|Sapa Market...Sue Mae (oldest sister) and me (no bath, no hot water, no makeup)|
The New York Times featured at article in the Art and Design section about a region near Oaxaca, Mexico. A village close by has remained untouched by the modern world. The article was aptly titled The Past Has a Presence Here.
The past is visible in the landscape. The past casts a sharp shadow here, wherever you look. You see it on mountaintop plateaus, where the ruins of ancient pyramidal staircases and capital-I-shaped ball fields hint at mysterious rituals that disappeared over a millennium ago.
When you stand on a flattened hilltop above the village of Atzompa, some seven miles outside of Oaxaca, and look over at a nearby peak, you can glimpse the immense ruins of Monte Albán, a pre-Columbian plaza of breathtaking expanse used for ceremonies and games. Below those ruins, where perhaps 25,000 people lived in the early part of the first millennium, you can make out faint remnants of terraced farming on the hillside. New York Times, June 15, 2012The Times article pointed out that even in this place the stalls in the market feature Sponge Bob Square Pants t-shirts. And yes, McDonalds came to Oaxaca in 2002. In this case, you must travel the 7 miles from Oazaca to Atzompa to escape the omni-present fast food business. The truth is, in order for a person to get a glimpse of what was, most humans must be left behind...a distant hill or village has to be the destination.
When my husband and I visited Sapa, Vietnam this last winter, we could not believe our good fortune. The food was authentic and the only tourists we saw were trekkers. There was not a McDonalds in sight. We shopped in markets run by H'mong people that did not call Vietnam nor China home. They belonged to a culture of their own. The H'mong women that were sent to town each week for a few days followed us relentlessly asking us to buy their trinkets. I was adopted by a woman named Jan. She trailed behind us like a puppy for a whole day. She could not read nor write. Western culture had not ruined her true nature. The face she showed us was one of a childlike innocence. She let us know that all the women talked about our family. My husband and I were a rarity because of our age.
When we were in Hanoi, the real Vietnam was still very much in evidence. Vendors began crowding the street to set up stalls at 5:30 a.m. so people that lived in that neighborhood could do their daily shopping. They brought the produce on their shoulders to the street balanced like a scale while riding bicycles. A loud speaker outside our bedroom window woke the neighborhood at 7:00 am with daily announcements. (Shades of Good Morning Vietnam with Robin Williams)
|French Villa style setting.|
|Night Train...open windows? WOW!|
|Cat Cat Village, Vietnam|
A few French villas left from the times of the French colonization dotted the hillsides. The people in the country side lived as they has been living since heaven knows when. But, in order for us to see that, we walked down stairs and paths that made the adrenaline rush as the thought that, if you fell, you would die flashed through the mind. It was only then that we saw the H'mong people living much like generations before.
I suppose the lesson here is that the real cultures of the world are disappearing at the speed of light and, if we want to see something authentic, we need to dress in suitable clothes, bring a helmet in case you fall and wear good walking shoes. It is not physically easy.
I recommend you read Seth Kugel, of the NYT. I especially recommend this article he wrote about Mexico.
By SETH KUGEL