Bac Ha Market

I have made it out of Bac Ha and am sitting in an internet cafe full of game-playing teenagers, waiting for the night train back to Ha Noi. I won't bore you with the complications of the trip, except to say that I paid 70,000vnd, and it was a chicken bus. Jud & I spent a couple days together in Bac Ha, now on our separate ways again.

Instead I will tell about the Bac Ha Sunday market, one of the main reasons for visiting this town. The local minority peoples converge here on Sunday to do their trading in livestock, produce, tools, and household goods. There were about 40 water buffalo, some horses, dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, and small pigs in sacks with just their snouts protruding. Also, many stalls selling the corn moonshine that the villagers make; it is dispensed from 5 gallon containers into recycled liter and half-liter plastic water bottles. There were acres of meat, and vats of the animal parts Americans don't eat. Lots of fruits & veggies. The town was alive with energy, and vibrant with the colors of the Flower H'mong women. There is a specific market location, but it spreads out in all directions.

Until a few years ago, there were no tourist goods, but yesterday there were several dozen stalls, all selling the same selection of tourist goods (minibusses of tourists now come in from a town 100 miles away). This is very poignant; there are possibly more sellers than tourists, most of whom aren't buying. The vendors have put up tarps and tables and set up elaborate displays. Then they have to wait for someone to glance at their goods, or make eye contact, at which point they plead with you to "looky, looky", hopefully holding out one thing after another for your inspection. "You buy something from me?". In China, almost anything the vendors sold could be bargained down to 10 yuan ($1.25), so it was possible to buy from all of them and leave what I didn't want at the hotel. But here the going price is $5 - 10, so that is not feasible.

The ones who do better are the ones who patrol the lanes on foot, buttonholing tourists with great persistence. Many of them are old ladies, nearly toothless, in their colorful dress. They are not waiting, they are on the offensive, and they don't give up. As soon as you buy one thing, and are seen to be carrying a bag, you are a target, and you can see the predatory glint in their eyes. If an encounter goes beyond 5 minutes, you know they are eventually going to get you. It is great fun, but also sad to see these beautiful people prostituting their dignity for our spare change.

My next move is either:

We'll see what works out. In any event, you may not hear from me for awhile as I get situated.