So, remember Chu Chen? I might not have mentioned him by name before, but he was the gentleman Miki and I met on our first day in Hanoi. The one with the sister who owned the organic farm? Well, after days of trying to read his chicken scratch, we finally figured out his email using a series of guess and check methods and some basic logic and reasoning. And then he responded. I was so excited when Miki told me that I literally jumped up and down. It was certainly more the thrill of the chase, because the night before we were supposed to meet his sister, delirious from the humid hostel room, I dreamt that Chu Chen’s sister was a kidnapper and my dad had to come save us a la Liam Neeson in Taken. This is why it’s important to stay in an air-conditioned room.
I won’t say it’s my last day because I’m in denial that it’s my last day, but it’s my last day. I could easily stay and explore more of this beautiful country, but the very job that gave me the money to go on this trip is calling me back. Sigh. Regardless, today was both fascinating and extremely weird. The weird part being that Miki and I knew neither Chu Chen nor his sister and were being invited to have lunch on her organic farm like we were old friends. The fascinating part came as a result of a delicious lunch of veggies grown right down the field and chicken plucked straight from the coop. The stunning view from the farmhouse didn’t hurt either.
We began the adventure in a produce delivery truck with an employee who didn’t speak a word of English. We knew we were going to Alice, Chu Chen’s sister’s house, but we didn’t know much else. The driver dropped us off at a massage parlor for a good twenty minutes – that was pretty strange – and by the time I ran out to grab a smoothie, she had returned. We pulled into a gated community and drove right up to Alice’s house – a beautiful home that contrasted drastically with the homes we’d seen thus far in Chiang Mai. After a few awkward introductions, and me mistaking the king and queen of Thailand for Alice and her husband, we climbed into the back of a pickup truck (again) with the two sons of the most stereotypical British man I have ever met. Peter was incredibly rude, grouchy and had awful teeth and even worse B.O. His sons were just as awkward as their father, though they had a bit of a more of a positive temperament, and Miki and I brought up anything and everything to fill the awkward silences.
The farm itself was picturesque with hazy mountains in the distance and acres upon acres of macadamia nut trees, coffee plants and skinny papaya trees. Peter took us out on a tour (I’m still unclear what his role is on the farms), showing us the different macadamia nut plants (green and brown) and explaining to us how they are harvested. You actually don’t pick the nuts directly from the tree, you wait for the tree to drop them and then collect them from the ground. Miki and I collected a few and later smashed them with a hammer on the concrete outside our hostel resulting in a pretty humorous spectacle of nut fragments flying everywhere.
After examining the macadamia nut trees, we hiked uphill and picked a couple of papaya. I don’t particularly like papaya, but they were absolutely delicious and I gorged myself on them for dessert. During lunch, Peter proceeded to complain about everything in America (though he had never been there himself) and whined about how in the suburbs you have to grow grass instead of being able to plant potatoes in your front yard. Boo hoo. He proceeded to scold me for not making my own yogurt and for buying apples in the off season. What a gem.
After lunch, Alice showed us the dorm-style rooms she has upstairs for young foreigners who are looking to volunteer. Miki was hoping to help out on the farm, but since the high season isn’t until July, Alice told her there wouldn’t be much for her to do if she stayed. If anyone is looking to be a farming laborer for a week, let me know. I can get you in touch with Alice; she’d love to have you harvest macadamia nuts for her!
We said our goodbyes and thanked Chu Chen and Alice for their generosity – after all we were total strangers. Then, Peter, his wife and their two sons drove us back to our hostel (not before stopping to fix their coffee maker, which Peter proceeded to complain about when the maintenance guy said he couldn’t fix the leaky filter), and we spent the afternoon lounging in the lobby – I wrote a few blog posts while Miki chatted with a some of the random guys who were also staying at our hostel. As a final hurrah, we decided to get Thai massages. I opted for a hot-pouch massage (similar to a hot stone massage), and Miki got a full-body Thai massage. I’d never been massaged before, so getting a Thai massage was like going down a black diamond on your first day of skiing. Instead of being rubbed, I was poked and prodded with knees and elbows. At one point, my masseuse had actually climbed on top of me so she could really dig her elbow into my shoulder blade. It wasn’t horrible because at the end they pressed hot pouches of herbs onto my back and I felt like I was getting a dozen mini hugs.
For dinner, we found a hole-in-the-wall restaurant where the woman behind the stove cooked our curries in a wok the size of a car tire. The food was delicious, and the meal cost less than $2. We toasted to our adventure and drank to being great travel companions. I’ll miss Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, but most of all I’ll miss traveling with Miki. She was a great trooper, putting up with all the activities I wanted to do, letting me wear her down and laughing at my ridiculous jokes. Saying goodbye to her was certainly the hardest part of my journey home, even harder than the 13 hour flight back to New York.
Until next time Southeast Asia, can’t wait to return.