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Published: February 7th 2017
As I gaze out of the doors across the paddy fields my thoughts remain indistinct. Gauzy, flimsy and somewhat opaque - like the mosquito net covering our mattress in the communal stilt house in Mai Chau. Not quite the homestay I had imagined but is anything what we really imagine?
Yesterday we had cycled 14km around the local villages and paddy fields ending up in the market, a bustling, thriving centre for Tet purchases. We had bought baskets of goodies for our homestays back in Hanoi, joining in the spirit of things, watching the locals stock up on food for the four day celebration. We ate com lam, a winter delicacy of sticky rice rammed into a bamboo holder and grilled until cooked served with peanuts and salt and sipped dark caramel flavoured Vietnamese coffee.
At the back of the market, meat is sold and being a vegetarian I had rapidly averted my eyes in case I saw things I didn't want to see. Nothing is hidden. All is eaten.
'Did you see the dogs?' Kevin asked. We had palled up with an Australian family taking their two teenage girls for an Asian education. No, surely not was
our response. Unfortunately the photos proved to be correct. Three bodies laid out with fangs bared proved that indeed the consumption of dog meat was still occurring. Trying to remain neutral we asked our guide, Tam, if this was true and did he eat dog? Oh yes, he responded, but not often, it is very expensive. He seemed to explain that these were dogs bred especially for their meat and weren't pets but it is not sure if that is the truth or whether our understanding was incorrect. Pork and beef costs about 50 or 60k dong and dog meat is about 120k he continued. There is a special restaurant in town which serves it if you want. No we did not want.
And so here I am as the mists peel back from the paddies, men and women out already toiling in the fields wondering how I feel about dog meat. To kill a dog for meat is surely the same as killing a cow or pig isn't it? Sentient beings which can show affection and loyalty. But is the devotion and love shown by a family pet to be repaid by being a meal on a plate?
Are we talking ethics or cultural upbringing?
The next day on our motorbike ride up into the hills we come across a group of men gathered around a newly slaughtered pig. 100kg of meat, Thiep our guide proudly tells us. I feel this might be a good time to advise him I am vegetarian, although not averse to eating seafood. So who has ethics now?
Water buffaloes and cows we meet are sleek and well fed, an obvious link to wealth and well-being as their tiny paddies would hardly need the buffalo to plow. In this lead up to Tet there are very few workers in the fields, the small poly-tunnels bursting with green rice seedlings ready to sow after the holidays. A very busy time. I may feel disgust at the amount of plastic littering the place but it has had its uses. The plastic covered cold-frames now allow the farmers to have two crops a year providing them with double the income.
Up here in the mountains the Thai people (yes, not a mistake) speak little if any Vietnamese demonstrated by our simple 'Com o'n' (thank you) for a photo met with an incredulous 'I
don't understand what they're saying', as interpreted by the guide. Maybe our accent wasn't good! We leave the wonderfully photogenic paddies and descend into the valley to Hang village. Sunflowers greet us and are planted outside every house. As we sit under a stilt house and wait for our lunch to be cooked I look around and wonder what is different. It takes me a while but there doesn't seem to be a plastic bag in sight. After lunch we walk the paths behind the houses and no, no plastic! We laugh and think that this must be a strong contender for the best kept village competition! Seriously, it needs to be commended and whether for tourists or for their own well-being it proves achievable. I try to find out more on the internet but other than seeing that this village hosts trekkers on four and six day walks I can find out no more.
I have further things to ponder as we view the cave 1200 steps high above Mai Chau where the whole town sheltered during repeated American bombing during the war. I imagine the terror, the tears and the sobbing as people clustered among the stalactites
A definite contender for the best kept village competition!
and stalagmites, burning incense to their ancestors and asking for deliverance from the nightly attacks. A huge crater where a bomb hit a spring in the village now helps flood the paddy fields. Hardly a blessing in disguise but certainly a positive outcome. Some things are clear.
p.s. We head off into China this evening and hope that our VPN will still allow me to post but if not...I will still keep writing and they will all be posted in a flurry.
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