, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I became obsessed with water buffalo on our trip around the world.

Mind you, I’ve got more than a slight case of “OCD” to begin with. I only eat candies (or anything that comes in multiples) in sets of even numbers; I have to hit the crosswalk button four times; if I scratch something on one side of my body, I have to scratch the exact same spot on the other side of my body. (You know, the typical crazies displayed by nervous wrecks.)

But, my obsession with water buffalo really came out of nowhere. It was as if the minute I stepped off the plane in Hanoi, I had water buffalo on the brain.

My first foray into water buffalo mania took place on our way out to Halong Bay. Yes, the limestone mountains and the bay were all very impressive. But, I couldn’t keep my eyes off of the lumbering beasts of burden, like little chocolate flecks in the lime green shimmer of the rice paddies.

The following day, we went to the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre back in Hanoi. While there were many amusing and even dramatic vignettes during the performance, the water buffalo puppets, and their much chagrined owners, definitely stole the show.

Little by little, as we traveled through Southeast Asia and India, I started to put the pieces together as to why I had fallen in love with the ubiquitous water buffalo.


Coming from the U.S., particularly from two extended families that live in or very close to large agricultural communities, I’ve always been very familiar with cattle.

When kids grow up in America, one of the first animals they learn of is “cow”. Not only is it because it’s an easy word without any funky, English spelling tricks, but it’s because it’s so prevalent in our society.

Beef, leather, cowboys, and just plain fevers with the only prescription being more cowbell, cattle are as American as Mom’s hot dog apple pie recipe. (Hey, Mom tried her best, folks.)

The water buffalo then seems so exotic, yet so recognizable at the same time. It’s like the cow, but not a cow. Watching them invoked both feelings of familiarity and foreignness. It made me feel far away from home, and yet comforted me in that it really wasn’t so different from what we’d see driving up the 5 North through the San Joaquin Valley.

But, unlike in the States where agriculture is far outside the norms of city life, there is no escaping the presence of water buffaloes in this part of the world.


No, seriously, they’re EVERYWHERE.

They’re in the fields. They’re in the houses. They’re in the streets. They’re in the temples. They’re in the rivers, the garbage heaps, the schools, and the restaurants.

Occasionally, they’re right beside you on your current form of transportation. (No sudden movements, people!)

Water buffaloes are as common to everyday life in Southeast Asia and India as dogs, cats, and parakeets are in America. It’s amazing how something so huge can just be hanging around with the rest of the family. But, water buffaloes do, and they’ve been doing so for the last 5,000 years of their domestication.

After spending several weeks around water buffaloes, I must say I wouldn’t mind having a few of them close to me… well, other than that pesky “stepping in buffalo poo on the way to the kitchen” problem.


I don’t know why water buffalo are so much cheekier than their American and African cousins, but man they are! Maybe hanging out with humans for thousands of years has caused them to adopt some of our mannerisms – or visa versa.

I know what some of you are thinking: “Oh, poor, simple-minded Elizabeth. She’s falling into the old trap of anthropomorphism.”

I assure you I am NOT! These water buffaloes are full-on sassy britches, and they don’t give a fudge who knows it! *sashays with a flick of its tail out of the room*

Take, for example, this photo I took of a water buffalo at the Ganges River in Varanasi. Anyone who has ever traveled to Varanasi recognizes this look. Why? Because it’s the exact look that every person has on their face traveling through Varanasi: a combination of, “Ewwwwww…” and, “Hmmm… I sense something suspicious going on here.”

Honey badger don’t care, and water buffalo don’t fall for your shady Varanasi scams. Oh, and stop dumping your dead goats in the river. Water buffalo is not amused.

Yes, the water buffalo is not afraid to show its displeasure, its disdain, or its bum. But, this personality plus is a big part of its charm. You never have to guess what a water buffalo is feeling.


Now, I’m back home, in a house bereft of water buffaloes. They don’t greet me on my drives around town any more. I don’t see them swimming around the local San Diego River, or scaring away the dogs at the beach with a low bellow and a charge.

All I have are my memories of their deep lowing, their spirited ways, and the days when I’d walk among the ubiquitous water buffaloes like I would any other human neighbor.

But, I did manage to buy these groovy coasters in Vietnam to bring a little of the spirit of the water buffalo home with me. (Thanks in advance for not judging my jacked up coffee table. Traveling doesn’t leave a lot of time – or budget – for outstanding home design.)