully sliced its abdomen in order to release the inner organs, which they collected.

 

 

(EXTRA WARNING: GRAPHIC PHOTOS)

 

 

Removing the goat's fur

All of the organs on the ground (which we would eventually eat). We were lucky not to have any severe reactions...

After fully observing this entire process, it was impossible not to eat and appreciate this family and this animal's gift to us. Among the dishes served were: the fresh congealed goat's blood, liver, intestine, stomach, and another unidentified tough organ. We could never have imagined eating this food before, but we tried it all and even enjoyed some, though it is an extremely different flavor experience when the animal has lived outside and walked its whole life. Along with this meal were far too many shots of rice wine. We retired to bed, which consisted of bamboo mats on the the loft portion of the old house.

No camera battery and Jurri's phone dying leaves us with this still from a video Mitch took of the meal. Various organs and bowls of congealed blood.

The next morning, they wanted us to eat more. We were unable to though, as the meat had too intense of a flavor and our stomachs were already complaining. We all had similar experiences with the aftereffect of eating this type of food. So we returned to town and recovered with fruit juice, yogurt, coffee, and a sandwich.

Ultimately, it took us a few days to recover. Both because of the vastly different way of life that we experienced, and also because of the effect of the food we ate on our bodies. Nevertheless, it was incredible to have this sort of spontaneous, organic encounter and visit a village and family mostly untouched by the outside world. 

Grandma (the Shaman's wife) with the grandkids

 

Don't forget to leave us a comment! Would you have eaten the meal?


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1 comment

  • The use of every part of the animal is something that really fascinates me about Vietnam. We have lost so much of that ‘no waste’ attitude in the west and it is totally unsustainable!

    Thanks for sharing guys :)

    • Jade