Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lessons in Vietnamese Hospitality

This is a bit after the fact, but I can't get over it.

Daniel and I were sent out to a water line the other day. On the way, Daniel told me how when he and Dan Wilhelm had been at this job before to assess what we needed to do, the homeowners had bought them lunch. I was stoked. It's one thing for a client to bring a glass of water, soda, coffee, or something like that, but I had yet to be fed on the job by a client.

Daniel and I showed up at the house and began working, mostly communicating with our client through his nephew, who came with his wife and daughter solely to help translate what we needed to do, or what they could help with. About 5 minutes after starting, Daniel and I were each given a 32 oz bottle of deliciously cold Evian water. "I have water!" I said, gesturing towards the truck. "Maybe later!" But they insisted, telling me that this water was cold, it was much better.

So we worked, digging, preparing our line, until half an hour later, 2 more bottles of water were produced. I looked at the first bottle they'd given me, barely half empty, and tried to tell them again, "I have water!" But once again, they stressed the need for a new, colder, bottle.

You get the idea. By lunchtime we each had 3 large cold bottles of water in our possession. I have never been so hydrated. It was so, so lovely. And then they brought us lunch. Sonic, no less. I've been trying to cut down on the meat that I eat (which is rare at my house anyway), but I knew that the gesture on their part was one that could not be turned down. So Daniel and I sat there and munched on our Sonic burgers, tater tots, and large Cokes. Our clients ate their own, making sure we were well supplied with straws, napkins...anything our hearts could ask for.

And the day continued, our clients continually wanting to help us, give us water, thank us for the work we were doing. At one point they brought out new bottles of water, and after seeing Daniel and I both grab for the one with a big chunk of ice in it, they started putting the water bottles in the freezer and bringing us half-frozen ones! They were in the way trying to help us move things, watching raptly as we soldered the final pieces into place. I have yet to interact so heavily with a client throughout the day in such a positive way.

And as we were gathering up our tools, preparing to leave, our client came out, this little old lady who spoke very little English, to hand us each an envelope, and to hand the both of us a bag. The bag was for the two of us, she said, and each of us had an envelope for ONLY ourselves.

After we were a half-mile away from their house, I couldn't take the suspense anymore, and opened up the bag for the two of us. 4 GIANT apples lay inside. I then opened up my envelope, and I looked at Daniel and said "No way." We had gotten paid! Quite handsomely, actually.

I think it is important to note that A)I'm a volunteer that doesn't make money very often, B)It's rare enough for any client to offer a single glass of water, not to mention 5 bottles and provide lunch, and C) I genuinely expected a handwritten thank-you note in the envelope, which I was excited for in itself!

Daniel and I had to talk to Scott to check on CHRPA's policy for being paid as a volunteer worker, but that didn't even matter. I was just in awe of the hospitality we were shown throughout the day: we were supposed to be the ones providing a service for them, but instead, it was them serving us.

How humbling it is to fancy yourself as a servant, only to be shown what unselfish servanthood looks like.

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