Monday, 23 September 2013


The mind I love must have wild places, a tangled orchard where dark damsons drop in the heavy grass, an overgrown little wood, the chance of a snake or two, a pool that nobody’s fathomed the depth of, and paths threaded with flowers planted by the mind.

- Katherine Mansfield 


Battling Spearman's correlation in the day - travelling light in the weekends. This weekend I went to Sapa - a vast valley habituated by local tribes (H'mong, Red Dao and many others) and lined with rice paddy terraces. Joined by a couple also from Hong Kong we went trekking along the peddle stone paths and among the endless fields. It is now towards the end of september, when the rice plants turn golden and ready for harvest. Our lovely local guide Say (pronounced as Sai) is a 18-year-old H'mong girl who have just started to be a tour guide for a year for Sapa O'Chau, a social enterprise that helps locals learn English and sustain better jobs (Go with them if you are going to Sapa!). Led by her, we walked steadily on in the glorious sunshine - apparently it has been the best weather for weeks. The valley is lively with the sound of streams and waterfalls, children playing; the hues of wild flowers, lush trees bejeweled with the beautiful costumes wore by local people - and hours later we reached our homestay in a Red Dao village in the midst of the hills. Sat down in the hazy sunshine, a cold beer in hand, we chatted until dinner was ready by the open-fire. David is in fact a doctor two years above me at UCL (what a strange coincidence!) and Yaki works for a charity foundation funding environmental NGOs worldwide - so we had some interesting discussions regarding living in Hanoi/London, medicine and sustainable development (and also some fun stories re: school days in Hong Kong. It has been fun since I haven't spoken Cantonese for so long!). The Red Dao tribe is well-known for their knowledge in herbal medicine so after dinner we were keen to try the herbal bath - soaking in hot, fragrant water (prepared by boiling multitude of local herbs for hours) in a small wooden tub. It was not even 10 but we were ready for bed. The night was so serene you could almost hear the stars.

As promised we had a cosy sleep inside the bednet (I like to think of it as a dream-catching net) and got woken up by the resident rooster. Some delicious banana pancakes and coffee later we were off again. This time we took a different route even higher up, so we got some magnificent view across the valley. Walking is a good time for the mind to wander, while your body is so much in the moment of here and now (sometimes only the Cartesian model of mind-body dichotomy seems right) - I like running, swimming and biking too, but there is something special about walking that allows the tangles of the mind to unravel more slowly and freely. Back in Sapa sitting in a cafe I bumped into Joe who I went to college in Wales with - again, what chances! He happens to be doing a South-east Asia expedition as well and would be trekking in Sapa the next two days. We bidded farewell as I had to go back to Lao Cai town for the night train back to Hanoi - and back on the train I was in the same berth with the 3 French girls whom I met on the train a night ago. We had a little chanson-karaoke session before dozing off, as the train rocked us to sleep like a cradle.

Somehow the power of wanderlust has brought all of us together, albeit transiently, from the different corners and walks of the earth - as if by some intrinsic drive for taxis towards the unfamiliar. The more I travel on my own, the more I realise it is really not about the destination, but the journey - outward or inward. The journey that is not focused on the clarity of structure, but rather, the clarity of thoughts and purpose. To meet others, to meet myself in a different environment once more. To flourish, to be wild and untamed. I cannot wait to be on the road again.


ps. I am also happy to announce that my film camera is being loved and battered again. Just wait til I find a photo lab...

1 comment:

  1. <3 wild flowers, golden fields and herbal baths, what did they put into the water? lemon grass and everything? so relaxing and refreshing even just reading it : )