Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Less v. more

The Year of Getting Rid of Stuff has not been the smoothly continuous event that I originally intended, but today I tackled the garage and jerked us a little closer to a more Zen-like existence. It reminded me of what Kathy said when we were at our homestay in northern Viet Nam on our brilliant World Expeditions tour, that she rather envied the sparse decor of the house, compared to her clutter of possessions at home. And it was: mostly as bare as you see above - barer, in fact, as the table and mat only come out at meal times - with just one small area that had anything non-functional in it, obviously treasures.

We had been a bit apprehensive about the homestay, wondering how uncomfortable it was going to be, but it was perfectly civilised (we were all immensely relieved - literally - to find flush toilets and hot showers, having already encountered some truly alarming squatters on the trip). Those mattresses were on the hard side, but then so were most of the hotel beds: must be a Vietnamese thing. We had pillows and mosquito nets and privacy, it was quiet at night - apart from the 4am rooster and the kittens at dawn - and the food was really delicious.

We didn't realise that it was actually pretty upmarket, as traditional stilt houses go, till we got to the lunch stop on our trekking day and saw a more authentic one: much dimmer and barer, no windows, with instead of a kitchen a concrete pad and an open fire, and of course no flush toilet but a squatter downstairs in a shed. Presumably with income from the tour company, though, they still had their luxuries: the fridge for cold beer, a TV, phone, wardrobe with mirror and even a Nintendo. And again, the food was excellent: a fire, a wok, a casserole, that's all that was needed for a tastier meal than I produce in my kitchen with all its mod cons.
Then we called into another house a bit later, which was barer still, with far fewer amenities. But they made us welcome, and brewed a pot of green tea for us, and told us, through Duke (who took the photos above) that he is 70 and she is 49 - Duke was full of respect for the old man, hearing this - and both still work for their living, as they must - or starve. They did have their own rice thresher downstairs, though, which must have been a source of income for them at harvest time.

I really liked that we got to see real life on that trip, instead of just hotels. Even if it does make me feel as though I'm being smothered by all my possessions (though glad I have a soft sofa to sit on instead of a wooden stool 5cm high).

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