It’s a small, small world

In April of 2009 I published a blog entry about TaVan, Vietnam. The blog entry is located here. You can find TaVan on this map

SaPa map

SaPa map

You can see the railroad tracks that come from Hanoi to Lao Cai, then you can follow the road southwest to SaPa. South of SaPa is the village of TaVan.
In the blog post, I wrote about a young girl who I had met in the village who surprisingly greeted me in Hebrew! Living as far away as she does, in a small village in the mountains of north Vietnam, I imagined that she would always be nameless to me.

Well, last night I received an email from someone in SaPa who gave me her name and email! Looking at the village, one might be surprised that anyone there has email. But actually, it shouldn’t have surprised me because the children of TaVan were very impressive and it was clear that the adults charged with educating them were doing an excellent job.

So hello to Tu and to her classmates and friends and warm wishes to all of them!

Rona & Aaron’s Excellent Adventure, Part 5

For what happened previously go here

It is Thursday night. Hanoi. A porter laden with suitcases and boxes arrives at the door of the train and as my travelers settle into their cabins, two at a time, he delivers three large and two small suitcases to my cabin. In addition, there is my coat, my backpack, and a couple of plastic bags that somehow accumulated in my hands. It took some time to put everything either up on the bed opposite me, on either side of the table between the beds, or under the bed opposite mine.

Once people were settled in and the train began to move, I am able to heave a huge sigh of relief, knowing that I am off duty until about 4:30 a.m. at which time I am to wake people in anticipation of our arrival in Lao Cai.

The train was clean and attractive and the train ride lulled me to sleep. Although I had set my alarm, one of the workers on the train came by to wake us before the alarm went off.

In a few minutes, everyone was up and moving.

The train stopped and I was the last off of our car with all of the suitcases etc. We walked along the length of the train, looking into the cars as we passed. Some had flower arrangements on the tables between the beds. One had lotus-shaped lamps. Some had six beds per cabin and not four. We finally emerged from the station to a dark parking lot in which were two mini-buses that had come for us and our luggage. My husband went with about half the travelers and our local guide who had come with us from Hanoi and held our train tickets in one of them and I got into the other with the rest of the travelers. As we began to pull out of the parking lot, one of the travelers said, “Where is my money belt?” In a second or two it became clear that it was not on the bus with us. I called to the bus driver to stop the bus, which he did. He and the others remained on the bus and I went with the traveler back to the station.

Lao Cai, 5 a.m.

Lao Cai, 5 a.m.

The station was dark. I did not have the tickets, hence no proof we had been on the train nor proof as to which cars we had occupied. In addition, I do not speak Vietnamese. At all. Fortunately, Lao Cai is the last stop of the train, so it was still in the station.

We walked past an office where there were several uniformed men. In one of my winning charades gestures, I gestured that the man’s money (rub finger tips with thumb) belt (point around waist) was on the train (point to the train.)

Apparently they understood me and a couple of the men walked with us to the train. We started down the length of it. It must have had twenty cars or more. We started at car number twenty and walked looking into the now darkened train. Fortunately, I had a sense of the variations in the cars and when I saw the car with the lotus-shaped lamps, I knew we were not too far. We finally reached two cars that were identical just as ours were, cars 5 and 6. I hadn’t realized that one of the men had a cell phone with him. To make sure, I gave him the number of our local guide’s cell phone. He called her and I asked her what number cars we had been in. She told us and we were right. Only one problem— the train was locked.

I think that Vietnamese people are truly kind because they did not want to give up. Apparently the same person who built the mini-hotel with only one key per room and no pass key had designed the train system in such a way that when all of the cars are locked, no one at the station has a key. Our heroes did what was necessary.

No, they did not saw through the wall of the train. They stood at the side of the door and put all of their weight on it and pushed and pushed, each time getting the door wider and wider open. It must have opened by just a couple of degrees and then one of the men was able to slip in. He went to the cabin that had been occupied by my traveler and he brought the money belt to the door. Aha, but he couldn’t get out. He had squeezed into something that was angled in, but getting out, he was confronting the edge of the door. Another, slimmer man then squeezed himself in. He then pushed the first man out and then he himself came out. My traveler was thrilled to receive the money belt. The Vietnamese were very happy to point from one to the other as to who deserved the reward money. In all, I think around $60 were distributed and all of us left the train very happy.

Those waiting on the bus were also happy and we quickly proceeded onward to SaPa.

The weather in the north of Vietnam, just at the China border, is cold in the winter and although the heat was on in the bus, the driver’s open window was blowing an unpleasant breeze into the bus. After a while I asked him to roll up the window. Once again, my ignorance of Vietnamese was all too frustrating. He thought I asked him to stop the bus.

As I looked outside at the landscape just a short time after dawn, I saw about 5 little pigs by the side of the road. I asked “would anyone want to photograph piglets?” A few people got out of the bus, took some photos and then returned to the bus. He started the bus and off we went.

Piglets along the road

Piglets along the road

But it was still cold.

This time I put held my hands on the opposite upper arms and made a shivering motion. He closed his window. We were warming up and on our way to SaPa. The rain began to fall.

Uh Oh… Our itinerary called for us to walk through one of the local minority villages this morning. They get awfully muddy. But there was still check-in and breakfast and cholent to get started. My worries about that could wait for an hour or two.

At last we arrived at the hotel.

Chau Long Hotel, SaPa

Chau Long Hotel, SaPa

Next time: What we did about the new hotel rules on using our plata (hotplate) and how “Slip sliding away” is a great song, but not the way one would want to describe a walk through a village.

To continue the adventure go here

Just outside of SaPa

When we travel to Vietnam, one of the highlights of the trip is our visit to SaPa. We leave from Hanoi in the evening and take a sleeper train north to Lao Cai. Lao Cai is not far from the border with China and as we make our way from Lao Cai to SaPa, the landscape is magnificent. There are majestic mountains and many of them are terraced to grow rice.

Rice is produced in several areas of Vietnam. There are two main river deltas: the Red River Delta and the Mekong Delta. Both of these have fertile soil in which rice is grown. In fact, one way of conceptualizing Vietnam is as one of those poles with buckets on both sides. In the northeast, the rice bucket is the Red River Delta and in the south, it is the Mekong Delta. However, in addition to those two regions, rice is also grown in the mountainous areas of the north. As in China, the terraces are carved into the mountains as if by artists. These terraces are planted by hand and then flooded with water until the rice is sufficiently mature to be picked. In Vietnam, as in China, rice production is not yet mechanized.

Here is one picture:

Rice Terraces near SaPa

Rice Terraces near SaPa

This picture was taken in the morning as the valley was filled with sun. On this tour, we had two groups traveling together, mine, an English speaking group and Rita’s, a French speaking group. In this picture you see me and Rita– what she lacks in height, she more than makes up for in personality and warmth!

Rita and Rona near SaPa

Rita and Rona near SaPa

Coming up: Some pictures from villages of minority groups in the SaPa area.

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