My obsession with rice paddies is growing, guys. It's a bit of a problem. I have so many rice paddy pictures on my phone, I'm not sure which to choose for today's blog post. These tiny pieces of flooded land are so intriguing to look at from afar, but today I got an up-close-and-personal look during our trek in Sapa. To start, let me remind you of the heckling ladies of the H'mong tribe. While we used our hostel to sign up for a trek, this doesn't stop the local ladies from following you the entire trek, sitting on the side of the road throughout lunch and then continuing to hike with you up and down the rice paddies in the afternoon. Our guide, however was only twenty-one and already had been married for four years and had two children. And here I am thinking some of my American friends got married young. She was, though, very sweet and explained to us that most children from her village don't go to school past secondary school (their middle school) because it's too far away in Sapa and too expensive. Her brother, she noted proudly, does go to high school in Sapa, and therefore has to live there too. Her other brother is home taking care of her ill father. We walked through the dusty villages, enjoying the spectacular views and stopping at a small artisan shop to learn how the locals weave the black and colored garb worn by the tribe members. She explained that in order to achieve a shiny look, the material must be pounded between stones, which Miki and I found to be very interesting.
During lunch, we socialized with our neighbors, Ben and Shamani, who were both British, and had quit their jobs to travel Southeast Asia for six months. Ben, who was clearly a photographer, used to work for a photography magazine and Shamani was interested in fashion design. We all lamented how the arts take a backseat when it comes to being financially successful - the age old dilemma of the "starving artist." It makes sense, though, why so many people choose to travel Southeast Asia after quitting their jobs. Besides being cheap, it's an easy escape from reality - a place where Westerners are a minority and cutlery is traded in for chopsticks. Where Europe and Australia would be too close to reality, Southeast Asia (and perhaps South America as well) read like a surrealist's dream - a place that balances precariously between ancient preservation and modern innovation.
The afternoon was far more interesting, in my opinion. We began almost immediately hiking on the actual rice paddies themselves. It was pretty muddy, and with my fantastic grace, I managed to slip - without falling - but still enough to make one of the village woman hold my hand and not let go, even when I tugged gently away. It was very sweet of her, but, to be honest, I knew if I fell (which was likely) she was coming with me, as she was most certainly under five feet. We continued our trek, hiking the ridges of the rice paddies and weaving in and out of bamboo forests. The ladies who were following us gave Miki and I these cute hearts made out of ferns and the views of the mountain side were truly breathtaking. The trek itself was a great way to see the valley and the paddies up close. Though I'm sure the weather is brutal, the high season is between July and September when the paddies are aglow with neon green and gold rice plants. Do yourself a favor and type in a quick Google search. Nice, huh? Even on the off season, I still found them to be intriguing without the beautiful colors.
Naturally, when we reached the end of the trek, near the waterfall, we ran into Israelis. They freaked out because Miki was wearing her Tamarack T-shirt and they noticed Hebrew on the shirt. Our first encounter with Israelis, and, I'm sure, not our last. Another thing that began when we reached the waterfall was the heckling. Oh yes, I had a feeling this was going to happen the minute the tiny old village woman grabbed my hand. "I help you, so you pay me," she said to me. "No," I stated sharply. "I won't." It went on like this for another ten minutes, along with her waving some bracelets and bags in my face. Eventually, I just ran away, leaving her and the other woman to haggle Miki (sorry, Mik!). She's much nicer than I was and I have the pictures to prove it. Once we hiked back up to the road, Miki decided she was going to buy a few bracelets. It was like a swarm of bees at a picnic, as all the women waved their fare in our faces. Miki kept swatting them away, focusing on the original woman she was looking to buy from, but they all kept returning, even after she had made he purchases.
After our trek, we returned to the hostel and showered. We had already checked out of our room, so we were forced to hang out in the lobby of the building. That was where we met a two year old girl who knew English as well as any American toddler. She was so sweet, and her mom explained how the minute her daughter was born, she was determined to teach her English so that she would be practically native by the time she grew up. The woman was related to the kind ladies who owned our hostel, and she came and left with her daughter a few times. The girl was so adorable, passing out candy to us and pretending to skate like Peppa Pig, her favorite cartoon. Her mother went on to explain to us how hard it was for her to find English books in Vietnam. Amazon, she said, was very expensive with all the overseas shipping fees, and English books were few and far between in her country. I told her that what she was doing was important and that her daughter would thank her one. I suggested e-books and free online stories. This was the first of many times I realized how important books and reading are and how much the Western world takes this for granted.
At that point in our trip, I was already sick of Pho. Miki wanted to give barbecue another shot, refusing to leave with the memory of chicken feet, so we headed to a barbecue on the other side of town. Except for the sweet potato, I wasn't such a fan. We steered clear of the meat this time, and the corn fritters tasted too sweet for my liking. Eventually, we return to the tourist street and I splurged on a pizza, which was either delicious on its own or tasty because I was desperate for anything made with cheese and sauce. Also, the restaurant had rave reviews from Israelis posted in the window, so of course I was convinced (see photo above). Finally, it was time catch the night bus. A long night is ahead of us, but I know it'll be worth it when I see Josh!
Coming up next: Stories from Ha Long Bay! Stay tuned - I swear I'm going to be better about posting. My blog's website sucks on mobile devices, but I'm going to schedule three posts that I've written now!