Diary of a tour guide
On a beautiful day, the mailbox of our Communications team pinged with an email titled "Visit and/or farm tour." A month later, we welcomed a special guest at the Fargreen Farm in Thai Binh province. I was assigned to be the tour guide this time.
Terry Jones, the guest, was an older man in his late 60s, came all the way from America. He had a big smile and a calm warm voice which reminded those who met him for the first time of a kind uncle who would spoil you with candies behind your mom’s back whenever he visited the family. It wasn’t at all a challenge of getting into a conversation with him and in fact, it was so much fun that the ride from Hanoi to our farm location in Thai Binh province didn’t feel like three hour long at all.
Terry told me that he used to serve in the Vietnam War during the year 1968 & 1969. But unlike what you would think about a soldier who was on a mission to an “enemy’s country” to fight for his own country, his heart fell for this “enemy’s land”.
"I really like Vietnam. I love both the scenery and the people. In the war, I got to know some Vietnamese. I liked them very much. They were all very nice to me. That’s why I’d always wanted to come back here after the war."
I joked, "So you probably speak some good Vietnamese then?" He blinked, “Of course. All of my Vietnamese is 'run away', 'stop', 'peace', and 'one, two, three, ... ten'. Haha..."
It was almost noon when we arrived at the farm. The busy production team stopped their work and came to the door and welcomed us with big smiles and some refreshing fruits freshly picked from one of our farmers’ garden.
Cuc - the production assistant joined me to guide Terry through the tour. We started with the explanation of Fargreen’s seven core values which served as our guiding principles in designing both business model and production model. Sometimes, he would ask some questions like, "What is your primary market for your mushrooms?", "Are you planning to grow other kinds of mushrooms?" and so on. It turned out that Terry formerly operated an agricultural business back in the US so he and Trang, our CEO & Founder enjoyed some good conversations over the big picture of the business, the strategy and so on.
One of the main goals of the farm tour was to help our guests learn about the way we grew mushrooms at Fargreen. We took Terry to the lime water tank, where we pasteurize the straw input materials. There was a big pile of composted straw sitting on the floor. When we reached closer we could smell the pleasant fragrance of the straw being “cooked” by natural heat built up from the core. Terry asked a lot of interesting questions such as why we left the materials outdoor? what if it rained, why there was a stick in the middle of the stack? and so on. We were happy that he asked those detailed questions, meaning he wasn’t feeling overwhelmed with so much information but instead, keen on exploring deeper. For the team, we really valued these opportunities of hearing questions from people with “new eyes” because it did help us learn, innovate and grow better from the system that felt so familiar to everyone.
Actually, at the time, I realized that in the beginning, Trang had told Terry that he would have to pass our post-tour understanding test before leaving the farm. Perhaps that was the reason why he was so active in asking questions? Hmmm...
We went to take lunch at one of Fargreen’s farmers’ homes. All of the foods served were freshly homegrown and homemade. It was a nice homey lunch in local family style where everybody shared different dishes on the table. But one little accident happened. None of us had realized that not every guest could use chopsticks. After some chopstick struggles, Terry had to surrender and switch to spoon. So silverwares next time for Western guests. Noted!
The tour continued after lunch. We visited mushroom fruiting rooms set up by Fargreen at different local farmers’ home. Popped up questions from the guest were: "Is the white on the straw mycelium? Does this mean mushrooms are coming soon?" We cheered him for remembering some technical terms. "Is it enough to pass the test?" We laughed. "We can not decide this."
It turned out that there was no test needed to pass. We saw the “phew” reaction on Terry’s face. Instead, we sat down and discussed what he had learned from the trip, what suggestions he had, so that we could improve. Honestly, we had learned a lot from him.
"How many times have you been back to Vietnam since the war?" I asked him on our way back to Hanoi. "In 2010, I returned to Vietnam for the first time, until now, probably 4 or 5 times. Well, on the first time, I was afraid that people would hate me if they knew I was an American veteran. Yet, no one showed hostility, everyone was so cheerful and welcoming to me for coming back. It really touched me."
His excitement of coming back here got me thinking out loud: "Yes, let bygones be bygones. My father is also a veteran. When I told him that I would go to the farm with you, he was very surprised and would like to invite you to our home to meet the soldier from the other side of a time."
The trip ended with his promise to me that after his charity activities in Quang Ngai, he would return to Hanoi and hang out with my father. They must have many interesting stories to share...