I had been working at the homestay for about 2 weeks when the owner, Rocky, asked me to join him for a breakfast. Besides a few business meetings, I hadn’t spent much time with Rocky, so I was excited to get to know him better. He didn’t give me any details about where we were going, or what we would be doing. I’m always happy to take a little adventure though, so I gladly excepted the invitation and made sure to be ready on time the morning of.
I was happy to find out that Rocky’s two sons would be joining us, as well as Brendan, who also works for Rocky. I had been getting to know the boys quite well during our English classes and was excited to spend time with them outside of class. They are both intelligent and funny and I’m always entertained by them. Brendan is the one who interviewed and hired me. He speaks English, has a great sense of humor and I’ve enjoyed all of our interactions.
We all met at the homestay and loaded into Rocky’s 4 runner. I have to mention here how weird it is to ride in a vehicle now, especially a personally owned vehicle, not a taxi. It’s rare to see and this was the first time I had been in a personal vehicle since leaving the states 6 months ago. It’s something I should feel used to, seeing as it’s a part of my daily life back home. However, for some reason, vehicles seem like a far off luxury to me now. Anyways, we headed out to the unknown destination. When we arrived and parked I was excited to see what we would be doing.
To my complete surprise, Rocky had taken us to a museum called Vinahouse, which is about 5 and half miles outside of Hoi An City. This fantastic establishment is preserving century old houses to protect the heritage of the old Vietnamese style homes from being lost. This project is the passion of a young 37 year old craftsman and his carpenter father. Most classically original homes and pavilions don’t exist in Vietnam anymore. However, at Vinahouse they have transported several homes from areas in the North, South and Central Vietnam, piece by piece, in order to restore and display them here. Each region has its own unique architecture.
We wandered through a small portion of the museum first, to get to the restaurant. The restaurant was a large circular structure with high ceilings and open all around. It was built from dark cherry colored wood with an impressive ceiling made of smaller pieces of wood that resembled the inside of a traditional conical hat made of straw and worn all over Asia. The light fixtures were also made to resemble the conical hat. We ordered our breakfast and coffee, and chatted about Vietnamese culture, as we waited on our food. I had ordered a beef noodle soup that was absolutely delicious.
After breakfast we headed out to tour the gorgeous grounds. The traditional architecture of the houses is mind blowing. The meticulous attention to detail, and the fact that ceiling to floors were designed in such an artist fashion was beyond enchanting. The carvings in the dark cherry colored wood, of flowers, designs and landscapes, is some of the most amazing wood carving I have ever seen. Each of the homes is set up in a traditional fashion with old hammocks and bamboo beds. There are detached kitchens as was customary in the past where there were old baskets, millstones and mortars laid out as if they were used yesterday.
There is a mix between homes of the wealthy, made of expensive wood and stone and small bamboo huts of poor peasants. One of the homes is said to be over 200 years old. Inside the homes you can find old relics and traditional farming tools, in addition to, antique furniture and collectibles. Many of the homes had impressive religious shrines. There were also several traditional tea rooms that were absolutely charming, set up with old tea sets and decorated in a time-honored display.
I read somewhere online that there is 108 different structures on the property. I don’t know if that’s the truth, it didn’t seem like that much, but then again I wasn’t counting. Surrounding all the buildings is an intricate garden system with several ponds and fountains, bridges and bamboo walkways. Their are all kinds of classic Vietnamese trees and plant that have been brought in from all regions of Vietnam. The entire grounds had beautifully crafted stone and brick walkways.
There is a handicrafts village onsite where local Vietnamese crafts are made and sold. There are also several crystals and other precious stones. Paintings and wood carved sculptures are on display and for sale in every corner. I found a few sculptures made into the side of brick walls, which was something I have never seen anywhere else before. We passed a few men carving out wood sculptures and I was amazed at their precision and all their different hand made chisel tools. They also make their own rice paper and rice noodles on sight. They make the noodles in the most old school way with stone mortars and then hand cut them. No wonder my noodle soup was so delicious!
Every corner of this unique museum is artfully and skillfully crafted. This was a culture rich adventure that I thoroughly enjoyed. It was a blast into the past and a truly memorable experience. It was far more than I had expected when Rocky had invited me to have breakfast with him. It was yet another reminder of how lucky I am to have this amazing opportunity to work with him and his family. They have done so much for me that has shown me the true and authentic side of the Vietnamese culture and for that I am truly grateful.
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