Too Much Happy Water


Our second day in Sa Pa and our first morning, I wake up late and head down the rickety ladder to the table for breakfast. Michelle informs me that she’s just witnessed them killing a duck in the kitchen. I can see the blood on the floor. She decides that she no longer wants to kill a chicken or anything else, ever. Probably one of the cute ducks we had seen wandering around outside. I don’t want to think about which other cute animal we have eaten already, or which one we will be eating later. It’s around this point I convince myself to go back to not eating red meat anymore.

The table is set up with many more pots and chopsticks this time, each also paired with a small shot glass. I think nothing of it, assuming it’s for something else other than alcohol, because that would be ridiculous at this hour. We learn that Chou’s husband works in the Sa Pa police force, and he’s invited a few of his cop friends to join for breakfast. Today is apparently a holiday, or rather, they all just decided to skip work. The men are friendly and talkative, but don’t speak any English. 


I see the cooked duck dish in the middle of the table, and deliberately do not take it. I can see the hairs and bits of feathers still on it. I stick to the pancake, eggs, honey, and curry instead. Realizing I haven’t tried the duck yet, Chou take a large chunk and puts it in my bowl. Thanks, I say meekly and force a smile. I look at it and attempt bite. Nope, there’s no way this is happening. Back it goes into the bowl, trying to hide it with some pancake. 

At some point, Chou’s father in law grabs our shot glasses and scoops some rice whisky into them. “Happy water!” he says, smiling widely. “Happy water….?” Michelle and I say, looking at each other. “It’s like 9:30am.” I guess it’s going to be that kind of morning. Why not! We’re in Sa Pa! This is what they do!

We take our first round of shots. Not prepared at all, I chase with egg. That was tough. I think we’re done there, but I am very, VERY wrong. The men pour another round for everyone. Again! And again… and again. “Dude it’s only 10am and we’re 5 shots in.” They can’t pour anymore, no way. 

Chou’s husband looks at me and hands over a bowl of red stuff to me. “What’s this?” I ask. Chou responds, “duck blood!” I think I slightly vomit in my mouth, but again, I can’t refuse, so I take a minuscule scoop of it. The mixture of duck blood and rice whisky in my mouth is not the most pleasant experience. I think my opinion of it is plain on my face and everyone around the table laughs. What’s next? More shots!

6th shot…9th shot. Before each shot of happy of water, a different person says a toast. We drink, and say “Mot, hai, bi, yo!!!” their version of Cheers! The toaster shakes hands with everyone. It’s 10:30am or so and we’re also 11 shots in. I am sufficiently drunk. The men’s faces are glowing bright red. Everyone is laughing merrily and grandpa has just taken a rip out of a huge bong. “Happy water makes you happy!” they say. Yep, it really does.


11am. We don’t want to be rude so we don’t refuse when they pour us our shots and force more food into our bowls. It has to stop soon. It’s nearly our turn to make a toast though. 12, 13… Michelle makes her toast, thanking everyone for their hospitality and welcoming us into their homes. 14th shot, I go, and I’m not even sure what I said. 

I think I look like I’m about to regurgitate the happy water, because we ask if we can stop, and she says it’s fine. We sit outside in the heat, totally dizzy and drunk, and making the stupidest comments. I’m taking selfies of us in our drunken stupor. Chou comes outside saying, “Okay! Let’s get ready to trek to my parent’s village.” Michelle and I look at each other in disbelief. I could have fallen asleep on the ground right then and there. I laugh, deciding this can only be fun! “Whatever, it will be fine!”

Trekking for 4 hours in very intense heat in the mountains after 14 shots of rice whisky is not something I would do usually, but it was surprisingly fine. I somehow also managed to get some great photos even in my state. I would have failed any drinking test, as I was definitely not walking in a straight line at all. But hey, I guess they call it happy water for a reason, it really does make you happy!  



We finally get to Chou’s parent’s home, where her brother is already eating with a bunch of his friends. He looks extremely young, not more than 16, and he already has a wife and baby. They tell us to sit down and eat, and at this point we are completely exhausted, hungry, and dehydrated, so we collapse on to the bench. Chou’s brother’s young wife asks us, “happy water?” We laugh in disbelief, shaking our heads. No, no more happy water for a very, very long time.