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Saturday, October 19: Day 180 – Rice Fields

We ride to Mai Châu where we drive to visit some local farmers and spend the night in an ecolodge that they built and maintain. They try to develop tourism yet maintain their culture. Lifestyles are changing. Local Vietnamese work here to learn about tourism and practice their English skills.

We drive by jungles that had been bombed during the war. After the war, the lack of vegetation caused flooding. In the last 15 years the government has tried to protect the land and animals that live here.

Wood was previously used as a main building material, but now it is expensive. The most expensive woods are ironwood and teak. Harvesting these woods is illegal but carries a big value.

There is a lot of government corruption so they often accept bribes. There is only one party.

Cambodia is worse. The saying there is: “If you can’t buy it with money, you can buy it with more money.” Laos is the same.

Social media has had a big impact. Now the Vietnamese have a voice, but the government has control.

This general area still has tigers, monkeys, and elephants, but they are deeper in the jungle.

Gao Nep is the Vietnamese name for sticky rice. Sticky rice is a different variety and is grown in the mountains. It takes longer to grow so it is more expensive. It has more protein so it stays with you longer. They pack the sticky rice in a banana leaf or in bamboo. It is taken to the fields for a snack. Often beans, green beans, or coconut are added.

We are just in time for the rice harvest. Rice is hard to grow. It has many steps and is hard work. The saying is that one grain equals 9 beads of sweat and tears. They keep enough rice for themselves, the rest is for export.

Some areas in Vietnam have three growing seasons for rice. In Mai Chau, there are only two cycles. Short grain rice has shorter growing cycles.

During the dry season, there isn’t enough water for 4 months to grow rice. In the mountains, it is cold and sometimes snows. There they have only one rice growing season. The rest of the time, they grow vegetables.

Mekong Delta in the south is the rice bowl of southeast Asia. Rice is grown year round.

Growing rice starts with uprooting the previous crop by either burning or allowing the cattle to eat. Then the soil is prepared.

Water irrigation comes from the mountains. The rice is planted by hand. The grains of rice are soaked for 48 hours in one hundred liters of water and 10kg of salt. Sprouts begin after 24-36 hours.

One by one the small rice shoots are planted in the water soaked fields. Some people scatter the seeds, but when they grow up in clumps they need to be replanted.

When it is ready for harvest, the rice stalks are cut and laid on top. Another person ties the bundles of rice stalks and lays them on top. Another gathers the bundles. Then the rice is either threshed by hand or by machine. The rice is spread out on large cloths to dry in the sun.

They are even using this volleyball court to dry the rice!

1kg rice=8 bowls of rice and is of good quality. Organic rice is sweet and is expensive. One hectare makes 3 to 5 tons of rice.

They are a community and share labor. “I will help you harvest your field, and you help me harvest my field.” We saw an 83-year-old women tossing up the rice while allowing the chaff to blow away in the wind. Old school!!

The old have always helped even though they are now old and stooped over. All wear long sleeves and masks. Straw is itchy.

Tonight we are eating with a White Thai family. They were the first ones to welcome tourists 20 years ago. The older women often have black teeth since they use tobacco and other things instead of brushing with tooth paste. However, it doesn’t prevent them from flashing their beautiful smiles!!

The food was a delicious feast wonderfully displayed.

Their diet also includes vegetables, chicken, and rice. Red snapper, catfish, and tilapia are on their menu as well.

At 5 to 6 years old the young girls start to learn to make blankets and pillows for their entire husband’s family. They used to marry early at 15 to 16 but now the government won’t recognize a marriage before age 18.

For the first three years of marriage, the man must live in the house with his wife and her family to make sure that he is humble and shows his wife respect. After that, they will live in the man’s house.

Agriculture, weaving, and breeding animals are their main activities. When they are not harvesting, they are weaving.

We walked through the local village of Ban Lac where several hundred Black Thai and White Thai live together.

White Thai and Black Thai can be differentiated by the type of clothing worn. The White Thai woman wears a colorful horizontal belt and the neckline of her shirt is always round. The Black Thai has a colorful vertical decoration with a v-slit at the neckline. Both wear a black sarong. The Thai men wear blue and gray.

One woman is preparing grasshoppers for the fryer. She is removing the wings.

This a strange bird. It is a chicken! We learned that oftentimes the chicken is plucked BEFORE it is butchered.

Here is a local house where activities take place on the ground floor and sleeping on the second floor.

This home is one of the old style and is in the middle of the field. He does have a satellite dish, though!

The Hmong are a minority people who live in the mountains.

The Love Market happens when families come to the market to trade on Sunday mornings. On the Saturday night before, boys and girls interact. In the past, boys would play the flute to attract girls, and girls would wear colorful clothing.

They would agree to meet again the following week and continue dating in this way. Sometimes the girl is kidnapped and stays with a boy for a week. Then the girl is returned. Then the boy’s family comes to the girl’s family to ask if the girl would like to come live with the boy’s family.

All Vietnamese originally were Chinese minorities as they annexed the land from China. They settled in different places and established different cultures. The Kinh people make up 85 percent of the Vietnamese people.

Poor people have time!! They don’t have money. They don’t need much money for life. They mostly need money for health-related expenses.

Historically, in Vietnam, it is important to have a son to carry on the family name. The eldest son has
the responsibility of taking care of the family and his ancestors. When daughters marry, they are no longer your daughter as they go to live with the husband’s family (after three years). Our guide Law told us that this tradition is changing as Western influence creeps in.

In the recent past Vietnamese girls were given up for adoption to Westerners. This created a problem for Vietnamese men who struggled finding wives. Law has decided to turn the tables and get a Western wife!! Haha!

Now the Vietnamese have decided that it is good to have a daughter. Even the Chairperson of the National Assembly is a woman.

Law is the oldest son and has three younger brothers. His family culture has strong ties. They stay close. His mother was disappointed that he didn’t become a teacher like her. She would bring home students for him to tutor, and they would leave in tears.

Law has a different approach in caring for his family. He majored in English translation and then received further instruction in tourism. He has worked in tourism for 16 years. He cares for his family by funding the education of the other brothers and sister.

Law paid for his sister to be a private doctor with the understanding that she is to live with his parents until they die. (He got two doctors for the price of one since she is now engaged to a doctor!) He paid all her bills and she completed her studies in 2017.

Additionally, he paid for his brother’s education, and he is now a teacher which pleases his mother. Law works and saves, but he plans to stop in a few years and be with his aging parents until they die.

Initially, his parents didn’t understand. Law was born right after the end of the Vietnam war. He is a mixture of old and new culture but always with respect. He has the independence of the West and respect for his parents of the East.

The Vietnamese don’t take a holiday or travel. There are happy and feel wealthy when surrounded by their many children. They stay together. It is the circle of life and has monetary advantages.

In 1858 Vietnam became a French protectorate. The French impacted education, lifestyle, architecture and food. Rubber, black pepper, and the baguette are just a few French influences.

Vietnam people know how to fight. They had a war with China in 1978. Both sides lost, but Vietnam is still here. They must be flexible with China and with the USA. Twenty percent of exports go to the United States.

The highest elevation in Vietnam is 11,239 feet above sea level and is on the northwest border of China.

Vietnam shares a land border with Laos, Cambodia, and China. Across the East Sea (South China Sea) lay the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand.

Stretching 1,250 miles long from north to south, Vietnam is difficult to protect. The middle divides the country and this is the weakest point. Vietnam is shaped like the letter S. The narrowest part measures 31 miles.

In the evening, we were invited to watch local traditional dances.

I was asked to partipipate. It was like wooden, moving Chinese jump rope. It was harder that it looks. My friend, Willie, wrenched his knee!