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The life on the karst plateau in Ha Giang

Fri, 12 Sep 2014 . Last updated Thu, 25 Jun 2015 08:49

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Besides the spectacular natural sceneries, Ha Giang hides many cultural identities of ethnic minority groups and the unique market filled with the colorful costumes and specific jewelry of ethnic groups.

Meo Vac in Ha Giang province is a region that is well known for spectacular rocky mountain ranges, a part of Dong Van karst plateau. The rocky mountain is the home to hundreds of ethnic minority communities relying on this land to live. It is all about farming here. With such difficult terrain, their job here seems to have no days off. I want to learn how they deal with this rough terrain and what technique they employed to overcome the rugged landscape.

 The karst plateau was established by 80% of limestone and consists of fossil of ancient creatures dating back from 400 to 600 million years ago. The average altitude is 1500 meters above sea level. The people live here intertwined life in the mountains. The special terrain has created a cultural identity of people here.

It’s quite impressive, the build dry stone walls not too dissimilar to what we have in England. These rocks have to be used to forming the parameters of the houses. They also have another use which I want to learn more about.  With so many rocks there is little fertility land here. Farming is considered as the livelihood of many people in rural Vietnam, so they have to deal with such naturally tough conditions. The main ethnic group in this area is H’Mong people and it was immediately obvious that they are experts in adapting to the circumstances most unfavorable farming.  There was still thriving community say

So despite the difficulties, the Hmong people are still thriving community. This was both intriguing and impressive to me. People here have to make stones wall to help keep the soil for corn farming. It is good for us to grow corn here. So if there are no stone walls here, the soil will be eroded. Technique is used with logical how the big stones on the bottom, a bit smaller ones on top.  The reason for this is grown quite steep gradient here and there is not that much land so by doing this to prevent the soil from eroding. When I initially saw the land that they are using to farm and grow crops, I was surprising how many rocks, there were literally everywhere, there was not any kind of soils. I definitely wanted to try it and I wanted to try to plow using the cow.

No water irrigation system, water must be transported from the villages to here which is a huge effort such a large area. Resulted, they only grow corn here, which can only harvest once per year. Corn is harvested mainly for the purposes of each family. After we farm there, I obviously this terrain is no ideal for farming and although I had no idea before once we started doing I can started to understand the technique and the reason for the methods that they use.

I am on the way to the house of Chu Chung Lau who has decades of experience in a secret technique. I was directed to a tiny village far away in the mountain of Meo Vac. Everybody here are farmers and everybody speaks local Mong language which made our communication quite difficult. Lovely children were curious about what I brought that they have never been seen before.

Initial walk-up into the Chu Chung Lau’s house, saw the machine that he uses, it may be the most interesting moment to me. As Chu Chung Lau said, the first step preparing the mould which is specially designed to make thicker plough which can deal with the craggy terrain. We need to make as smooth as possible by repairing cracks in the mould with a solution of fine ash and water. This allows the plough to perform better and makes it look better and easier to sell at market. It’s quite obvious that Mr. Chu Chung Lau is a bit perfectionist; he can go over the same spots again and again to make sure that it is as smooth as he can get it. This machine is designed and used by Chu Chung Lau family three generations and he will continue to hand down this technique to his family. Buy a pump forces air into a large kiln which has prepared a bowl of coal starting to burn. The more air gets pump, the hotter the plough gets. After about 40 minutes, it is hot enough to melt iron. The iron used to make plough has to be mixed with more steel. We also need hard coal to keep the heat for melting the steel and cast iron. The timing of when you take the metal output in the mould is so important.

It’s time for dinner and one of the advances when living here is that all of vegetables and meats are right here, so it is very convenient. I was than more happy to accept children Chu Chung Lau invitation to eat and sleep at his house. It is an opportunity for me to integrate with the life of people here.  “Men men” is a daily food of local people made from corns. Despite it is dry, it provide nutrition for me after a hard working day. Although it is very dry, but it can provide nutrition after a day of hard work

Meo Vac Sunday market is seen as an event of the week. Hundreds of people from the surrounding villages to Meo Vac town exchange goods and cattle. This market has existed for a long time. It has really become a cultural event of the area. People from many different ethnic backgrounds, many different ideas and experiences go from dawn till dark and everybody seems in good spirits.

In the cattle section, people can buy and sell cattle with price up to 15 million VND, around $700. It is a lot of money and massively important budget. The most important characteristic of the cow is strength and ability to plow. Therefore, you can try before you bought and tested out the plowing ability on nearby field while the seller will try to convince you it's the best cow. Crowd flocking to the stadium football is a familiar sight worldwide, but not to cheer a football game. People take their cattle against one another in a fight to prove their cow is the strongest; therefore, it will be sold at a higher price.

Corn wine is popular drink here and is considered to be proud of culture heritage. Over there, there are many men who are gathering around the table and having a chat, having a drink and catching up on the week’s news. There is an identity of this market. It is undeniable that the atmosphere of this market is completely hustle and bustle. The beautiful colors of different ethnic minority groups coupled with sights and smells of everything will become an unforgettable experience to me. There were even tailors on hand on sewing machines who ae ready to design clothes that you want.


Source: VTV4 –

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