Off to Bac Ha Sunday Market

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At home, market day is a Saturday. And having grown up at the trade center and used to sell ice candies on market days made by my mom, the market scenario is very interesting, especially at the start of the day when farmers from far flung barrios and vendors from nearby towns bring in their goods. My favorite part is before the clock strikes 8 in the morning when consumers arrive in throngs. The market place is teeming with fresh, organic produces from the barrios, poultries, woven products, wood carvings and of course the group of vendors selling ready-to-eat food, groceries, clothes, footwear, house and farming implements, toys and others. 

Why I made a long detail about it is because I was like transported to the 80’s market scenario of home when we got to Bac Ha for the Sunday market.  Local products on display were aplenty– cooked sticky rice in various colors and flavors; sacks of corn flour; wide range of spices, vegetables and livestock, gallons of local wine; and many stalls selling colorful traditional textiles and souvenir items. 

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But what made this market stand out from the rest of the markets I’ve been to is how the locals participating in this fair dress up. Market day here is a colorful parade of culture and tradition.  Everyone is dressed up in the local garb of the ethnic tribe they are affiliated with. Most of the locals I saw were from the Black H’mong and Flower H’mong tribes. Other tribes who participate here are Black Zao, Tay and Phu La.   It is an interesting trade fair and a happy family-bonding time for the locals, an experience worthy of an 8-hour journey on a sleeper train or bus from Hanoi and a 2-hour bus ride from Lao Cai.

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Oh did I mention that there were drinking sprees as well? Even how they cook meat is the same as home…big chunks, boiled. Had it not been for the chopsticks, the attires and the language, I would have thought it was in Ifugao or somewhere in the Cordillera Region in the Philippines.

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On a side trip to a village about 2 kilometers from the market, there were little boys playing wooden top. It’s cone-shaped, about 6 inches in length and 4 inches in diameter. To rotate it, a string tied to a stick is twirled around the top’s neck and whirled on the ground by throwing it straight and pulling the stick upwards.

Reminds me of our version, we call bow-wot. It is shorter and shaped like a badminton shuttlecock. To spin it, we tie one end of the string on our index or middle finger, twirl the string around the top’s neck, curl up the hand holding the top as we pull it behind, and hurl the top to the ground, pulling the string in the process. Just be careful, getting hit by this is really painful.

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