My Paradise
Quynh-Nhi Pham
ESL 91

When I was growing up, my family often had to move from one place to another. As a child, I did not like it when my parents announced that we were going to move: I knew I would miss my friends from school and my familiar neighborhoods. However, one of the moves brought me to a wonderful place where I spent five years and developed many happy childhood memories. When I was about eight years of age, my parents decided that our family would move to the southern part of Vietnam , to a small town called Lam Dong.

Lam Dong was a farming village in a rural area with fields and rice paddies surrounded by mountains and hills covered with luxurious green trees. Its name said it all: Lam meant the forest or the wood and Dong meant the field or the farm. The village was comprised of about fifty houses and huts which sat among the fields and square rice paddies. Most of the houses were constructed of mud and straw with bamboo frames.  Our house was located in the middle of a row of ten houses along a hillside and was the only one built entirely from wood with a steel roof. Like other houses in the village, our house had a small garden in front with cosmos and immortelle flowers. The house was surrounded by many trees which provided both shade and fruit. Being poor farmers, and living in a post-war country, the people of Lam Dong did not want to waste any available land, so at the base of each tree the villagers planted a creeper, like black pepper or betel leaves. Jackfruit, mango, and areca palm trees were also planted one after another along the sides of my house. Their branches reached close to our windows, and there were times when I would sit beside the window and reach out for a green mango or other fruit to satisfy my curiosity. Sometimes, I even climbed from the window onto a mango tree and ate the fruit without picking it off its branch: as a child, I believed that if I ate like a bird, someday I would be able to fly like a bird. Once, my grandfather caught me climbing and eating like that, and he gave me the nickname “Monkey.” I wished he had called me “Birdie” so my dream of flying would come true. In our back yard, there were some coffee trees and other fruit trees. There were also rows of all kinds of vegetables, which kept the yard green and our meals rich with fiber and vitamins all year long. We also had an animal pen at the end of our backyard, which had pigs, chickens and rabbits. There I had two pure white rabbits with pink eyes and ten chicks of my own; breeding and raising them was one of my most enjoyable hobbies.

Besides enjoying our family garden, I also spent time playing with friends in our neighborhood. My best friends were Xuan, three years my senior, who lived in the house at the top of a hill, and Hoa, two years older than I, who lived at the bottom of the hill. On summer days, we would go to a small prairie about five minutes from Hoa’s house. There we would fly kites, pick mushrooms, and catch fireflies after dark. The prairie was also an ideal place for us to roll around on the grass that grew smoothly like green velvet. Yellow dandelion, white daisies and other wild violet flowers adorned the green grass. Sometimes, we would admire the scenery and wish that we could transform that natural beauty into our own clothes. We would bring our books to read, fruit from our garden to share, and stories from school to tell. We shared everything, from happiness to sadness, from dreams to our daily realities, and confided our girls’ secrets as we reached our teenage years. We also brought our bicycles to ride along the weaving paths of the prairie. If we ever fell, the velvet-like grass provided a soft place to land. Our alternative playground was a hill near Xuan’s house. While the prairie provided a place to roll and run until our feet could not carry us anymore, the hill offered us other country pleasures, such as many large old trees which we would climb to get to birds’ nests for their eggs or to peek at their babies. On the hill were also a guava and a star fruit tree which my grandfather said had been planted not by people but by birds. The birds had eaten the fruits, Grandpa explained, and as the birds’ outcome dropped on the hill, the seeds just grew by themselves. We liked that the trees had grown in such a special way, and we could not resist their sweet scents and ripened fruits. We would climb into the star fruit tree to pick the fruit and imagine they were stars in the sky.  When the weather was hot and humid, my friends and I went to the hill to enjoy the trees’ shade and breathe in the pure air. Xuan could play her flute made from bamboo. We would climb in the tallest trees at the top of the hill and listen to her, hoping that the wind would carry the music to the whole village below. At the edge of the hill was a creek where three of us would sail paper boats. In our minds, they were not ordinary boats but vessels of dreams of what we wanted to become. Xuan wanted to be a teacher, and she became one. Hoa wished she would become the mother of twin girls just like her favorite teacher. Her dream came half true: her twin boys are now six years old. I wanted to be a nurse, but I think my boat got stuck somewhere and is still struggling to move on. 

Life in Lam Dong was mostly easy going. Early in the morning at dawn, the farmers were awakened by the roosters. They fed the hungry pigs to stop their deafening grunts and freed the noisy chickens from their cages. Then the women would fix breakfast and pack lunches to be carried to the fields. By sunrise, everybody was ready for a new day: farmers walked to their fields or rice-paddies; women walked to the open-air market carrying small baskets to buy food for the meals of the day; children trotted to school singing. We did not know the term '"rush hour." People just walked leisurely to their destinations while enjoying the fragrance of the white coffee flowers or other seasonal blossoms in the neighborhood. Later, when the sun was high in the sky, the bell from the church would ring to signal it was noon . The farmers would take a break for their simple lunches and then get back to work. Farmers rarely wore watches; they told time by looking at the sun and the shade. When the shade spread long to the east, the farmers knew their work day was over. At home, the women would prepare dinner, feed the poultry, and make sure all the chickens were placed back in their cages before dark. 

Family dinner was the most exciting time of the day. Men talked about their fields and crops and their prospects. Women related neighborhood news they had learned while shopping at the market or from the other village women. Children reported on their school day and eagerly showed off the knowledge they had learned that day. Dinners were managed to end before dark since there was no electricity, and oil lamps were saved for more important uses. Although there was no television, I always enjoyed listening to the endless stories and fairy tales the adults would tell. Through the stories, my grandparents would pass down wisdom and the moral messages in their benevolent voices. Harvest days were like holidays. Every house was filled with animation, laughter and happiness as farmers piled up a hill of crops in their front yard. The newly cut rice had such a memorable scent that I will never forget it.

Day after day in Lam Dong, I grew up with the love and care of my grand-parents, parents, and neighborhood friends. One day my parents announced that we had to move again. It was heart-breaking news for me. I did not know how much I loved Lam Dong until I had to leave it. . Lam Dong was where I had my fondest childhood experiences. It planted in me a love for the simple country life that continues to this day. Lam Dong was my paradise. It remains the best place I have ever lived.