Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Market

When you first approach the market (we visited three), it is up into the mountains on a winding road. On the shoulders of the road are families walking to or coming from the market, sometimes herding water buffalo or cows; often wearing large baskets full of produce with horse hair straps. The mountains loom up in the background, and everywhere there isn't sheer rock is planted with corn. Generations of tribal people have hauled soil up between the rocks. We turn the final corner to a parking lot of motor bikes, and just beyond it is a cacophony of colorful sights and sounds.

The Flower Hmong people are dressed in their finest clothes, embroidered with lots of red and orange; and beaded fringe. Even though it is hot and humid the women wear several layers of clothing, including leggings, a skirt, an apron, scarf and perhaps a hat and a baby sling. Most also carry an umbrella for use against the sun as much as the rain. They are the predominant tribe at the Pha Long Market, twenty miles south of the Chinese border. However, there are others as well; and on our travels we interacted with almost twenty different tribes.

At the Quyet Tien Market we also saw Nung, Dao Lang Ten, B' oy, Tay, White Hmong, Dao, Mon and Green Hmong people. The men lack their counterpart's color, usually wearing black berets, or green pith helmets and thick green or indigo shirts.

At the edge of the market is a barber, set up in the outdoors with a chair and large mirror, under which is positioned his motor bike. Walking further along the roadway there are sellers of chillies, melons, leche nuts, beans, hand forged farm implements, and clothes. Plastic also is popular: pans, sandals, stools, buckets. Off to one side is the piglet market area, many squealing, all tethered by twine leads. There is also a section for cows, and water buffalo. We were told that due to Global Warming, the Northern Hill Country has become more severe with colder winters and hotter summers. The cows have become more valuable that water buffalo, as they are better able to adapt to these changes. There is meat for sale, chopped up on tables with no refrigeration: mostly pork since cows are too valuable (equal to the price of a motor bike).

Then there are the sounds: chickens, ducks, pigs, the horns of ice cream vendors, cowbells, and cicadas and frogs in the surrounding trees, as well as lots of motor bikes, some trucks and very few cars. Of course there are hundreds of people, all talking in several languages. We are the only Westerners present, but we are often greeted with "Hello!".

The Hmong men are sitting together and drinking corn whiskey. Our guide told of about them passing out on the road, and their wives dutifully hold an umbrella over them, shading them from the sun, until they are sober enough to walk home. This turned out to be no exaggeration, as we saw this scene half a dozen times. The wives consider this an honor, as it is evidence that their husbands are very popular, having been toasted until they are toast!

No comments: