Saturday, May 31, 2008

Back from the frontier

Its Saturday evening and we are about to catch the overnight train back to Hanoi. We weren't able to be in contact until now because the places we've stayed haven't had Internet connections, let alone electricity. We stayed three nights in a place where we took baths with a cup in a pan of hot water, that was brought to our room. We had electricity for a few hours every night with the use of a generator, and the hotel staff would use it for karaoke after we had gone to bed -- under our mosquito nets.

Each morning we would head out to a remote market or village and visit one of the almost twenty tribes we have been able to interact with. Among our experiences was watching a village "healer" (shaman) go into a trance beating a drum and burning rice paper to use the smoke to communicate with the spirits. He is pictured here, dressed in black with a black cloth over his face. This is in his home -- note the dirt floor, the alter and the pictures on the other wall. Before and after the ceremony we went into a smaller, windowless room with an open fire where he served us tea, and asked us how many day's walk it was to our house.

Pictured here is our guide, Thao showing our cook's wife and daughter a digital image she just took of them. Thao bought one of my cameras, and was almost as intend as I with her photography on this trip. We frequently took photos and the local people delighted in seeing their digital image on the backs of our cameras. They usually reacted with shyness and giggles. I gave away about 40 Polaroids, and as in other remote places, we would gather a crowd of the curious. People were initially cautious with us, and in the most remote market in Pha Long -- twenty miles from the Chinese border -- our guide, Thao was questioned by the police. We had a document with special permission to be there, but were the only "long noses" (Westerners) anywhere around.

We witnessed many scenes of rice paddies in various stages of growth, including muddy water buffaloes and farmers plowing water logged fields; followed by a line of H'mong women bending over at the waist planting new sprigs of rice. In the higher areas there was corn planted everywhere, including between the rocks on very steep mountain hillsides.

I must close so Judy can check her email!

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