For many visitors, beautiful Sapa can be a little annoying with all the tribal women accosting you in the streets to buy souvenirs. But behind the sales pitch are real people struggling to make a living in a world that offers little opportunity for tribal communities. Chu, a feisty little Black Hmong woman, followed us through the streets trying to sell us bracelets, postcards, whatever. She tried all her cleverly designed sales pitches and edgy one-liners without any success. Somehow, our resistance to her spiel seemed to intrigue her. She even labeled me “Mr. No.” Over the course of the day, we encountered her several times and eventually spent some time talking to her.
What struck me most was how intelligent and witty she was. Her English language skills were exceptional and, in another world, she would have been a high-powered business woman, a politician, or a scientist. Instead, she travels the long distance from her village to Sapa every day to stalk tourists and earn a little money to help maintain her family. Good for you, Chu.
Mr. No! That is toooo funny! I think I would really like her!
Great post! I recently did an academic piece at uni on the Black Hmong after visiting Sapa and the issues that you’ve seen are just the start. Neocolonialism, social constraints, loss of identity and suicide. There is a really good documentary about it, won heaps of awards down here in Aus which you might like.
after visiting Vietnam a month ago, i still get a bit nostalgic sometimes and tonight i started searching the internet for pictures of Sapa, which was the highlight of our journey there… and guess who i see? Chu!!!! Our lovely, super special guide. Me and my husband only stayed two days in Sapa, and she was the first person we met on the street at our arrival. She was still waiting for us in front of our hotel after a couple of hours with a smile on her face, even though we had clearly said ‘no’ at the beginning. Her laugh… her smile… it just made it harder to resist, so we decided to take her offer to trek for a few hours to her village and have lunch with her. It was the most amazing experience in our lives, and we will always remember Chu! (Actually, her son writes her name ‘Tru’, but i guess that’s how she writes it to make it easier on foreigners). And guess what? I found her in another blog entry here.
You’ll be happy to know that 5 years on, she’s doing great, is still smiling with the same irresistible grin, has 5 children and a brand new wooden hut. Cheers to Sapa, and cheers to Chu!
Thanks Susanna for letting us know that Chu is still out there spreading her charm. We often wonder about the people we have met along the way, and it’s always great to get updates from other travelers. I wish we had had more time then to visit Chu’s village and family, but we were pressed for time. Thanks again for the great news and for taking your time to write to us.