Sunday, October 7, 2012

From the mountains to Hanoi

The photo shows what happens when the village youth gets their collective hands on a tablet. First they win three consecutive Solitaire games, and then they guide a knight to victory against fire-breathing zombies. A normal day in the village.

I took the night train to Hanoi and spent the day there. At dawn I watched people at the lake in the center of Hanoi do their morning gymnastics, T'ai Chi, weight lifting, and mass back massage. After the days in the remote village up north it's odd to be in a place with traffic, tourists, cafes, and password-protected WLANs - in Lao Cai at the train station they are all unprotected. I know Hanoi, I don't need a guide here. I can practice my street-crossing skills again: at the right moment, just walking into traffic, oblivious to the endless swarms of motorcycles, walking at a slow steady pace and watching the traffic flow around me. Becomes second nature quickly, but it would get me killed in Berlin.

Speaking of which - something has come up and I need to return home. Besides, I need to recover from this braindead blogging app by Google. My plans to see Taiwan and the Philippines will have to wait. This blog will be silent for a while but expect more stories in the future!

Rural life in Vietnam

A friend invited me to his family's home in a small village in the mountains of northern Vietnam, close to the Chinese border. I was welcomed at a small homestead by three generations for three days. The house is built from bamboo cement and wood. They have six dogs, three cats, two buffalo, two pens of pigs, and flocks of chickens and ducks. Meals are eaten on mats on the floor, with a view of the fields and mountains surrounding the house. For the last dinner, one of the ducks had to die. One of the small children was gnawing on the duck's head all evening. Animals are not pets, they serve a purpose.

Amenities are basic, but there is a hot shower (a bucket filled with hot water), a kitchen with an open fire, opulent wooden furniture, a TV running at all times, and a scenic outdoor toilet behind the pig pens. It's all very homey and comfortable. There is electricity but no Internet anywhere. (Hence you'll be reading this after I return to Lao Cai.) I had a wonderful time there, everyone really made me feel at home. In a Vietnamese family, people do not disappear into their own rooms.

We spent the days visiting the surrounding villages, friends of the family, a market, and generally following the beautiful trails between the hills and fields. The harvest will begin in two weeks, so the men in the villages have time to play dominoes and card games. Wherever I go, everyone stops what they were doing to stare at me. I am the first western tourist visiting these remote villages, ever, and people are curious about my size - I am at least a head taller than everyone else -, the hair on my arms, my camera, and my lack of Vietnamese vocabulary beyond hello, good bye, and thank you.