Posted by Amanda
We are all squared away in our mosquito netted floor mats in the Ma Chau Village. We got up early of course because this is an SAS trip to catch a plane to Hanoi. We then got on a bus to Ma Chau. I guess our guide had different expectations regarding the time it takes to get to Ma Chau and our ability to stay awake after leaving the ship at 4:15am. The bus ride was not as long as projected at about 3-4 hours. We did stop at a little stand that had ramen noodles. One student was excited to play some ping pong with the locals there. There was a very cute cat with a dog standing guard of it.
We arrived in Ma Chau between 1-2 with nothing to really do. The bus couldn't make it into the village so we had to walk in the last bit. The house we are staying in wasn't ready for us yet as the last group was getting ready for lunch. Our guide gave us some free time to wander around.
Apparently this village is famous for its silk. All of the houses are on stilts and they use the lower part to sell and weave their products. The houses have thatched roofs and open windows. The floor is just bamboo slats on top of slightly stronger beams of wood. The area we were waiting in seemed to be the family's area as it had a television and a hammock strung up. There was also a little cat there too.
At 3:30 our guide walked us around the village and through the rice paddies. It was exactly like what you think Vietnam is --rice paddies and women with cone hats tending them. We also saw a lot of dogs. Our guide says dogs are good luck which is why people sometimes eat them--to get their good luck.
Our dinner was served on the floor with 5 at a small table just a few inches off the floor. It wasn't great as the meat was boney and fatty and the flavors were not spicey enough. After dinner a group came in and did a cultural show. It was nice but they seemed a bit new at it often looking at each other to get the next dance move. They also seemed so stone-faced as if this was not at all what they wanted to be doing. It ended with a large jug of rice wine with long bamboo straws for all of us to try. It was guite good and sweet.
A few students heard about a party at the soccer field so we all walked over there. Some bought wine jugs along the way. It is unclear if the wine is made with well water or not. If it is, I guess we'll find out when everyone is sick in the morning.
Noah and a student and I came back early. Without knowing who or what the party was for, I didn't want to stay too long. Perhnaps we were stealing someone's thunder. We sat on our house's steps playing with a dog who gallently chewed off my Brazilian wish bracelet. I figure that if having the bracelet fall off grants your wish and having a lucky dog chew it off, then my luck must be doubly good.
Posted by Noah
We're getting a little too comfortable with these trips--we're starting to forget to pack things. This is a nice group, it seems. Only 15 people and all of them expecting to rough it. There are still a few dustbowls, of course.
One thing we forgot to pack was toilet paper, so I stole some from the bathroom in the Hanoi airport. I'm probably an enemy of the state now.
I did sleep on the bus, but I saw a lot of beautiful scenery--endless green and little skinny mountains. Not a wholly alien landscape, but nothing quite like I'd ever seen.
Before we arrived at the village, we paused for a look down at it from above on the mountain. The patchwork way the rice paddies fit together was quite beautiful.
Our guide, Hung, has three kids. Like China, Vietnam regulates the number of children you can have at 2 (China is at 1). Hung has three as his second pregnancy was twins.
I'm not 100% sure we have this right, but Ma Chau is a Thai village, as in the people are descendants of people from Thailand, not to be confused with the Tai minority, native to Vietnam. Regardless it's astoundingly beautiful. I imagine it didn't look too different 100 or 200 years ago. Probably had more trees, dirt roads, and fewer satellite dishes.
I liked dinner a bit more than Amanda, but her compaints were valid. I found the semi-amature quality of the show rather charming, compaired to the one we saw in Brazil. At the end we were brought up to try to walk through bamboo rods the performers were banging together rhythimcally on the floor, bringing them together and apart. The goal was to figure out the rhythm and get through without stepping on the rods or getting caught.
At the party, the SAS students sang "Build Me Up, Buttercup..." sort of and some other stuff. Following a toilet paper mummy contest by the locals, which made me feel better about stealing tp. We also saw two dogs having sex. Not doggy-style, oddly, just standing back to back, joined, motionless. It was like protestant dog sex.
To me the wine tasted like rubbing alcohol.
Now that I think about it there is plenty of cause to doubt Ma Chau's authenticity. They are a major tourist destination--there was a billboard on the road from Hanoi. So it's possible that tourist money has made it more modern, or that it's deliberately "quaint" for tourists.