Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Sa Pa & Ta Phin | Report Six | The People of Tay Bac

H'mong in Sa Pa. Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Yesterday included a morning of street photography in the small town of Sa Pa. Being such a small place, it was not too difficult to grab an interesting street scene, provided the Black Hmong vendors left us in peace.

Since much of the pedestrian action really occurs on a couple of small streets, as well as on the steps leading to and from the central market, it was easier to station myself at a specific point on these steps, and wait for something or someone interesting and exotic to happen by. Using the Leica M9, I pre-focused and chose the most appropriate settings...and just waited.

A word about the Hmong vendors. They have (for the most part) a sense of humor, and very willing to exchange banter with tourists. They are rather persistent in trying to buy some of their handicraft, but once they realize there's no way, they either walk away to look for another prey...or exchange pleasantries with anyone who'll give them the time of day.

Ms Thuy Linh, Sa Pa store owner. Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy- All Rights Reserved
Whilst waiting for interesting scenes to develop, I noticed an attractive store vendor watching me, and who seemed to understand the purpose of my being there. Expecting nothing much of importance to develop over the next few minutes, I asked if I could photograph her. Thuy Linh (her name) readily accepted, and naturally asked me to send her images when I was done.

The reason I mention this is that this exchange between two people who don't speak each others' language couldn't have occurred a few years ago.

Using Google Translate app on my iPhone, I asked her if I could photograph her, and if she had an email. She asked me to send the images to her Facebook account, and became my Facebook friend on the spot (using an iPhone no less)...enabling me to accept her invitation and eventually send her the images.

Red D'Zao. Ta Phin. Photo © Tewfic EL-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

In the afternoon, we drove to the village of Ta Phin, a picturesque thirty minute drive north of Sapa. It's about 17 kilometers to the west of Sapa, and is principally a Red Dao village, where these can be seen embroidering their wares for sale to tourist groups.

On the way to Ta Phin, we stopped at the abandoned French nunnery/monastery. It was built in 1942, but was promptly evacuated and deserted by 1947. Its walls are in ruins but are covered by mustard-color moss (or lichen), giving it a wonderful textured look.

Photographing a bunch of Red Dao women in the village itself was not too difficult...despite their relentless efforts to make us buy anything from their inventory. It would not have been possible to persuade a couple of them to accompany us back to the French monastery where they could've been photographed against the interesting walls.