Monday, October 27, 2008

Bac Ha, 10/26

Sunday morning we were off to Bac Ha at 7:30. The roads again held us up, and it took us over four hours to reach Bac Ha, when I remember it not being more than three hours in 2006. The students were energized by their last chance to shop in an ethnic marketplace.

Flower H'mong are the most prevalent people in this area. They are noted for their colorful clothes. Married women also wear the headgear.

Josh still found some things to buy, as did Kate

There are several other ethnic groups in the Bac Ha area, but they all wear somewhat similar clothes.

Here's some intersting traffic in the central square.

Michael is trying to figure out what to buy, and Jared is little help, so Julia steps in to assist.

The next few pictures explore the many variations of the clothes.

I noticed in 2006, and again this year, that the shop keepers and restaurateurs of Bac Ha are almost exclusively ethnic Vietnamese, like the mother and child to the right in the doorway of the restaurant where we had lunch, rather than minorities. Yet the shops are selling supposedly minority products. Rumor has it that some of the items for sale have made it across the border from China.

Most of the students suffered "shop till you drop" syndrome before our alloted time was up, so we actually left a half hour before our scheduled departure.

That was OK, as we wanted to view the Chinese border in Lao Cai before it got dark.

There is a constant stream of traffic across the border, both pedestrians and vehicles.

What is everyone contemplating? Perhaps an escape to China?

This is as close as Jared and Michael got.

Lively discussions of the fate of Pam's tennis shows were going on, while she waited at the base of the international border marker for them to return. It seems that the big gig in Lao Cai is cleaning shoes. We were kidding Pam that they were getting a good price for her shoes in the local market, but she eventually got them back. However, all they really accomplished was to spread the dirt around so her shoes were a more uniform dirty. My hiking boots had a good patina of mud baked into them from the various treks over the past week. I must have had 50 vendors at the border and during dinner approach me with exhortations about how my shoes were an insult to society, but I kept telling them I liked them that way; that they had character.

We had dinner together in Lao Cai while we waited for the train. We had originally planned to go back to Hanoi on our buses, but the floods earlier in the summer did a lot of damage to the roads, and we were told the driving time could be up to 20 hours. So a nine plus hour ride on a sleeper train looked like a great alternative. The quality of these trains is much better than what we came up on from Dong Ha, as this is a prime tourist destination. We arrived safely back in Hanoi at about 5:00 in the morning. The students had the morning off before continuing with their internships in the afternoon.

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