By Daria Kroupoderova
Northwest Asian Weekly
How can a cow suit lead to helping people and sharing their stories?
Tan Vo, 36, received a cow suit from a friend around 2004. The friend used to travel a lot with his band and would have his picture taken in the cow suit at different places. When he gave the suit to Vo, he said, “Tan, I’m passing this on to you. You have to continue the tradition.”
The first cow sighting was on a peak in Zurich, Switzerland. Vo climbed up to the highest peak and put on the cow suit. After that, any time Vo traveled, she would bring the cow suit, put it on somewhere, and have her picture taken.
“I remember when I was in Italy, I put it on. All the shopkeepers…they were all running out of their shops going ‘Mooka, Mooka!’ and they started milking me,” Vo said. “I just found that the cow suit was a great way to just break the ice with people, even people who didn’t speak English.” And everyone she met had a story to share.
The Traveling Cow idea was born after Vo’s mom died in 2013. Vo said she went into a spiral. She just wanted to sell everything and go be a hermit somewhere on a beach. Instead, she traveled home to Vietnam, where she emigrated from at a young age with her family, a process that lasted almost two years before she stepped foot in America.
Vo was in Vietnam for three weeks. She traveled to villages and saw people who were in worse situations than she was, and they all had stories to share. “I saw children whose mother and father have died and they are 5 and 6 years old,” Vo said.
According to Vo, she realized during the trip that she had a great life and wanted to do something for others.
She had been working on a documentary about how her family came to America and finally decided to finish it. She sat down with her photographer friend, Kathy Stenger, and they realized it would be too expensive to pay for a crew to travel and film, so they decided to do a traveling blog instead. The Traveling Cow was born and the blog launched on Feb. 11, 2014.
“We started doing local stories and it was just a great way to heal for me,” Vo said. She said she got to share whatever she wanted, from stories from her childhood to stories of people she met.
“We got so much positive feedback,” Vo said. She and Stenger decided to travel to Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand for two and a half weeks. On their trip, they collected stories from people.
“It’s been really amazing meeting so many different people and hearing their stories,” Stenger said. “It amazes me constantly how every single person out there has something really interesting, funny, heartbreaking, inspiring…every person!”
One story was about a woman in Thailand, Sangduan Chailert, who is the founder of Elephant Nature Park and is known as an elephant whisperer. Vo got to experience sitting under an elephant, which is their way of cuddling, said Vo.
“[Chailert] was singing to the elephant and the elephant actually purred like a cat…that was one of the best experiences of my life,” Vo said. Her friends took notice of her stories — especially stories about people in a Vietnamese hospital. On Vo’s birthday, she received a card from her friends filled with money for the patients in the hospital.
“One-hundred dollars…(can buy) a couple of dinners or a new pair of jeans, but $100 to those people means the world to them,” Vo said. This project has helped Vo heal, she said, and she feels proud when she can give back to her village.
“You don’t need Bill and Melinda Gates’ millions to make a big difference, you just need kindness and the willingness to share,” Vo said. (end)
To read the Traveling Cow blog, visit www.facebook.com/LeTravelingCow or www.thetravelingcow.com.
Daria Kroupoderova can be reached at email@example.com.