Same Same...But Different

Trip Start Mar 21, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The hills and mountains of northern Vietnam is the home to dozens of hill tribe cultures, montagnards, or ethnic minorities, depending on what you want to call them. I felt that one week to ten days would be a good amount of time to visit this large area full of diverse cultures and rolling terrain--the land of insurgents, pivotal battles, and the beginning place for Ho Chi Minh's revolution.

I didn't have that time as my visa was expiring: one month in Vietnam sure went quickly.

Instead, I experienced only the superficial, with a quick glimpse into Black Hmong living.

The town of Sapa was the result of tourism gone bad. Tourists such as myself are lured by dreams of the primitive villages, wild jungles, and people living in harmony with the environment. What they find instead is a Black Hmong culture transformed into "you buy this from me" culture.

Luckily, I feel that this "you buy this from me" culture is only confined to areas around Sapa, the resort town.

Unfortunately, I also feel that tourists are traveling further and further into the cultures around Sapa, ultimately transforming them into "you buy this from me" cultures as well.

Who can blame them from wanting to make money?

Who can blame us for searching for something genuine in this big world of ours?

I wanted to get a brief feeling of the places around Sapa and took a motobike ride with Ha! a Chinese-Vietnamese who worked the desk at my hotel. Ha! took me to several Hmong villages, where I was followed by some of the most persistent and annoying yet beautiful and friendly women and girls.

Their facade was "you buy this from me" yet deep inside this was their way to feed the baby on their back.

At the same time, I felt that there was a better way. Selling trinkets using forceful sales tactics was leading their communities down a twisted road, one they had already taken. But I cannot comment more than my gut feelings, as I was just passing through.

Breaking through to the other side was my goal at this point. "I don't want to buy anymore things, I just want to know about who you are," I told one of the girls who was following me.

They opened themselves to me.

"We plant rice in one month," one said.

"This is our school," said another. Meanwhile, a boy passed us wearing a tee-shirt saying "Same Same...but Different," a common phrase heard throughout Southeast Asia. We are all same same, but we're also different. The Black Hmong, with their stained indigo hands from dyeing clothing, their silver jewelry, their harsh life in the mountians, their repression by the Vietnamese governemt, their tenacity, their ability to learn English to sell their wares...they were different, yet most people have the same same ability to overcome true obstacles, just read Into Thin Air or watch SURVIVOR (only kidding).

These were great people, once you were no longer seen as a walking dollar bill and they were no longer seen as a buzzing fly that needs swatting.

Same Same...

But Different.

Thanks, Ha!
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