I’m jotting down some notes here that I will attempt to put into some sort of clear and detailed summary of my thoughts later when I have the time. Currently I’m just sitting in the gathering space on the first floor of the hostel with a little girl named Matchi. She’s Japanese, and five years old. I think one of the owners of the hostel may be Japanese, or perhaps the husband to the wife who owns it is. I’m not quite sure. Anyway, this cute, little girl, Matchi, is sitting across the table from me watching me write. She’s very inquisitive, but also very shy. She seems to be happy just sitting near me watching what I’m doing. Her understanding of the english language is spotty for sure. Or she’s just very shy and doesn’t want to talk.
At a table nearby is a group of possibly-Israelis. I can’t tell the language because I’m terrible at that sort of thing. At first I thought they were speaking Russian, but perhaps it is Yiddish? I don’t know if those two languages truly sound even remotely similar, but as I stated, I’m no expert on languages. They are basically eating junk food for breakfast. Where they got the awful cereal and milk I have no idea. Perhaps they’re traveling with it because they don’t like Vietnamese food? No idea. People do strange things. As far as I’m concerned Vietnamese food is some of the best on the planet, so why anyone wouldn’t like it is beyond my conception.
I woke up late this morning. Outside: all mist and drizzling rain. The mountains are in the clouds. Not just their peaks, but pretty much their entirety, like a dirty, white sweater has been flung over them. I’m supposed to meet my Hmong homestay host in an hour but honestly I would prefer to just stay at the hostel. The weather discourages me. I’m so intrigued by the thought of the homestay, though, that I will not cancel on her (I have her phone number, and so could call).
Last night while I was brushing my teeth in the bathroom of my floor there was a boy smoking a joint, readying himself to go out, preening in front of the mirror just like a little duck, as I’m making for bed.
[Later at the homestay]
I met my homestay host, Mama Suu, late this morning. As we walked from town to her village we talked a bit about what exactly it was that I wanted to do, and the cost. Her first assumption or idea was that I wanted, or would pay for, two days of trekking and an overnight stay plus meals, the cost of that being about $50. This is much more than I want to spend, and I told her so. Really, I’m just not interested in trekking. I just want to spend a night in the valley experiencing the life, or as much of it as I can in such a short period of time, of a Hmong household. We ended up kicking the can down the road on the expenses part of the homestay and will settle on something later for a day of trekking (really just a long walk along a dirt trail through a couple of smaller villages in the hills and through the forest, avoiding what counts for a road out here, to her homestay in the valley), a night at her home, and all meals (lunch, dinner, breakfast).* I really have no idea if this will be worth the money. I know if I had just booked a homestay myself through a website like AirBnb or Hostelworld, and rented a motorbike it would cost me quite a bit less, but the walk, or “trek” was nice, though I have yet to decide if it was worth paying extra for, so…
Well, this valley is a jewel. A long and wide meandering jewel like a great green snake winding beneath the mountains, rice paddies as far as the eye can see, and even further, narrow dirt and gravel paths spreading through it from home to home all along a central corridor like veins and arteries feeding and being fed by a great heart lying somewhere further along, or maybe behind, and the river winding along with it roaring and sparkling in places, trickling in others.
There was a woman in the fields beyond the restaurant I had lunch at spraying fertilizer with a long gun and a pack on her back.
[Later that night]
There is such a special air quality here in the valley. It seems not so much that the sun’s light is simply illuminating the landscape, but that it is illuminating the very air itself. In that way it obscures the landscape, or the details of, and in doing so instills it with a greater mystery but also an unalloyed vibrance, a lambent, shimmering radiance.
Watching a rooster and hen tear up a garden plot here at the homestay, a tiny one on the patio just outside the house, searching for insects, or likely anything edible for that matter. I’ve had a shower, and am sitting at a table on this patio that I’ve just mentioned, outside. The sun above the silent mountains is obscured by what looks like rain clouds. A red motorbike is gliding down the slope on the opposite side of the valley, and the waterfall pours down the rockface in a loving, though swift, caress.
Three young boys and a girl have just rushed onto the patio from outside, immediately making a racket but then quickly quieting (aside from the sounds of gunfire issuing from the oldest’s cell phone.) I’m not sure why I am surprised by the level of technological sophistication and abundance here, but I am. Maybe because my guide only used an old Nokia. Vietnam in general is not very well developed in terms of basic infrastructure and medical care, particularly in rural areas where most of the poor and minority ethnic groups live. I was not expecting wi-fi here, and I would not have been surprised by squat toilets. Mama Suu tells me she and many others love the increase in tourism to Sa Pa, because through homestays and trekking tours in the valley, and selling their handmade goods on the street and in the market they’re actually able to make a decent income, have homes made of brick or stone and with quality metal roofs, as opposed to bamboo structures on a muddy slope. I suppose if it ever turns into a place like Bali or Venice they might change their tune, but until then (IF that ever happens) I suspect they will be more than happy with the extra income. It was only thirty years ago that no one bothered visiting Sa Pa (this I am told), twenty years ago local tourists would sometimes come out on weekends, and the numbers have slowly increasted until now in its current state it seems the cat is out of the bag, and loads of new construction is taking place. It will change in the next few years even more, and besides more money coming to the region it is impossible to say what that will mean.