With hopes to find a place to bunk for the night at one of the remote villages in Vietnam, away from the tourist infested city of Sapa, we biked down the mountain aimlessly until a lady wearing a pink turban, approached us from behind and shouted “HEY! you want come my village stay my home?” – That was the start of our encounter with the Black Hmong tribe of Sapa..
It’s safe to say that ‘homestays’ are a popular tourist attraction here in Vietnam, where you get the opportunity to stay at a home of a local Vietnamese family, eat what they eat, sleep where they sleep, and get a glimpse of their lifestyle and culture. What was different here, is that it wasn’t just a homestay at a local family, it was a homestay at one of the tribal ethnic groups of the mountains – the Black Hmong Tribe.
They live on a beautiful region east of Sapa, away from the tourist infested city on a hilltop overlooking the Fansipan mountain. The view is truly spectacular. But what’s more beautiful was their culture, which I was fortunate enough to learn over a dinner chat during that one night of stay.
If I heard it right, there are apparently 7 Hmong tribes that live in Vietnam, what’s amazing is that they all speak completely different languages to one another, and have very different traditions and cultures. The Black Hmong people wore colourful patterned dresses, head scarfs instead of hats which the other Hmong tribes wore (some wore combs, etc). Basically they are different not just in tradition and culture, but also outfit and style, which I thought was really cool.
The other thing I liked, is the fact that all women learnt how to weave clothes since childhood, taught at home by their mothers, and all men learnt how to make jewelry, taught by their fathers. So the women made clothes to warm up the men, and all the men made jewelries in return, to beautify their women and make them look pretty. Apparently this is a big part of their culture, like every family does this, and that’s fucking awesome. The rest is simple life. Farming rice and vegetables, some pigs and chickens to feed the family, and any leftovers are sold on the market for extra money. They are even legally allowed to grow unlimited amount of marijuana, since they’re used as hemp fabrics for their clothes (I’ll talk more about this later). It’s a beautifully simple life, but within the midst of all this, I see some modern tech in the household, like TVs, scooters, light bulbs and speakers, which got me thinking, and the more I thought about it, the more I got disturbed. I had the urge to write down my thoughts as I fell asleep that night. This is an exert from those notes.
Mai, our homestay host said she bought the TV for the children
“they like it so we buy it. If we don’t get one the children will go to the neighbours and won’t come back”.
She also says its good for learning English, Vietnamese, and to ‘see the world‘. I kept quiet and listened as she talked about how TVs are good for education. I agreed to what she was saying, and I respect her for showing so much care for her children, but in my mind I couldn’t stop thinking the fact that this might wipe away their tribe one day. These kids will grow up knowing that there’s a world out there full of colours and interesting things, materials, and i can feel their curiosity growing by the minute on screen. These kids may grow up wanting to become like us, to leave the village and become an accountant, an office manager, a jet fighter pilot, a mortgage broker, a movie star, or whatever we all work as in the ‘real‘ world. If that’s what they want, that’s fine, evolve, commercialise and modernise, but I have a very strong feeling that they are perfectly happy where they are, and I think they know it themselves. What they probably don’t know is the brainwashing power of TV and other media and the effect it has on children while growing up. Or at least I think so. What I’m basically trying to say is that I wouldn’t want to unplug their TV, but I wouldn’t be happy plugging it in either.
Mai’s dream is apparently to visit Halong bay, as written in English so cleverly on this little donation box hanging on her living room (aimed at visitors like us). To be honest, from our perspective that’s a pretty small dream to have. Its like saying your dream is to visit Osaka if you lived in Tokyo.. Humbling and nice and all, but at the same time, I didn’t feel good about this dream, because she wouldn’t have had this dream if she was never exposed to it in the first place. Okay, a little harsh, but think about it. If she was made aware of Halong bay from a story from her mother, father, chief village master or something like that, then that’s a wonderful dream with a story behind, but If it’s from seeing it on a magazine cover or a TV show, then that dream is the bi-product of fake signals telling her to buy things that she doesn’t need. To buy that camera, that watch, that car, that trip to Halong bay or Hawaii. If money is what we need to get there, then I’ll work hard and do anything to earn that money – kinda thinking.
The thinking part is not to blame, you can’t blame someone from being sold, its not within our control to be brainwashed. In fact i think TVs can be a good thing if they showed the right things, like national geographics and discovery channel, those real educational shows, but obviously most aren’t, since 80% of media are apparently owned by one family, those that can afford to wipe their asses with thousand dollar bills. Anyway, as I chatted along with the family as they kept pouring me shots of ‘happy water’, I couldn’t stop noticing the children’s eyes glued to the TV and that wasn’t making me happy at all.
Kids are our future, yes, this phrase is scarily true. The future is inevitable, slowly but surely these tribes will one day become like us, following our footsteps just like how we all began. The only difference is that we just got there faster, forced into modernisation and the industrial revolution, capitalism, thereby the future that we all currently live in. But then again, The paradox is that I want them to stay the way they are because of my own personal desire, my wishful thinking, my greed. Who knows what they want.
My mind was going in circles as I spiraled into deep thinking. Maybe I was too high when I was writing this, but it seemed like an endless cycle at that time. Which comes first the chicken or the egg? Why can’t they just co-exist in harmony like oyakodon – if you know what I mean.
I managed to get to sleep that night after convincing myself that it was okay to be greedy this time, because my wish that they remain the way they are is not for me after all, it’s for them.
“Who is more important, you or others? The conclusion is clear; even if minor suffering happens to all others; its range is infinite, whereas when something happens to me, it is limited to just one person. When we look at others in this way, oneself is not so important.” – Dalai Lama
Anyway, it was a good segway to the next chapter of my journey into Nepal, one of the most poorest countries in the world, but also one of the most sacred places in Asia for many religions, namely Hinduism and Buddhism, the ultimate pilgrimage of Zen worshipers, the birthplace of Lord Buddha 🙂