White Thai

Trip Start Feb 17, 2007
Trip End Apr 13, 2012

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Flag of Vietnam  , (VM16),
Saturday, June 23, 2007

Hello again,

Mai Chau is located in the mountains of northwest Vietnam.  A trip here is primarily to visit the hill tribe people.  It's a traditional culture that goes back generations.

The patriarch of one of the surrounding villages is Mr. Nham.  His native tongue is not Vietnamese, but Thai.  That's two countries away!  Mr. Nham's heritage is White Thai.  His ancestors moved to this location quite a while ago.  The political borders have since changed but the culture remains.

So how does traditional hill tribe culture work in Mai Chau?  If a girl is interested in a boy, she goes to his house to see how many fish tails are on doorpost.  That's the sign of a man that can provide for his family.  When newlyweds need a house, the whole community comes out to help build it.  And when there's a dispute between neighbors, they seek the wisdom of the patriarch to settle it.

That night I saw a hill tribe performance.  Colorful costumes and choreographed dancing, of course.  Then the bamboo poles came out.  Timing is important here.  It's a three count beat, like a waltz.  A pair of poles are slapped: once on the ground, twice on the ground, then together.  So the dancers step in-in-OUT, before the poles catch their ankles.

What makes a performance even more entertaining?  Westerners.  The whole group was invited to dance through the clacking poles.  Good fun.  A few bruised ankles in the end.  But a new appreciation for hill tribe life.  And a healthy thirst after wards.  We all sipped rice wine that had been fermenting in a large coconut.  It's a communal event where everybody drinks from a two foot straw placed in the same coconut.

Some performers like to quit their day job.  Not in Mai Chau.  The next morning we went for a walk around the village.  Voila!  Some of last night's performers were working in a field and others in a river.  It's refreshing to see a traditional culture still practiced in a country that's changing so rapidly.

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