As we continued our trek to the villages in the valley near Sapa, Vietnam, we walked through a portion of the trek that looked like a dirt road that was in the middle of construction. Our tour guide May said that this was the new route to the village that the Vietnamese government is building, hopefully providing easier access to the remote mountainous villages.

As we walked there, a man on a motorbike came from behind, and when May saw him coming, she smiled and starting chatting a little bit with the bike rider before he continued on his ride and left us. Then May told us that the bike rider was her husband — he works as a motorcycle driver who shuttles people between the town of Sapa and the surrounding villages.

During our trek, May told us about the culture within the minority groups in Sapa, including her own tribe, the H’mong. She told us the story of her own life experience as a H’mong girl who ended up marrying a Vietnamese man and now working as a tour guide. She said the culture was still quite strong within the community.

She was then 23 years old, but she had quite a life story already. When she was 18, a young man in her village wanted to ask her hand in marriage, and since he came from wealthier family than hers, her parents wouldn’t object to that request. In the H’mong culture, in fact typically marriages were traditionally arranged by the parents, and the girls didn’t have much say in the matter. In May’s case, however, it was different. She didn’t want to be married to this young man, so she decided to run away and leave her family and village. Somehow she figured out a way to make a living, met her husband, got married, and then returned back to Sapa area. She faced several oppositions as she came back. The local girls whom she knew when she was young didn’t want to associate with her anymore because of what she did (running away from the village) and because she’s working as a tour guide, which meant she’s making more money than her peers. Her own family was slowly warming up to accept her back, though it was still difficult situation due to the hurt feelings. Since she married a Vietnamese, her husband’s family also at times looked down on her given that she’s from a minority tribe. Then she had a young baby girl, two years of age, who during the week stayed with her in-laws in Lao Cai. She and her husband got to see their daughter during the weekend.

Despite of all of those hardships, it was pretty neat to hear her talking about her life experience without any regrets or any ill feelings towards others. And she sounded very optimistic, and still looked forward towards the future with some potential side business ideas that she wants to pursue. It was quite impressive to hear her story, and I think it provided us with a good perspective of what it’s like to live within a minority group in the increasingly diverse world that is looking for more cultural integration.

I took the portrait photo of May below as we walked through our trek. I think this was a good snapshot that summarized her attitude, always optimistic, and full of smile.


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