Minority Village

I am still in Bac Ha, where the weather has been cool and rainy. I took a two day trek through some minority villages with a guide. This was another yin/yang experience. My guide was a skinny young Vietnamese man, very friendly, with pretty good English. We started on paved streets, then roads, unpaved roads, trails, tracks, rice-paddy dikes, and cross-country. The going got steep, and the rains had turned the clay-like earth to mud. It became increasingly difficult to maintain footing. The countryside was beautiful, a lot of terraced rice paddies on steep hillsides, sometimes obscured by low clouds. We (well, me, not the kid!) struggled for two hours, finally arriving at a village, where I picked up a pair of walking sticks. This was a village of the appropriately-named Flower H'mong people; the women wear very colorful clothing and headwear in many patterns. The village paths were ankle-deep in mud, yet somehow these women manage to keep their beautiful clothing clean, even when working in the fields. Even the children stay clean.

The sticks helped quite a bit, but now we were descending, even trickier. It took another 4 hours to reach the village where we would stay the night, and I was pretty well exhausted. This was a village of the Thai people, who wear black clothing with colorful headscarves. And this is where the yang turned into the yin, or vice versa, I don't know which is which, but this was a wonderful experience.

Only grandma, 87, was at home when we arrived. She is stooped and wrinkled, but pretty spry. She has long black silky hair; maybe she colors it, but that is hard to believe. She puttered around sweeping and feeding chickens, poured us tea, ordered us upstairs for a nap.

Eventually the wife came home from the fields. Having no words with which to greet me, she simply turned on a no-holds-barred, 100 watt smile. I fell instantly in love with her. She fed the pigs, cleaned my shoes, and started dinner. We sat together by the fire in silent companionship for an hour and it felt very comfortable.

While awaiting dinner, I wandered about the village and found a construction site. There were about 15 people working on it, very casual, nobody in a hurry. When the tea came out, I was invited to share. They were having trouble with a tool, which would have had me swearing in frustration, but they just laughed about it.

There was a ton of food for dinner: chicken, pork, beef, mixed veggies, cabbage, sweet potatoes, eggs, and of course rice. They kept demanding that I eat more. Grandma herself ate very heartily. After dinner came out the corn moonshine for which the area is famous. It was pretty good, and of course they pressed me to have more, which I did, but I kept my cool. Grandma was good for a few sips as well.

The husband had been working on the house up the path and had eaten at the site, so didn't return until after dinner. Then there were a few more shots of the hootch. It got cold, and there was no real heat, so I went to bed early, smothered under a mountain of covers, and slept well.

The house is very large, about 20' x 50', two stories, timber frame construction with very nice joinery. Only the husband, wife, and grandma live there; the two children are grown and work in the city. It is sparely furnished, with lots of unused floor and wall space. There is an ancient TV, satellite dish, and a couple nice pieces of furniture. There is a huge fireplace in the kitchen, at one end of the house, in which they build a very small fire for cooking and warming. No stove.

The wife had been planting in the fields all day, came home and spent about 3 hours cooking dinner, but all very relaxed and casual, no hurry, no stress. My sense is that they work hard, have little but need little, and lead pretty good lives. The simplicity was in marked contrast to our Western lives.

The next day started out again after breakfast. As we left the village, imagine my surprise to see Bac Ha about a mile away by road, after we had hiked in so laboriously the day before, about 6 miles. Doing things the hard way, as usual, but a good story after it's over. We hiked through some more villages, but stayed pretty much on the roads, so easier going, and got back to town about midday.

OK, this is getting too long, so I will close, and write a different time about the market.