Later on this afternoon, we went to a Dao or Dzao village, where they had really figured out the marketing thing. Young girls and middle aged women latched onto us and escorted us through the village, inviting us into their homes. They specifically avoided selling products to us until we got back to the jeep, so we didn’t have to carry their wares with us. But what was very interesting is that they are NOT taught English in their school, only Vietnamese but these girls have learned from tourists. They actually speak and understand better than most Vietnamese students. We could have lengthy conversations with them and 2 of the girls could read English. I know this because we left lots of books in their village and came away with lots of embroidered crafts, naturally. A little income redistribution took place today. Mostly we avoid markets and shopping but I do admire it when people have figured out good marketing.
Some visuals for your imagination: we are in the land of black teeth. Not bad decay, although certainly that is a problem, instead women over about 60 years old paint their teeth black with a concoction they make from ant eggs. I think it actually protects them from decay but it is also very decorative. Both Vietnamese women and the various minorities do this. One of the freedoms Ho Chi Minh wanted was “the freedom to paint our teeth black”. I don’t think men do it but I am not positive of that.
Hair: all people use a special bean pod type of thing sold in the market that they soak in hot water and pour over their heads. It keeps their hair shiny and very, very black. Khanh thought I should buy some (he was) but I had to point out that my hair was not black.
Water: I have recently learned that none of the tap water in Vietnam is safe to drink. Not in Hanoi, not anywhere. The country is working hard to bring ‘fresh water’ to the rural areas, but it still needs to be boiled. I wonder what it has in it that is bad. We do brush our teeth in it, but we never drink the water anywhere we go. Sometimes we don’t even brush our teeth in it, if you look outside your hotel window and see an open cistern where the water comes from–well then we don’t brush our teeth.
And speaking of hotels: We are well off the beaten track (except for SaPa) and never see tourists. Vietnamese have 2 kinds of hotels: Vietnamese hotels and Tourist hotels. We mostly stay in Vietnamese hotels and guesthouses because we are taking the road less travelled. This means that we never have sheets. Only a comforter (probably rarely or never washed) and a pillow. The pillow is like a sofa pillow and has no cover either. So we are very glad we brought sleeping bags. Mosquito nets are always provided because the Vietnamese government is on a campaign to eradicate malaria. We always have a bathroom with a toilet. The sink usually drains onto the floor and eventually runs downhill into a drain. Only twice has there been a bathtub, mostly we have a shower head on the wall with a basin that you dump on the floor so that it runs into that drain. Usually there is a water heater but not always.
A sad thing at the hotel in Than Uyen: they actually had wild creatures in cages. One was an eagle who cried everytime a person walked near him. It was so, so sad. The other two cages had what Khanh called ‘wild dogs’. Two in one and one in the other. These pitiful creatures were in an outdoor garden where food was served and they attracted lots of attention from the Vietnamese guests. The ‘wild dogs’ looked like a civet with a monkey tail and one was obviously miserable and had a piece of twine around his neck and tied to a tree in the middle of the cage. I am guessing he kept trying to climb the bamboo bars. The cages were about 4′ in diameter. The 2 ‘wild dogs’ that were together just huddled up and were silent and still. Since they had no water, I made a fuss and Khanh got someone to refill their empty water basin. Small victory.
Well, it is cooling off here and we are going to go and get warm. There is little but mostly no heat in any building in SaPa. We got the hotel to give us an electric space heater for our room but that is a rarity. This internet place at least has a door that is closed but I am still cold. At least it is not snowing.
Much love to all of you,