Learning from our Viet Homestays
I was sitting down on the porch of the shaggy looking home of the homestays that took me in for the night during my 2 day tour of the Mekong Delta and was blown away by the environment I was in. Here I was, under more stars than I’ve seen since spending the night at my parents’ house on the outskirts of Vancouver, surrounded by the Mekong Delta’s capillaries and its tropical flora. Even in Vancouver, the starry sky wasn’t superimposed behind bushy palm trees.
Despite the natural environment that surrounded me, I wondered if I could live happily here. I won’t lie that I internally lamented the house’s condition at first pass. That’s not to say that anything was unclean, only rundown and old – a few broken tiles in the kitchen, a shaky table, a grimy sink, a few chips in the toilet, etc. I’m sure they did the best they could with what they had, and quite well at that. The meal they cooked for us was one of the best I’ve had since arriving in Asia. The beds were more comfortable than what I had at my hostel (which isn’t actually saying much). I wondered why I even cared that things were rundown if they still managed as well as they did.
I realized that I had been raised with such high expectations of the aesthetics around me. Things were always shiny and new and the lack thereof in this environment made me uncomfortable, almost as if I didn’t want to touch anything for too long. But come to think of it, every time something shinier and newer does come around, it’s only a matter of time before you get desensitized to it and it becomes another unappreciated item in a growing list of assumed property. Eventually, you inevitably start dreaming of its next, better version.
Observing the family, they seemed as happy in this environment as I would be in mine. The children were running around and laughing, the mother cooking busily, the grandma helping with the cleaning, the father sitting around uselessly. They were just like us! Was this because they simply didn’t know better? Were they less materialistic? I actually started to think that materialism isn’t even a thing. Everyone is probably equally materialistic, it’s just that some of us choose not to partake in the momentary high that a new item brings. This family was as happy as us despite the mediocre environment, simply because we’ve become as used to ours as they are to theirs.
After dinner, we all just sat there and enjoyed the quiet evening. Not only were they comfortable in their setting, but they even had more time to appreciate what they had rather than chase better versions of their possessions. Again, I wondered if I could ever feel this way – satisfied with what I have at this very moment and not strive for more. We’ve been brought up to always work for better, to constantly be improving ourselves and our environment whether it’s our possessions, the neighbourhood we live in or the food that we eat. No doubt some of these are important, but where does the line get drawn?
When I first arrive, I was apprehensive that they might be envious of us. We’re the westerners, temporarily leaving our generous lifestyle to live among them, able to purchase just about anything we could want here. But they welcomed us and cooked for us. Communication was never easy, but a few gestures, along with a nod and a smile, are always enough to convey gratitude on both sides. And as we were leaving, I realized that they had nothing to be envious for, because they had everything they needed.