My favorite experience in Vietnam was visiting the Hmong people in Sapa. Their life and world is so unique and so different than my own it’s almost unbelievable that our two worlds exist on the same planet. In the below pic, we are standing among some of the grown women of the village, i.e., they are short:
They live in Northern Vietnam, next to China, and over the centuries, they’ve built spectacular terraces to grow rice and feed the surrounding villages.
I asked our guide (woman to the right of me in the above picture with the green head scarf) how they grow and harvest the crops. She said there are multiple rice harvests per year. The villagers walk the roaming buffalo across the terraces to perform the function of plowing. They plant the rice, divert the river to keep water flowing into their patties, and everyone helps. She said it’s hard work. She lives in a village with minimal electricity and running water, when she says something is hard work, it must be incredibly hard.
I asked her what is the furthest place she’s traveled to, fully expecting an answer of no further than Hanoi (closest big city) or China, which is about 20 miles away. Her response shocked me. She said she’s never been out of the valley we were in! The furthest place she ever walks, is to the hotel where she picked us up, on foot, to trek us down to her village. Ten miles max. Such a different world than my own. I literally took planes, trains and automobiles, in that order, and traveled thousands of miles to stand in a valley that she’s never left. I wonder what she thinks of the tourists visiting her village, taking pictures and leaving. I wonder if she realizes her world is so different than the rest. I wonder what she thinks when she sees a commercial on TV of cities, buildings, or air planes. Things that she has never seen in person and may never see in her lifetime. I can’t think of anything comparable to my own life. Of all the places I’ve lived, no one’s visited to take pictures of my daily life. Everyone knows how I live. I can’t think of something I’ve seen on TV that I’ve not seen in real life. The moon? Other countries? I’ve never seen the moon up close, but I believe people have been there and come back. I haven’t been to all the countries in the world, but I understand geography and the distances between these places. She has never seen a city, where billions of people on this planet live. I wanted to speak with her more, but the language barrier became too great. Maybe the outside world is not her concern. She married at 17, has a child, is now 20 years old and has another baby on the way. She’s worried about feeding her family, she probably doesn’t care that cities and planes exist. How is that going to help her in her daily life?
I just love this picture.
Side note: Many Asian speakers have a really hard time pronouncing the letter “L”, so the word people, comes out like pe-po, temple, comes out like tem-po, etc. The Hmong pe-po were awesome to meet.