Trip Start Nov 08, 2006
260Trip End Ongoing
The town is a gathering place for ethnic minorities from the surrounding villages. There are dozens of them in the valleys and peaks in the area. In some cases it's 20 houses and terraced farming, in others it's a few huts and a small patch of tilled land. Sapa is where they meet to socialize, buy their provisions for the weeks, sell their goods, and now, to hawk their wares to tourists. The presence of the tourists, both Westerners and Vietnamese, has clearly changed the composition and practice of the market days. But it still isn't simply a charade in which people put on their Disneyland costumes and peddle to the wealthy visitors. The outfits are authentic. The different ethnicities each have their own form of dress, and they will look the same whether you see them in town on Saturday morning, or if you pass them in the remote hills on a Wednesday afternoon
As I said, each minority has its own costume. Let me say that I don't particularly like either of those terms, but those are the terms used. I could say tribes I guess, but I haven't heard them called that. I guess it's an issue whether or not there are physical distinctions, or simply cultural distinctions amongst groups. I bet no one reading cares, but I studied a little anthropology, so I think about these things. Anyway, there are several modes of dress: different hats, different colors, different looks. They each sell their traditional garb to willing tourists. But the market still sells produce and housewares and other necessities for village life. These are not for tourists. This is the authentic market, as it has been for years and years.
I'm a people watcher. This isn't a product of my studies. I don't particularly want to write an ethnography or interview the people. I just like watching. I especially like watching how mothers and children interact. I don't say parents because it is rare to see a father and child together. The men are somewhere else. I'm not sure where. But the women are hard at work buying or selling goods, and as they do this, the children are in tow. It's especially intriguing to see how independent young children are. A child that would be tethered to its mother in the States with one of those slinky bracelets is often wandering on its own in other countries
I also love seeing mothers with their babies. There are no strollers. No pacifiers. No rattles. No "Baby's First I-Pod." The kids just lay in a blanket wrapped tightly around a mother's chest or back and listen to her heartbeat. I rarely see a child crying. In fact, the only children I've seen crying or throwing a tantrum are those belonging to ethnic Viets, most often wealthy looking. Doesn't it seem odd that children with so much would have the most to whine about? The local children may have smudges of dirt on their faces, their hair unkempt, their clothes a little worn. But they smile and laugh and their eyes glow with a joy that seems in stark contradiction to their obvious poverty. I guess money can't buy everything, and it rarely does. I've seen happier kids kicking a rock down the street than I have playing Playstation. Not me though. I'm spoiled. I love Playstation.
Markets are wonderful for that. It's a glimpse into a world we can never be a part of. They may speak to us for a moment, answer our questions, perhaps even invite us into their homes. But we are born of a privilege that will keep us from ever knowing their lives as they do. It can make us feel both fortunate and punished by our good fortune. Such is life. But I was glad I got to see it.