The moment we got out of the car, we were set upon by three Hmong women and one 9-year old Hmong child. And I mean set upon. We weren't even quite out of the car when they were grabbing us. (This is one striking thing about Vietnamese women, and I like it a lot: they constantly touch us. It's a little unsettling, as is their relatively small personal space and their willingness to get into mine, but I like it after I get used to it.) So anyway, at first we thought we could talk to them and get away, and enjoy the afternoon's walk in peace and quiet, as our morning walk to Cat Cat had been. After a few minutes it became clear that the only way to enjoy ourselves was to relax and give in, and spend the hours walking with them.
They were beautiful, and had easy laughter. They asked us the now-standard questions: What is your true name? Do you have brothers and sisters, how many? How old are you? Where you from? Do you have children? They'd ask these questions over and over, which made me laugh. I'm still 52 (oh, so young!). We asked them the same questions back. Eventually, we kind of split into groups: I walked with a Hmong woman from Ta Van and a young girl (Hmong, I think) from Lao Chai, and Marc walked with a couple of Dao women. My two guides wore the indigo Hmong clothing and the black(ish) hat, and Marc's wore these bright pink and green plaid headscarves. Marc got different information than I got; he learned that the tribes are not friends. I learned about the schools and how to say different things in Hmong -- it's a tonal language, and while I tried very hard I suspect my charming guides were laughing at me as much as with me.
The main deal, of course, was to buy something from them -- which I wanted to do. The young girl said "you buy from me, I likey you you likey me." She said that a few times and it made me laugh. The women with me told me to buy from them, not from the women with Marc. At the end, we bought something from all of them. Their company alone was worth much more than we spent, and we got handmade Hmong textiles which -- they assured me -- took a long time to make. And don't I know that.
|i love this photo -- a bridge somewhere between Lao Chai and Ta Van|
|we stopped along the way for another shot of the valley -- wordlessly beautiful|
|these are the various small villages -- including Lao Chai and Ta Van|
|harvesting the rice; it's a family task -- enlarge the photo and see a woman harvesting rice with a baby on her back|
|preparing the harvested rice|
|the woman holding my hand, helping me cross, is 42 years old. i loved her smile. from her, i bought a small bag.|
|here we are at the Lao Chai school; that's my guide, smiling at the camera|
|the 9-year old girl walking with me ran into some friends of hers and they held hands and laughed and chattered.|
|buffalo are a big help; my young girl guide told me that her family has one buffalo|
|home building in Ta Van village|
|someone's home, with rice fields and vegetable gardens all around. plus, that view.|
|this smiling woman greeted us as we walked past.|
A half hour later, another mini-bus came by and the hotel woman walked us out to it and said goodbye. Who was the driver? THE BITTER GUY. And the hotel woman was smiling and chatting with him. We were so confused. We drove through town, picking up people here and there -- including on the street, and at a school -- and then stopped to get gas. Finally with an overly-full load of people, we headed off to Lao Cai. Marc sat next to a young woman from Hong Kong who was desperately flirting with a young Vietnamese guy, and I sat next to the window hoping the smell of mildew wasn't going to give me a migraine. Eventually, we got there and got on the train and everything worked out.
|waiting at the train station|