While we were in Sapa, we toured various areas trying to understand the ethnic minorities that lived in the northern mountain regions. The most visible in the town are Hmong and Red Dao (spelled with a “D” but pronounced “Zao”) who sell their handmade wares from person to person. If you buy from one, expect to be swarmed by everyone else who will want you to buy from them as well.
We took a ride up to the Red Dao Village of Ta Phin that had become a bit of a tourist stop, unlike most other villages. The Government of Viet Nam put in a wide sidewalk to make it easier on the tourists, thus encouraging them to stop in.
When you pull up, the ladies jump and run from wherever they are to the van, where you will be swarmed with offers to buy their wares, from handbags, to scarves, to earrings, to blankets or wall coverings. Before the doors opened, Sherman gave us the warning that if you buy early, you will be incessantly hounded by everyone to buy the entirety of your time there, so if you buy, do so at the end.
As we sat in the van listening to Sherman, the ladies outside were pointing at us and chattering. I felt a bit like a monkey in the zoo, something that would come back to me at the end of my tour.
Each of us had a few ladies that followed us up the path, where we stopped at a stone carver’s shop first. We moved on to a local watering hole with a beautiful garden. Finally, we stopped at the home of one of the women, who agreed to let us come inside. I stayed outside and talked with one of the Red Dao ladies that had been following me with her baby on her back. Dennis came out and said, “Art, get in here and bring your camera. There is something you will never see again in your life in here.”
I entered the low door to what turned out to be a really spacious home, albeit one with a dirt floor and a fire pit just inside the door where a man was sitting. They led me to the back of the house where some meat was hanging from low rafters and something on a suspended platform that I couldn’t quite make out.
Dennis reminded me that they had just been through a very hard winter and many of their crops were suffering while quite a few of their livestock had died. Then he told me what was on the platform. One of their water buffalo had died in the winter, so they drug it up to the house and cured it with the other meat and ate it all winter long. You could still make out the horns and some of the other pieces left, though there was not much.
After we started back, the lady with whom I had been talking (who also asked me the BIG question: Why are you here?) began to work a hard sell on me to buy some of here wares. I had already bought all I needed and was watching my money, so I told her pretty early that I wasn’t buying. That didn’t seem to dissuade her at all. The only pause I got was when I told her that she had picked the wrong person. I had no idea why that made an impact, though I would soon find out.
As we got closer to the van, she was really pressing, though she had only one real sales pitch and she stuck to the same questions, “You buy from me?” “No.” “Why you no buy from me?” “I don’t have money to buy.” Slight pause. “You buy from me?”
When we were almost to the van, Margie bought a scarf from one of the ladies, and Gail admired it. I turned to my shadow and asked her if she had something like that to sell to Gail, because she wanted one. She turned and looked at Gail and then told me she had one but couldn’t sell it to her. I asked her why not and she said that the ladies that had been following Gail would be mad if Gail bought from her.
That’s what the pointing was about. They were picking who they were going follow. Once you’ve locked on to someone, it’s like sales people working the floor of a store in the US. You don’t poach someone else’s customer.
When we got on the van, my saleswoman got very animated. She started saying, “Hey, man! Crazy man! Why you no buy from me? I let you talk to my baby! Crazy man! Crazy Monkey!”
Apparently we were monkeys in the zoo. Or at least I was.