Slip sliding away

It is Saturday evening here in SaPa. And a lovely evening it is. The weather here changes SOOOOOO fast, my head spins.

Thank you, thank you, all of you for emailling. It is a real treat to find a computer and discover email from you. And Joseph: welcome to the land of technology. I am thrilled we can make contact from so far away and so instantly. Garret, you made my day. Steve, Donna, Orion, Deb, Vaughn, Jo Ann I love it that you write. I don’t always write back because of the connection I have, but nonetheless, I am so happy to have contact from home.

We have only been gone for 2 weeks. It seems longer to me, iin that our timelines are shifting, and our days are so full of new and curious events that if we were home, it would be a month or even a year’s worth of interesting events.

There are 54 ethnic minorities in Vietnam. Most live in other countries in southeast Asia as well, like Thailand, Laos, China, Myanmar (Burma) and Cambodia. Many have migrated from China because of political problems and oppression. Here in Vietnam, these people are tolerated but not loved. Not hated but there is a real sense among the Vietnamese that they are better than any of the 54 ethnic minorities. Some helped both the French and the Americans during the wars, especially the Hmong. It seems to me that the Hmong might be at the bottom of the heap. We met a teacher today who was Nung and it was painfully obvious that he believed he was better than the Hmong students he taught. I am sure his students know exactly how he feels.

It is strange to listen to this and very painful. One of the reasons we brought books and pencils and crayons, etc was because the ethnic minorities do not receive the same level of education that the Vietnamese receive. This teacher was assigned/volunteered to the Hmong school and his tour of duty is 3 years. But the good news is that 5 little Hmong boys bravely came over to us as we stood talking to him and I was able to get out my books. We actually ‘read’ a story together with pictures and then afterwards we looked at a word book I had brought. They bravely repeated some English words, this after their teacher had told me they were too stupid to learn English. That they were lazy and could hardly learn Vietnamese. Anyway, it was lots of fun and the boys and I had some good moments.

We are in SaPa. SaPa was a French hilltown that was built as a resort so that the French could escape the heat of Vietnam. My guide book says that recently the town was ressurected by some of the ethnic minorities after it went to ruin. They wanted to capture some of the tourist dollars and did a pretty good job at marketing their wares and figuring this out. Khanh says that SaPa is operated by and for the Vietnamese and that the minorities come to sell their handcrafts but had no part of rebuilding the town. Who is to say what is true? But it is a fact that no minority owns hotel or restaurant space, this lucrative travel is all captured by the Vietnamese.

SaPa is at a high elevation and Fan Xi Pan mountain is outside. I believe that it is the highest mountain in southeast Asia, at 3143 meters. It was in the clouds as we came over the pass yesterday, and it snowed and hailed yesterday. It was cold, cold, cold and I bought a winter jacket from a vendor to keep warm. Also gloves. But this morning the sky was BLUE and the air was pretty warm. Life was good. We hiked through the hills, through a Hmong village, the one with the Nung teacher. We also came across many Hmong familes, but it is plain that they are not too crazy about Khanh and it is sometimes odd to be with him in the these situations. One family in particular was hoeing a small field at the side of the path and we had a conversation with them. Through Khanh, of course. The woman had 5 children, 3 of whom came running to see us. They were working very hard and lived on the other side of the valley–a long walk away. They pointed out their village, which we could see. Their 10 year old daughter (the oldest) and I sat down and ‘read’ 2 books together and she was thrilled. One book was about a family of mice. As soon as we opened that book, the children shrieked with delight and one of the boys dropped a dead mouse on the book’s pages! They had caught the mouse for their lunch and wanted to show us. We all giggled and had a great time. 5 pencils and 2 books later, we continued on our way.

Because of problems I have had on this particular computer, I am going to send and start a new message.