Karen Dougherty is a TV researcher, writer, singer, songwriter,
voracious reader and world-traveller. While travelling in Vietnam
she learned the art of finding a suitable husband. Karen writes...
In some places,
finding love is as easy as shopping for clothes. Take Northern
Vietnam, for example, in a little village called Sa Pa, high in
the misty mountains. Every Saturday evening as the sun sinks swiftly
past the edge of the world, dozens of brightly costumed members
of several area tribes turn the centre square of the village into
a Love Market. And this night, just before Saint Valentine's Day,
is no exception. Fruit stands are being cleared away to make room
for tables and benches. There is excitement and anticipation.
Love is in the air.
for a mate...
hours earlier the Dao, Black H'mong, and Tai women were
hawking their wares here, chatting in sign language with
the handful of tourists visiting in low season, bartering
sugar cane for rice, handmade silver jewelry for tiny,
sweet oranges, and tribal clothing for much-needed vegetables.
But now, in the fading twilight, focus
turns to their unmarried children. It's time for them
to find a mate, and the children will do it for themselves
under their parents' watchful eyes. I cannot wait to watch
the evening unfold.
here by way of a beat up Russian Jeep and a rather reckless
Vietnamese guide. We, my newly acquired travelling companions
and I, drove northwest from Hanoi for eight hours up into
the mountains where it's winter. We bumped and rollicked
past endless rice paddies, tea plantations, a hundred
shades of green, each vying for brightest. We passed people
still using oxen to plow the wet ground to plant rice.
Hard-working women and children spend their days knee-deep
in freezing brown water. The roads are chaos even out
in the country and we narrowly missed over a million chickens,
cows, cyclists, ponies, and pigs.
up the rocky road...
hobbled, pitted road wound like crazy and our driver,
silent and focused, took it fast. The passing milestones
looking alarmingly like gravestones...Lao Cai--178 km--RIP.
I think I lost a filling as well as a couple years off
reached the final stretch to Sa Pa, coming at one point
within a half kilometer of the Chinese border. We careened
up, up, up the rocky road, the view becoming more and
more spectacular in the rosy, late-afternoon light. We
pulled into Sa Pa and checked into an empty guest house
suggested by our guide and run by his "friend." (This
is common practice in Vietnam. Cab drivers and guides
often have a pre-selected, kick-back driven list of restaurants,
souvenir shops, and hotels at their disposal). Since there
weren't many to choose from, we checked in, catnapped,
and set out for dinner (same old--rice, pork, and cabbage)
in one of the two eating establishments in the village.
We spent the rest of the evening succumbing to the calming
effects of the rather tasty local wine. We headed to bed
early-the warmest place on a cold Vietnamese winter's
Pa was established as a French hill station in 1922. When
the French pulled out, many of their lovely buildings
were abandoned to ruin. An old cathedral stands bored
and empty in the middle of town, possibly puzzled by the
hours of Vietnamese propaganda played over loudspeakers
every day at 5 a.m. Good morning, Vietnam! However, that's
not what wakes me the first morning. It is cold. I can
see my breath in the air. There is no view out my window
-- the village is wrapped protectively in a low, grey
cloud. I dress hurriedly in layers. I wear everything
I have. I consider wrapping myself in a blanket. I decide
walk conspicuously through the little ghost town, I half-expect
tumbleweed to roll vacantly through the one street. Instead,
I'm buffeted by yellow dust and blowing sand and I'm befriended
by a gaggle of Black H'mong girls. They are pretty little
things with wispy brown hair and sparkling eyes. They
wear navy-blue embroidered costumes and colourful headdresses
and big heavy silver earrings. They follow me for hours
through the village practicing stilted English and touching
my hair. They keep up a steady stream of repeated phrases
designed to flatter, shame, and cajole me into making