Seems like nearly everything gets a “day” in today’s world – a day for this, a day for that, and some of them are real doozies. How about International Day of Silence, what’s up with that? Should we use sign language? Pass notes?
Then there’s Left-Handers Day. As a left-hander I don’t think we need to commemorate the collision of genes that doomed us to a life of not being able to use a pair of scissors or a can opener.
However, if there is one occasion that’s worth commemorating it’s Women’s Day, especially here in Vietnam, where two days are dedicated each year. If I ran the show we’d probably have a few more of those days.
I’m literally surrounded by great women right in my neighbourhood. You couldn’t make this stuff up.
Really, these ladies are that good:
The owner of the hotel in which I live is Madame Phuong, one of the first people I see in the morning because when I’m going to eat she’s taking her kids to school. Phuong has two kids under age 5, which in many countries would be considered a full-time job. They’re cute, but I’d go nuts in a day for sure.
Phuong runs a busy 15-room hotel in the center of Da Lat, doing all the reservations, greeting guests, offering tips on how to best enjoy their stay, managing maintenance, and balancing the books. If she sees something needing attention she leaps on it with both feet instead of just giving orders to her staff.
Phuong attained a high level of education and comes from a well-established family – she works hard thanks to her own ambition and energy. She could have a much easier life if she chose.
Oh, and in her “spare time” (whenever that is!) she is an avid reader, ballroom dancer, and spoils the hell out of her husband Mr. The, the lucky bugger.
There was a religious anniversary at the nearby church recently attended by thousands of visitors, so my favourite breakfast soup stand was mobbed.
Phuong nipped across the street to grab a quick bun rieu cua (crab noodle soup) only to find the place swarmed – not a spare seat or pair of chopsticks in sight. Hungry customers milling around, orders hollered out, and bowls and bean sprouts flying in every direction.
|Phuong to the rescue at the crab noodle soup stand|
A textbook Phuong situation! She started cutting limes, serving bowls of soup, cleaning, and re-organizing tables in time for new customers. She saw a problem and grabbed the bull by the horns. When things settled down she headed back to the hotel to organize the coming day with her staff.
The voice of reason
Then there is the mother and daughter team at my favourite beer joint, Ba and Linh.
Those two could take over the world. They have a tough business because most customers appear in the late afternoon with their sole objective being to guzzle as much as possible in the couple of hours they have – not the most patient customers.
Ba (grandma) has heard it all and seen it all, so no point in trying to pull the wool over her eyes. She’s been running that little store and bar for over 30 years, so she’s a high-profile figure around town. Ba is a small woman but she can heft boxes of beer with the best of them.
|Dynamic duo Linh and Ba|
When Ba talks everyone listens, she takes it all in her stride no matter how busy the place is and how many people are hollering for beer and food.
Underneath that shell she’s a sweetie. She determined that I don’t have enough fruit in my diet. OK, it’s true – while I’m good at vegetables, I confess I’m lousy at fruit. Often she hacks up a guava and serves it to me, or slips an orange or mango into my bag. I don’t even bother trying to pay any more – it’s a battle I won’t win.
When it comes to a great meal Madame Nga is the champ. A visit to Nga’s doesn’t feel like going to a restaurant, it’s more like going back to your hometown for your mom’s great dishes.
Nga and her daughter get up super early to pump out three fresh soups each morning. They start serving at the crack of dawn and go right through lunchtime, with any spare time allocated to preparing the next day’s offerings.
I couldn’t even get her to sit still to pose for this photo – no sooner had she positioned just right than she jumped up to add more broth to my soup.
|Nga loves every bowl she serves|
Nga cherishes every bowl she prepares and serves, no detail overlooked, no corners cut, fussing over every ladle she dishes out.
She sometimes sits and supervises me when I’m eating, tossing suggestions my way: “Add nuoc mam!” (fish sauce); “Don’t forget to dip into the mam gung (ginger fish sauce)!”; or “Eat before it gets cold!”, and other encouraging instructions and tips.
Nothing beats a visit to the local café run by Doan and Hoa. That duo would have been the best retail store detectives in the world. Nothing escapes their glances, often they know what their customers need before the customers do!
I’ve been mesmerized since day one about how they handle the crowd in that café, which can go from empty to full in a couple of minutes. Drinks have to be made – many are not simple, money changes hands, lottery tickets, loans granted and repaid, and a few vendors drop off their goods, so the place is often abuzz.
They know every customer’s drink and preference, bar none, and if they suggest a drink it’s always the right one based on time of day, temperature outside, and intuition.
Hoa arrives in the dark each day to open up, then Doan comes at 7:30 am and they close the place together after 5:00 pm. God only knows all their duties at home with their husbands and children both before and after running around the café all day.
The truly exceptional part is both ladies are nice – very nice, maybe even too sweet. We call the café a “complaint zone” because so many customers come in for a coffee and a whinge.
|Hoa and Doan at the “complaint café”|
Some don’t even bother ordering a drink, they just pop in and get everything off their shoulders, then abruptly leave – with the women wearing sympathetic smiles.
A while ago Doan won some cash in the lottery, and, true to form, she invited a whole crowd to a nice local restaurant for dinner.
Hoa noticed that I was always wearing the same hoodie (too lazy to shop plus it’s from my favourite baseball team), so she donated several jackets to me! She was the first person to welcome me when I came to Da Lat, inviting me to events and making sure I met everyone.
I’ll always be grateful for that welcome.
What do all these women have in common?
They’re responsible and professional with hearts of gold, fun to be around, and happy.
At Phuong’s no customer checks out dissatisfied. At Ba’s every need is anticipated. At Nga’s no bowl is served without loving care, and nothing escapes the gazes of Doan and Hoa in the café.
And these ladies all love what they do, it makes them happy! They’re stoked to be helpful, it shows all over their faces. All that effort is not work for them, it’s what they love to do.
You couldn’t make this stuff up.
Happy Women’s Day, ladies in my life! You help make every day a joy.