Sunday, October 31, 2010

Journey of Northwest Loop Vietnam-Chapter 3

Turned and I got you.
On our journey to Dien Bien Phu, just before Tuan Giao, we came across some Tay children walking home from school. While our children carry fancy bags with Ben Ten, Barbie or Disney cartoons, they used colorful hand woven sling bags with enduring beauty that never go out of a fashion. (At least that is my opinion). These types of bags are commonly used in Indochina with variation in motifs and colors. 

Let's try this.
Sa People-Life must be hard, smile was luxury.
I always bring along used children's clothes and toys when I travel to Northern Vietnam.  By the roadside near to a Tay village, we stopped the jeep when we spotted a woman with her naked child. I gave her child some old clothes. Very soon, more children and adults rushed down from their stilt houses at the slope next to the road to get their shares. Some distance away, we met one of the poorest tribes in Vietnam, the Sa people. They were small in size and worn shabby clothes. They wore modern clothing and the ladies were clad in Sarongs. We distributed some candies and clothes to the kids. 

At times, I felt reluctant to give away used fashionable children's clothes as I worried this might affect them from keeping their traditional attires. But when I saw those children didn't have enough clothings to keep them warm or having enough change of clothes, I added in the extra load to my backpack. Their mothers couldn't make sufficient clothes for them as their costumes take longer time to produce and kids need frequent change of clothes. 

In Tandem

bundles of spun cotton
Our jeep had a flat tyre when we were at the town of Tuan Giao. Luckily for us, we got to roam the town and meet the locals while our driver changed the tyre and had the flat tyre repaired in a nearby workshop. I bought two bundles of embroidery spun cotton and some beautiful laces where the hill tribes used to decorate their costumes, etc. These laces are being extensively used by hill tribes from Thailand, Vietnam and China and the choices 
Black Tay
here were better than the city in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. The prices were cheaper than the ones in the city. Another thing I did in this town was to follow the ladies like a puppy, admiring their intricate embroideries or beautifully woven textiles closely. The Tay ladies that I have met along the Northwest loop Vietnam mostly appeared in neatly tied hair buns or head cloths; dressed in tightly fitted and well coordinated outfits. These ladies in rural areas really took care of their appearances.

Am I cool?
The flat tyre of our jeep was fast being replaced. Our journey continued after the short break. Before arriving Dien Bien Phu where we would spend the night, we came across the coolest girl we ever met in Northern Vietnam. I am not sure if that was a common hairstyle for the local kids but it was the same hairstyle we found in old Chinese paintings and porcelains.

We arrived Dien Bien Phu town before it turned dark.  Dien Bien Phu attracts many French tourists for it was where the French last colonialism in Indochina ended with its defeat to the Viet Minh. As our trip was short and our main purpose for this trip was to meet the locals, we didn't visit the relics left for this decisive battlefield.

DIEN BIEN PHU HA NOI HOTEL - the guest house that we put up was really big. This jointly operated guesthouse between Dien Bien Phu Tourism Ltd. Co and Ha Noi tourist was pleasant (to our standard) and we paid about US$12 for double bed with attached bathroom, hot shower and buffet breakfast.  In the town, there was photo shop where we could copy our pictures into CD and a young man in the shop was adept in Adobe Photoshop programme. He adjusted my photos in his computer to their best quality before developing them! The people here might not speak English, but they were amiable and helpful.

We had a good sleep in Dien Bien Phu after the long journey.

P/S: to be continued in chapter 4 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Journey of Northwest Loop Vietnam -Chapter 2

It was not a misty morning scene but a hazy afternoon caused by open burning
The serenity of the country side and ways of life brought us back in time. The setting was just perfect for an old movie except the few dis harmonizing satellite dishes and antennas sticking out from the roofs like sore thumbs. 

Purchased a bundle of vegetable in exchange
for a photo shot with a Black Tay lady :)
The parched plateau of Sonla in the dry season was no less colorful and interesting. Nevertheless, the richness of its diverse hill tribes residents has painted this land with vibrant colours when the weather is wetter. The markets were a perfect place to experience the local flavours. We visited markets by the roadside, in open and enclosed areas. We had fun buying vegetables which we brought to the restaurant later for cooking and chasing after the Tay ladies for snap shots on them. The problem was I used a normal digital camera; with no fancy zoom lens, I could only capture the objects from a near distance. I was afraid of offending them, being rejected and warned by them; hence most of the time I tried to take photos without being noticed.

Cheers, got you!
The Tay was the most distinctive to me with their hair tied into buns and head cloth. My sister and I thought it was pretty cool. I wonder how long they take to wash their hair each time.

 Mama Bun                 vs                     Baby Bun                      vs                     Trendy Bun

The shooting continued when I explored the market with my head cloth on. I was annoyed and I felt uneasy. I was not a local, why take my photos? Then, I realised and empathize with the local.......
I had fun buying the Tay head cloths and other sewing accessories used to make their costumes in a small market not long after we left the Son La town. A Tay lady helped me to set the head cloth on me. A tourist with a sophisticated camera found his new subject and started taking pictures of me while I was posing for Tyng in one of vegetable stalls.

Unidentified ethnic group in an eatery place

In the same market, we spotted these two ladies, I presumed they were mother and daughter. I couldn't identify which minority group they belong to, but I guess it might be from a branch of the Hmong. There were similarities in the batik fabric, embroidery and applique. Their costumes were really nice with the layering and I really love the small vests. And it was uncommon to see a hill tribe with short hair. There are 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam and some ethnic groups have sub branches and locality differences. Whenever, I met a new ethnic group on my trip to Vietnam, I will get excited. Today, I have met about 13 ethnic groups and it will take a long time to meet them all.

A visit to a Tay village in Son La - Tay girl enjoying the snack from us.
We enjoyed meeting children on our trips. In our backpack, we carried with us some old toys, stationary, hair accessories, candies and snacks. By sharing with them these things, we could easily break ice with the local kids. Those little things always come in handy. We never pay for photography even if we were asked to.  This was to avoid cultivating the habits among them. 

As our journey on the Northwest loop was somewhat brief, we omitted visiting pagodas, waterfalls, museums and relics, focusing mainly on markets and remote villages. For my next trip I will visit the museums in these areas to have a better understanding on their history and diverse ethnic minorities. 

Goodbye Sonla. Tyng and I continued our journey to Tuan Giao.

P/S: to be continued in chapter 3

Monday, October 18, 2010

Journey of Northwest Loop Vietnam -Chapter 1

If I could ride a bike, and being a good rider, I would take my adventure on the less travelled roads of Northern Vietnam on a bike. But I can't.....I could only charter a jeep with an experienced Vietnamese driver to visit this enchanting land. It was a memorable trip my sisiter and I took in 2007

Among the less travelled roads in Northern Vietnam, the northwest loop is the only one accessible by jeep. Other less travelled roads could only be accessed by bike and of course, by foot if you have the time. The experience of travelling on the northwest loop is awesome, even though we did not get to travel by bike. I can't remember exactly, but I think we paid US$530 for the service of a jeep and a driver for the 3 days 2 nights journey with a reliable travel agent, Handspan, in Hanoi. We didn't hire a tour guide but we had expressed our interest with the tour office when we made our booking. One experience I learnt from travelling in Vietnam, especially in Hanoi is a penny for a penny. Prices equal to quality. I would rather pay a little more to a reliable travel agent than to get really frustrated. We had a good driver and though the jeep had a punctured tyre, we arrived safely at Sapa.

Our journey started from Hanoi, passing Moc Chau, Mai Chau, Sonla, Thuan Chau, staying overnight in Dien Bien Phu, continuing to Lai Chau, Tamduong and ending the second night in Sapa. We did'nt hop on the jeep on the third morning when the driver made the return trip to Hanoi on the less interesting highway passing Yen Bai as we wanted to spend more time in Sapa and tracking around. However the charges remained the same as he had to drive his way back to Hanoi.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

recycled and refashioned - Tote Bag

Before                                                                                     After

I picked up this Island shop (one of my favorite brand) linen top with beautiful prints during one of the wardrobe clearing session of my sister -in -law. I am not voluptuous enough to wear  the top but I thought  of redesigning  it into something....

The top is just perfectly to be redesigned into a tote bag. It was not difficult to just sew the opening at the bottom and turned it right into a tote bag. But I thought it would be better off with some pockets for my nick-knacks and the interlay would add weight to the tote for firmness.

Women are more complicated than men in many ways... for one we have more nick-knacks to carry around...thus, compartments are useful.

Open up the seam along the bust lines & sewn an orange inlay,
there they are - 2 pockets outside and another 2 inside the bag.

Left- A loop to hold the keys save the trouble looking for them!
Right - The original side zipper of the top

A lot of patient needed to do the embroidery

To give the tote some texture I embroidered it with chain stitches and added some wooden beads and buttons. Finally I added  a tassel which I removed from  a curtain panel some years ago. I always thought it would be useful one day.

During one of the family meeting, I showed my sister-in-law the bag and asked if it looked familiar to her. She was puzzled for a moment and cried out when she recognized it.

I have given a new life to her top and this gorgeous tote catches many of my friends' attention. 

Let's reduce, reuse and recycle!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Music Bags

N for Ning & Z for Zen
My sweety Pie

My two girls like to play with my fabrics and they have indicates their preferances to me. My collection of ethnic textiles is not their cup of tea; they prefer fabrics with country design or with cute graphics. Pink tones are their favorite.... obviously influenced by Barbie Doll but I try to help them to appreciate other lovely colours as well. My elder daughter Zen would browse through my newly arrived craft books and then placed her orders. With my handful of projects all the time, she had long wait each time. My younger one, Ning, who turned 4 not long ago, has learned to "place order" just like her sister. Sibling rivalry is very obvious. All mums understand this. 

Zen was complaining that her music bag (Non-Woven Polypropylene eco bag) was heavy with her music books. The light weight shoulder straps do not give support and making her shoulder hurts. Hence, the idea of making them signature music bags with strong shoulder straps came into my mind. 

Custom make- the music books fit in perfectly
Both side views for Zen's bag

The 2 bags were my labour for this week. Zen & Ning jumped with joy to see their new bags and their kisses are my best reward. This morning , both of them happily used their new bags for their music lessons :)

P/S: I am planning to start a tutorials for some of my sewing and crafting projects. So, just look out for it. I hope it doesn't take too long  :)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Little Sewing Session

Mie & Sung
March in Sapa is pleasant, with minimal rainfall and warmer but not extreme temperatures. The scenery in Northern Vietnam during this dry season ( January -June) may not be as green as in the raining season (June-August) but it definitely more convenience to carry on with the activities there. My backpack was lighter and made room for the gifts I had brought for my guide Chay; my little Hmong friends Sung and Mie plus some sewing kits, materials and accessories for tutorial. With lighter load, it allow faster mobility...... especially the long walking to and fro the train stations.

Lesson 1
Many of the Hmong girls helped to generate income to their families by selling little handicrafts and accessories to tourists. It is sad that they would skip school when they wanted to get income, especially during peak season. Skipping school to help in the field or nursing the younger ones were also common. Some of the goods they sold were handmade by themselves while others were obtained from wholesaler.  I found these items they made were in limited variety and never change since my first visit in 2004. Those stuffs might have been dated longer than that...

Muichi joined the session too!
(Muichi is a sock toy made by me)
Those are things that you might purcharse simply to help the girls more that you really like. And it is unlikely you wanted to get them again on your next visit. Set apart the friendship bands which cost penny. There was how the idea of the little sewing session came into my mind.

Now that Sung had dropped out from school and Mie being less interest in attending school regularly. For this reasaon my intention on sponsoring them for education had to be ceased. They did not understand the importance of education while their parents thought making the extra Dollars were bigger issue. Can't blame them, their stomachs and basic needs had to be met first. I hoped to give them new ideas. At least before they can start working as tour guide, they can make something new to sell and find pleasure in trying new stuffs.

I brought with me some plain fabric and accessories for making rings, key chains, brooch, decorative hair band, hanging mobile...... We had the sewing session in Sung's house after my visit to Mie's house for lunch where I prepared a Malaysian delight-Curry Chicken. I taught them to make yoyo and mini heart shape pillow. With the yoyo, they could turn it into ring, elastic hairband, hairclip, brooch, keychain and etc. They were excited to see those little gadgets and eager to learn.While Sung's mother felt shy to join but was observing what we did. She took out her stash of scraps for us to use. From the condition of her stash, you knew how precious of materials and resources. Just like the olden days, when things used to get the second life after they weren't be able to use as their original forms.

Yoyo ring, brooch and elastic hair band made with Hmong textile

I have derived so much pleasure just by getting to know them better, especially both their weaknesses and strenghts.  I feel so privileged to be able to know them and get close to them.  It makes life more interesting for me. I wish I could stay longer to teach them more stuffs and proper sewing. Up till today, I still can not comprehend, why they spent long hours making beautiful intricate embroidery but finished the work with perfunctory stitching. I will find out on my future visit.... advice me if it is rude to ask.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Unforgetable Faces.......(1)

I kept returning to Northwest Vietnam  because of  her beautiful people. I have a soft spot for children... their faces have always been  imprinted in my heart. I wish they could have a better life and education and most importantly, be freed  from oppression......

Finally the long awaited  good news have materialised ....The establishment of "Hope Centre" in Hao Thao village has brought in rays of hope to the Hmong around Sapa. It is a community center that acts as a gathering place for the Hmong people. It also provides job training to Hmong girls; A Centre mainly dedicated to the taylor school for the girls. As the majority of Hmong families can’t afford to not have all hands in the family working then to let thier children attend school,  the taylor school in Hope Centre even pays girls to come learn taylor skills and it also gives them a free meal each day. That's a good beginning.  I wish more such centres will be set up around the region, bringing hopes to more tribes around the region.

I wish I could take better a picture speaks a thousand words. All the pictures shown are taken by a normal digital camera and touched up with photoshop.

Info of Hope Centre obtained from