Dec 22, 2011

Vietnam...Selling to the Tourist from Hanoi to Sapa

Recently dyed fabric hung to dry.
Well, campers, out here where the rubber meets the road things are always happening.  You can read the travel books about Vietnam till the cows come home but until you have actually have the shoe shine man take your shoes away from you you don't know a thing.

I have aways found that no meant no in most languages. However, in the far east, the shoe shine guys are polishing your shoes as you walk down the street...even in China. No has no meaning for them.  I have pulled my foot away many a time and have even walked around with shoe polish all over my shoe because I escaped.  But this time I did not get away.  My shoes were polished, repaired and even resoled as I looked on helplessly.   My feet were slipped into slippers and I leaned against a building waiting for the guy to finish.  When the calculator came out and the price was quoted I gasped but nothing we said would make him go away.  It seemed even worse because the Dong is 21,000 to each $1. I told my family they would need to bury me in those shoes because they were so valuable!

Live on the street in Sapa is much the same.  The indigenous people of the Sapa region are call the Hmong people.  They are a separate culture from the Vietnamese and treated as less valuable citizens in the country.  The government educates them to a lesser degree and their role on the streets of Sapa is much different from the role of a business person selling from a store. When speaking to them one on one, I realized they do not think of themselves as "Vietnamese" at all.  They are a very cheerful people leading a difficult life.  Tourist are not an easy sell in many cases but they are managing to survive. They have learned to sell their wears using the "dripping water torture".  It seems that they are very successful at wearing tourists down so they will buy what they do not know they want.

We were staying in a boutique hotel called Sapa Rooms.  We could lounge inside a heated restaurant area with windows looking out in every direction.  One felt a bit like a caged animal as the Hmong women stood in groups and watched our every move.  I could only smile as they descended on everyone that stepped out the door.  We discovered right away that timing was everything in this dance with the Hmong women.  Escaping was not easy!

It was a shock to us for the first few hours.  Of course, as with most of the places we visit, it takes us a day or two to get the hang of things.  In this case we only stayed for two night and one of the days we told that long walk I talked about in a previous post.

Dyed fabric ready to sell.
Dye vats.
I did manage to get some beautiful blue textiles and a piece of the native garb they women wear from our guide's mother and another vendor in the same section of the market place.  The people harvest, prepare the hemp thread, weave the fabric and dye it a beautiful indigo blue.  Women's hand's are permanently colored from the dye.  On our hike we saw dye vats and the fabric hung to dry outside the huts.  Was I awed by the beauty and uniqueness of this world.  You bet I was.  In the real world when you walk the trail, smell the air and here the gentle hopeful voice almost begging you to share your wealth, you just have to be humbled and amazed.

We are now on the island of Phu Qoc in the Sea of Thailand just south of Cambodia.  I will post more tomorrow.  We are well, the food is wonderful and we are loving this vacation.


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