WARM AS CORN LIQUOR

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                                                                        NGƯỜI BẮC HÀ NHƯ CHÉN RƯỢU NỒNG SAY)

       The hustle and bustle of modern cities pulls people into a busy crowded and hectic rhythm of life. One day people suddenly realize that a calm and pure life still exists somewhere on earth that we have forgotten. Bac Ha in Viet Nam is one of them.

       The Bac Ha highlands are 200 km north west of Ha Noi.  In spring the highlands are covered with plum blossoms. "The white highlands" remind travellers to go up to Bac Ha.

" I am traveling at an altitude of 1000 metres. Getting over the top of this steep mountain we  will enter Bac Ha valley" - said a TV reporter.

                      
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From every mountainous road footsteps turn eagerly towards the market. It seems to be a good chance for ethnic minority people to take a break after a hard- working week.

Bac Ha weekly market has always been held on Sunday. It is not only a trading market for buying and selling goods but also a meeting place for cultural exchange.

Ethnic Mong girls choose the most colourful skirts to wear. "I go to market just for fun. I want to meet my friends" said a 19 year old girl Thao Thi Vua who had walked  nearly 10 kms to the market.


                

        Bac Ha market stands out of the crowd because of these unique colours. The goods on sale are products from the mountain villages. They are natural or have resulted from the hard and skilful work of the local ethnic people. No-one has many goods to sell and the price is not the most important thing. Bac Ha market is in the centre of town but it looks like a rural market in the countryside.

The unique character of this friendly market has attracted tourists from both inside and out of Viet Nam. Last year there were nearly 29 000 international tourists coming here.

"We have found an open-hearted traditional community in this market"- said Isabel Martinez- a Spanish tourist- "The market section for selling and buying cattle has made the best impression on my husband and me"- she added.

              

       It is possible that there are no other town cattle markets as exciting as Bac Ha market. People say that a good pet is as good as a real friend which is why men spend a great deal of their time selecting their favourite cattle. Gentle horses inside the market can become high- speed racing horses outside. And normal villagers turn out to be the bravest horsemen. Victory doesn t come from wearing safety helmets or using harnesses. It comes from the willpower of the people.

It is said that "It s better to stay at home than go to Bac Ha market without drinking traditional corn liquor". Drinking makes people much closer. An ethnic guy named Ly Van Bang from Nam Det village encouraged me to taste the Mong people s liquor. He said he had already tried to taste up to 30 cups and confirmed that nothing was better than the liquor from Ban Pho the village with the most famous distillery.


                    

      While the local women were busy buying salt sauce and farming tools men gathered beside the steaming vats where beef was cooking. They drank corn liquor and shared their sadness and happiness. Their wives patiently waited until the market was over. They felt as happy as their drunken husbands. The communal  tray at the market is always considered a symbol of friendship and reunion. Bac Ha market seems like a great family welcoming all  members from villages every Sunday.

However this unchanging tradition scene has gradually been tainted by something from the modern world. Some village guys now try to drink fresh beer not only the traditional corn liquor as usual. Local women and their children eat ice cream and noodle soup from the city.

From Ximacai district this young couple travelled over 20 kms of mountainous roads to the Bac Ha market. The husband did not drink with his friends. He ate iced sweet soup with his wife. On her back was a one-month old sleeping child.

           

       At another  market corner there was a young mother who was a student of the Thai Nguyen University. She was dressing her son in a modern clothes. No one among her relatives wore modern style clothes like her.


                  

      It was the custom when the market was over for wives to help their drunken husbands to get on their horses to get them back home shading them with their umbrellas. No one makes this romantic gesture now. "The two-wheeled horses" and cell phones seem to be more convenient for these highlands on their way to urbanisation.


                     

             Hello ! I d like "the 2-wheeled horse" not your real horse !

                  

       With a little regret we left Bac Ha district market. I wondered how long the pure white plum blossoms colourful skirts and warm corn liquor would exist ? "Bac Ha people are as warm as its corn liquor"- the lyrics reminded us to visit Ban Pho the most famous distillery village in the Bac Ha highlands.


                 

      Ban Pho village welcomed tourists with its vast green corn hills. The ways of  planting nourishing and collecting corn are exactly as they were a long time ago.

We were guided to the lady who made the most delicious corn liquor in the village. "I just do exactly what my grandmother and my mother told me to do". The yeast used to cook wine was made of a local millet. It made Ban Pho corn liquor sweet- smelling and gave it a special flavour. Every year she consumes up to 6 tons  of corn seed for distilling liquor.


                 

       Taking this corn seed and millet yeast to another place it is impossible to make the liquor as sweet-smelling. It is said that only the unique water and healthy climate here can give Ban Pho liquor its particular taste".

Leaving the peaceful village of Ban Pho we returned to Bac Ha central district. There are several historical architectural buildings attracting travellers. Bac Ha temple is a sacred place for ethnic minority people to express their honour and respect for the general who helped to protect the motherland. Therefore visiting this historical ritual site we grow to love the peaceful life nowadays in Bac Ha highlands.

The conservation of historical cultural sites should be carried on in order to keep our traditional values. Keeping the unique character is essential for this district town to be different from other crowded cities. In the age of industrialisation and modernisation everyone wants Bac Ha to develop. I really am one of them. But from the bottom of my heart I do not want Bac Ha to become a modern city like other cities. I also want Ban Pho village to be a village not to be a town... 
                                 
       And now as we fade out the final images of this film I do believe that the pure white plum blossoms colourful skirts and warm corn liquor in Bac Ha will last forever.

As the lyrics say being really pure warm and open- hearted makes "Bac Ha people as warm as its corn liquor".

Once you come here you never forget it !

                                              By Quang Du Hong
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