24 February 2011

Tra Que Vegetable Village

Not far from the center of town lies the small village of Tra Que, where families have been growing and selling vegetables for around 500 years. It didn’t look too far on that deceptive map of the city, and I had been assured it was only around 2 kilometers. That’s an easy walk, I thought.

Once again, I have fallen into the foibles of not using metric for the past three years. I am not that good with exact measurements or weights, but kilos and kilometers are easy. A kilo is about 2 pounds, so when I am checking the price of fruit in the market, I divide it into half a kilo and instantly know the price per pound. The same with kilometers; one K equals about a mile and a half. Good enough for a rough estimation of distance. The problem on the day I went to Tra Que is that I converted kilometers into pounds and thought it was less than a mile walk when in fact it was over three miles and probably closer to four.

I made this grand discovery of my mistake somewhere around the hour walking mark, with no vegetable farms in sight. I stopped for a drink and asked the owner how much farther until I reached the village. He said it was only 200 meters away. That’s about half a lap on a 440 track, and I could easily do it.
As I passed out of the town area and found myself on a narrow road with traffic zooming by, rice fields to the left and right, I debated just stopping, hoping a bus or taxi would drive by to take me back to the hotel. I could see some buildings way off in the distance but just didn’t think my knee would last me that much longer. I was also rather hot and tired. But a friend had told me how fantastic a place Tra Que was and I couldn’t report back that I wussed out partway there and turned back. I trudged on. And I am so glad I did.
Cute little houses run along the lanes leading to the fields of vegetables. Around a few bends and I found myself looking out over a large plot of land, with immaculate rows of brilliantly colored herbs and vegetables. My friend had told me about a little place to eat in the middle of all this and eventually I found it, tucked into the back side of the fields.

I walked into the covered eating area which really wasn’t a restaurant with menus. I think they mostly do meals for prearranged tours. Nevertheless, they staff greeted me warmly, had me take a seat, and brought over a glass of local tea made of ginger, basil seeds, lemon grass and sugar. It was wonderful. I explained that my friend had told me that I must eat Bahn xeo, fresh spring rolls. The chef told me that it would be no problem; I could walk around the gardens for thirty minutes and come back to eat.


I walked down a concrete path that had dirt paths leading off to either side. I gazed down on perfect heads of green lettuce, laid out in perfect little rows, which lay next to lines of other edible greenery. As I understand it, all the families in the village have their own plots of land within the big field. Several people were out their working the land and I’d occasionally see someone fly by on a bicycle only to return a few minutes later with a basket of freshly picked produce.

I said hello to an older woman who walked along the path. I told her how beautiful everything was. She smiled, leaned over and snapped off a stem of coral colored gladiolas and handed it to me. I continued on down the main path until it reached the river. Had I not done that horrid trek out to the village, I would have walked along the river bank, which was lined with more cute houses.


It was so quiet and peaceful out there. I could easily imagine living in a little house and going out to my garden to plant and collect food. Listening to the breeze and birds I realized just how tourist-congested the town of Hoi An really is. This little trip was a lovely respite from all the hawkers and all the buyers.


I ambled around a bit more then back to the cafĂ©. It had been getting a little warm out in the sun, but it was surprisingly cool and breezy under the wood canopy of the restaurant. A short while later my meal was brought over on a handmade platter lined with banana leaves. A pile of assorted fresh greens took up a large area. Next to it were little shrimp tied into bundles of other leafy things. There were delicate egg omelet thingy’s and rice paper wrappers. The waiter demonstrated in which order to pile on your fillings, wrap it up, bit it in the sauce, and eat. It was sublime.

Not wanting to walk back, I asked if there was a bus that went by. I was told they could call me a taxi. I have no idea why I had never taken a taxi before in Hoi An. Maybe I thought it would be too expensive. Maybe I thought the distances were too short to warrant a ride. Whatever my reasoning, I was happy to have them order a cab, and be back in town in no time.
Kate




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