Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Black Hmong Guide Named Chay

Chay at Home
Chay was an 18year-old black Hmong guide when I met her at Sapa in February 2007. It was a little crazy as my sister and I visited Sapa twice in one and a half month though we had travelled by different routes to reach there. On our second visit in March, we hired her service again though we could explore on our own. The Hmong guides are great companions and translators. We learned their culture from the stories they shared.
Chay was a nice and smart girl who hung to the phrase "I don't mind" but what she really meant was infect - I don't mind. That was indeed a big mistake and we were shocked at first with her bluntness. After learning what she was trying to express, we corrected her immediately.

Most Hmong are animist but
Pictures of Mother Mary & Jesus
her family was exception. We discovered that she and her family are Catholic when we visited her home. I am so glad to have found this and hope she would keep the good faith. Her home was located few km away from Sapa town. For working convenience, she and her roommate, both working as tour guides rented a little room in town and return home once a week or every fortnight during peak season. Chay is a certified tour guide who gone through short term training and speaks good English where she picked up from foreign visitors. Every morning, she would report to a regular hotel, waiting to be appointed. Sometimes, She would take job from other hotels if there was no tour from her attached hotel. In peak seasons, she made more and during low season, she spent time making embroidery for her new clothes and returned to home more regular.

Duo Zipper Travel Wallet with Detachable Passport Holder

Left - front view;  Right - back view with snap button

I had refused to buy a plastic wardrobe when I was study in Art College. I rather used paper boxes and luggage to keep my clothing. Ironically, I ended up using one for 2 years when a friend who had graduated, left her plastic wardrobe for me before she return to hometown. After working for a year, I bought a big beautiful wooden wordrobe. The same went for my selection of passport cover. I never like those that are sold in the Malaysian Immigration Department. Therefore, my passport stayed naked till this holder was made finally! I couldn't help myself for such attitude-a rather not have then to acquire something I dislike :)

Inside view of passport holder- with pockets and pen holder

I used the same theme as for my sewing journal simply because I adorn this Hmong batik very much. I thought it would be nice to have matching travel wallet, thus the duo zips travel wallet sketch was drafted. I honestly confess that I copied the design of Le Sport Sac 3 Zip cosmetic bag and modified to duo zip, adding a divider in the main compartment, plus initial on the cover. To perfect it and for convenience in usage, I designed the travel wallet and passport holder detachable, it would save my trouble from searching the whole travelling tote in the airport immigration for the little book. I can detach the passport holder just as when I don't need to use the passport. I proudly have my label sew on it :)

With my initial, it is definately mine! No one could say " I want, I want, give it to me".

Left- Divider in the main compartment allows one to separate different currency
Right- Snap and they stay together!
This will all go into my tutorial samples for a workshop I am planning to do next year.  With this reason, I couldn't stop creating & sewing! :)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

My Sewing Journal

It is a pity that I never have a sewing journal though I have been sewing seriously the last few years. I would often draft my sketches on rough paper and disposed them after the projects are completed. More often, I started my project without a sketch; the development came spontaneously as the sewing progress. When I was running my seasonal business, I made table runners, cushion covers, cushions, belts, bags and lots of T-shirt design with minorities' fabric and accessories; and design clothing under the label of "Little Jaipur". Less than 30% were photographed and no sketches were being kept! With dream of publishing my sewing book one day, from now on all sketches and sewing accomplishments will be recorded.

Love It!

Not wanting to get a notebook from store, not even a really nice one. I decided my sewing journal had to be handmade and designed by myself. I went to Kinokuniya bookstore In KLCC one afternoon, found a nice small checker A4 size manuscript pad in light grey lines from Japan. I thought this would be good as the insert for my sewing journal. I also like the local made A4 size graph pad with nice pale blue lines.I stayed there for quite awhile, couldn't decide which to choose for. At last, I opted for the graph pad as it was much cheaper. From my book shelve, I took reference from books with ring binding and notebooks with fabric cover to study the construction. The end result after 3 days works was this lovely journal.

Open views
Love the vintage design scrapbooking paper I used on the first page. I am planning do a owner's inscription on a small plain paper and paste onto it.
I made the wrong choice by using water based white glue to paste the fabric for the inside front cover. It didn't stick well and leave glue stains on the fabric. I should just use a double sided tape to do the job. Well, it is the first book and I accepted the flaw.

Materials - The indigo dyed Hmong batik used on the cover was made from homespun cotton. I purchased it from Bac Ha Sunday market last year. I specifically chosen an old aged roll which the vendor sold it to me for a mere US$4. Good buy! It measured 1 foot width x 13 feet. The natural weave hemp was my treasure where I purchased it in Chiangmai years ago.

I hope this inspires you to start your sewing or crafting journal, best if it is one handmade by yourselves.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Northern Vietnam - A Cultural Exchange Experience

A little break at Le Petite Cafe, Sapa
My last trip to Sapa, Northern Vietnam took place in March 2009. Joining me were my good brother Subra and an old friend Pam. I made plan and booking for the trip since I have been there couple of times.

Before departure, I contacted Chay, my regular black Hmong guide who speaks reasonably well in english to be our guide during our time there. I missed my little Hmong friends Mae and Sung very much; wondering how there did with their study. I carried with me instant nyonya curry chicken paste, packed coconut milk and lemon grass to cook for a my little friends and family our local dish. When we arrived Sapa after a 10 hour journey on train from Hanoi and 45 minutes ride on van from the Lao Cai train station, Chay, Mae and Sung  awaited us at our hotel. Chay was cool with her newly straighten hairstyle and the 2 young girls were so shy. We went for breakfast in the popular French cafe Baguette and Chocolate.

The next day, we went marketing in Sapa market. I really appreciated Chay's effort in bargaining when buying cooking ingredients. We carried with us a 2 chickens, potatoes, vegetables, pineapple ,few loafs of French bread and the ingredients I brought from home and trekked 7 km to Lao Chai, a black Hmong village- home to Mae and Sung.

Everyone was busy helping with the cooking preparation. I cooked the curry chicken while Pam in charged for stir fry vegetable. When I saw the big packet of MSG "Ajinomoto" in their dark kitchen, I was so shocked. For someone who hardly uses MSG at home, that supply would last 5 years in my kitchen. However, it is understandable for they couldn't afford meat, prawn and etc to add flavors to their plain cooking. Meat is consumed on special occasions only.

Many of their neighbors came to check out what was going on. When the meal was cooked and being served on the on the knee high table, Mae's mother went to close the main door?? Maybe she just wanted us to enjoy a meal without being disturbed. The Hmong are not use to spicy food but they enjoyed the meal very much and Mae's mother had 2 serving for chicken and curry.

Join us? :)
Thereafter, we visited Sung's home where I gave a little sewing tutorial to Mae, Sung and few other girls in their village while Subra and Pam explored the village. I will share the sewing session in my next post.
We have another cooking session in Banho where we had our home stay in a Tay's home. It was a 6 hours trek from Taven village as we took it leisurely. Three of us either had back problem or osteoarthritis. At the last part of the journey, I was descending the hills like a crab; Whereas Pam  had to be transported to Tay's home by motorcycle few km before reaching. Subra was slow but steady. Along the journey, Chay showed us herbs that grown naturally in the wild. We started picking them and kept it for Subra's pasta sauce where he planned to share with the Tay's family.

Master Chef in action
The next morning was Subra's show time. We informed the kitchen, we will cook for everyone including an Australian couple putting up in the home stay too. With other ingredients and some pork and carrot provided by the kitchen, Subra started cooking. The herbs we picked along the trek adds great aroma to the sauce. It was really a tasty meal and the home stay owner's wife had serving after serving. This was her first taste Spaghetti Bolognese which was prepared by a wonderful cook - Subra!

It was such a wonderful trip. A great cultural exchange experience!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Northern Vietnam - Hues of Colours

In 2004 I visited Sapa for the first time, backpacking with my girlfriend- Chwe. I felt in love with this place and in the next 5 years I revisited it 3 times and further explored to other regions of Northern Vietnam. Back in 2004 Airasia hasn't fly to Hanoi, we were told that not many Malaysian visited Sapa then. I enjoyed these trips very much with all the great trekking experiences, meeting and making friends with different hill tribes.

Friendly Red Dao girls at Taphin Village
Being someone who loves ( more accurately is obsessed with)  fabric ,sewing and crafting, I had full harvest each trip with embroidered textiles, tribes old costumes, and modern finished products made with tribes textiles. Some were kept as personal collection and many were sold in my little seasonal business which I ran together with my sister who shared same passion with me. It was tough job to bring our harvest home with all the walking with heavy loads and multiple travelling transports. I came home each trip with body ache but they were worthy.

From the tribes markets in all the countries I visited, I brought back accessories which the hill tribes use to make their costume like hand woven fabric, buttons, laces and etc. All these accessories add characters and flavours to my sewing projects.
Colourful blanket in Bac Ha market

Blankets made from assembling of few old Hmong pleated skirts are commonly found in Sapa and Bac Ha Sunday market. The blankets made by  Flower Hmong as shown on the left are panels of fully embroidered with cross stitches. Their works are colourful as how they were regarded as "Flower Hmong". There is also another more subtle colour combination in indigo dye batik with brown, white and red cross stitches and applique panel which is not shown on my blog. That is rare and more expensive. My last set was given to my sister as Christmas present.

Black Hmong blanket
The black Hmong blanket are combinations of Indigo dyed batik with panels of cross stitches and appliques. The original colours range from yellow orange and deep pink with red. As these blankets are an assembling of old pleated skirts, those really seasoned pieces are further dyed in various colour like yellow, lime green and purple. However, my preference sticks to original colours. These are easily obtainable in Sapa. Prices subject to the intricacy, condition and size of the blanket. If you get them in Hanoi, be prepared to pay 3 times or more for the price. My advice is to buy them in Sapa if you are taking a trip there and have the backing sew in Hanoi if you are making them into bed cover or anything you had in mind.

Left- White Hmong skirts from Mai Chau; Middle -  Tay applique of wallhanging and covers;
Left top- Headcloth of unknown tribe; Left below- Hmong children hats

I have bought rolls of the panel and indigo dyed batik for my crafting and sewing projects. I have the habits of buying something and think about what to do with them later. They came in handy when I used them for designing T-shirts, table runners, cushion covers and belt for my little store previously. The response was especially great on T-shirt & table runners! Some of materials and knick-knacks have sat in the cupboard for years before I decide to use them for my projects. My husband sometimes tease me collecting junks. Some of the places like villages and town in rural area are not easily accessable and you wouldn't make another trip in near future.  It is best to grab what you like than to regret! These items are getting less and more difficult to obtain these days. The next trip you will need to spend much more money on it.

Left - fabrics of Vietnam hill tribes; Right-  Laces from Vietnam and China and accessories

So, if you are into sewing, crafting and love collecting beautiful stuffs, be sure to grab some of the hill tribes needle works when you visit Northern Vietnam. Be it in its original form or modern design of bags, wall hanging and etc.