Sunday, September 15 2019

VietNamNews

Mountains with a feel of Switzerland

Update: September, 08/2019 - 08:40

 

 

SCENIC: Rice terraces on steep mountain slopes have been the prime source of food for local people for centuries. VNS Photo Đinh Quốc Khánh

 

by Nguyễn Mỹ Hà

As we trekked the winding dirt path from Hồ Thầu Commune toward Bản Luốc, we were surrounded by the immense views of the terraced fields in Hoàng Su Phì District, Hà Giang Province.

Each hill was covered in lush greenery, bearing enough water to plant rice for the people of this land. It’s an amazing view of how people can make miracles out of their daily workload. 

The quick shower stopped before we started our trekking tour and the sky could not have been bluer along the road. Stepping on the slippery path, when we look up, a wonderful view meets our eyes. The sa mộc, evergreen pine trees, are dotted along the way, like a scene from an Alpine postcard.

It reminds me of the little girl Heidi and her life with her grandfather. I would read the Vietnamese translation, titled Friendship, when I put my kids to bed. Written in 1881 by Johanna Spyri, Heidi has become the most well-known work of Swiss literature.

Indeed, the trekking tour we embarked upon is end-product of a fruitful project funded by Helvetas, the Swiss development organisation, which has used Swiss tax-payer investment to help communities in Việt Nam since 1994. Carried out by CRED – the Center for Rural Economy Development – based in Hà Nội, the project, titled "Improving Livelihoods of Ethnic Communities through Community-based Tourism", had terminated in a joyful reunion of local home-owners, tour operators, and last but not least, local officials, whose jobs were to provide local people with tools and create mechanisms to improve people's lives. 

In a simple ceremony at Hoàng Su Phì District hall, CRED director Nguyễn Lam Giang said, "I would personally like to thank Mr Lù Văn Chung, the then vice president of Hoàng Su Phì's People's Committee, for reaching out to us five years ago. He and his entourage from Hoàng Su Phì went to our office in Hà Nội and requested a project for community-based tourism."

Community-based tourism

Many trips and exchanges were carried out until they worked out what was best for people of the district, who live among the most picturesque terraced rice fields, yet have to work hard and still live in poverty

Over the course of five years, VNĐ15 billion (US$650,000) has been spent on the project, including VNĐ2 billion ($86,000) loaned at low interest rates within the community. 

In Hà Giang's Hoàng Su Phì District, five communes of Thông Nguyên, Nam Sơn, Hồ Thầu, Bản Luốc and Bản Phùng have benefitted from the project loans.

Three other communes in Cao Bằng Province including Phia Thắp in Quảng Uyên, Lũng Niếc and Khuổi Ki in picturesque Trùng Khánh District also benefitted from the project.

The project has three major components of creating new tourism products and raising the capacities of local home-owners, connecting to the larger market and improving accompanying policy.

Gradually, local communities have improved their awareness of community-based tourism. Small groups on CBT were set up for mutual assistance and a CBT fund was established, as well as peer visits and workshops. 

The project has set up 28 homestays in two provinces, trained locals on safety for visitors, nutrition and home-cooking, and how to run a home-stay. This introduces homeowners to the needs of visitors. 

In 2018, the provinces welcomed 28,600 visitors, of which 9,000 were from abroad. This is up from only 13,800 people in 2015, of which 2,900 were international.

The first six months of 2019 saw a growing number of 18,000 visitors.

During the project, 500 homestay-related jobs were created and more than 1,000 people benefitted from charity activities generated by the project.  Total turnover of VNĐ6.5 billion from 2016-2018 was recorded, not including the sales from local products.

At the end of the project, an assessment by independent consultants rated its success as 4.5 out of 5. The most successful home-owner who came out of the project with the most impressive success story was Triệu Mềnh Kinh.

"I'm very happy to let you know that three years ago, I was the only one who opened my house as a homestay for tourists. Now we have four homestays in our hamlet and by the end of this year, two more will be added to the list," Kinh said about the homestay model that worked for him in Nậm Hồng Commune of Hoàng Su Phì.

In Kinh's case, he was born with an entrepreneurial mindset and reached out of his community for new skills and expertise before he met with the project co-ordinators.

"I used to have people staying at my home," Kinh said, standing in his brother's house, which also became a homestay overlooking the iconic rice paddies. "The porters used to look for places to stay for trekkers and they would stay a night at our home then leave."

Kinh said he spent six months in Sa Pa (Lào Cai Province) learning how to cook before working in manual jobs to find a foothold in the hospitality business.

When the project was implemented in his hamlet, Kinh was sent to Mai Châu (Hoà Bình Province) to learn from an established homestay there. He gained skills to run a homestay, opening his own home to tourists.

He was able to borrow VNĐ80 million ($3,400) from the project and has paid half back so far. The first year he built his stilt house, he hosted 40 visitors. The second year, the number went up to 100, and this year, he expects to host up to 200 visitors. 

Clean water for rice  

Kinh's successful model spread to Quyên – his younger brother – and two more households in the commune, who invested in facilities to host up to a dozen visitors overnight.

Kinh now owns two homestay facilities which can host 22 visitors at one time. To serve visitors who wish to have some privacy, Kinh even built separate bungalows with 24 beds, still with a great view of the fields, of course.

Aware of the potential for waste, home-owners have trash burners on the premises and the ability to collect water. "I have the water collected in a pond, which runs over to a piece of land, where I plant taro before it gets channelled to the spring," Kinh said.

 

Drinking culture

When you're in the mountains, do as the mountaineers do – rice wine or maize vodka for lunch and dinner. It is deemed disrespectful to turn down a drink when you’re a guest at someone’s house. 

From the homeowners perspective, they used to drink at parties or at the market on Sunday. Now they have to make a toast to visitors every meal, having a bad effect on their health. 

On this trip, I met Triệu Mùi Mủi, a Red Dao woman who three years ago told me that she had to step in to toast with visitors because her husband's stomach was so sick he couldn't take in any more alcohol. "Now he's fine," she said.

Making a toast was so deeply rooted in the culture, almost every member of the hosting board toured the room to offer a drink, shaking hands for another round, so the ritual goes.

The women of the table had to excuse ourselves for only sipping a few drops and we were forgiven, but not the men. A western man in our group, who had been declining offers to drink for three days (five meals altogether) saying he had to fast before a meditation trip, at the request of a local lady decided to ignore all he had said before. 

"Cheers," he said, and the rest of us went wild cheering! 

If he had been trying to attain nirvana, there's only one more step to reach enlightenment, then he dropped out! VNS


 

GLOSSARY

As we trekked the winding dirt path from Hồ Thầu Commune toward Bản Luốc, we were surrounded by the immense views of the terraced fields in Hoàng Su Phì District, Hà Giang Province.

Trekked means hiked.

To be surrounded by something means to have it around you, on all sides.

Immense means vast or very large.

It’s an amazing view of how people can make miracles out of their daily workload. 

Miracles are wonderful things that may happen that cannot be the result of something natural but rather something supernatural.

The sa mộc, evergreen pine trees, are dotted along the way, like a scene from an Alpine postcard.

Evergreen trees are trees that stay green all year.

Alpine means to do with the Alps, a mountain range in Europe.

I would read the Vietnamese translation, titled Friendship, when I put my kids to bed.

A translation is a piece of writing that is rewritten from one language into another language.

Written in 1881 by Johanna Spyri, Heidi has become the most well-known work of Swiss literature.

Literature means the writing of books.

Indeed, the trekking tour we embarked upon is end-product of a fruitful project funded by Helvetas, the Swiss development organisation, which has used Swiss tax-payer investment to help communities in Việt Nam since 1994.

Embarked means “set out”.

Carried out by CRED – the Center for Rural Economy Development – based in Hà Nội, the project, titled "Improving Livelihoods of Ethnic Communities through Community-based Tourism", had terminated in a joyful reunion of local home-owners, tour operators, and last but not least, local officials, whose jobs were to provide local people with tools and create mechanisms to improve people's lives. 

Terminated means ended.

A reunion is a get together of people who meet up again after having not seen one another in a while.

Mechanisms are ways of doing things.

He and his entourage from Hoàng Su Phì went to our office in Hà Nội and requested a project for community-based tourism."

An entourage is a group who travel together.

Requested means “asked for”.

Many trips and exchanges were carried out until they worked out what was best for people of the district, who live among the most picturesque terraced rice fields, yet have to work hard and still live in poverty

Poverty is a state of being very poor.

Over the course of five years, VNĐ15 billion (US$650,000) has been spent on the project, including VNĐ2 billion ($86,000) loaned at low interest rates within the community. 

Interest is what you pay as a fee for borrowing money.

In Hà Giang's Hoàng Su Phì District, five communes of Thông Nguyên, Nam Sơn, Hồ Thầu, Bản Luốc and Bản Phùng have benefitted from the project loans.

If you benefit from something, you become stronger or better off as a result of it.

The project has three major components of creating new tourism products and raising the capacities of local home-owners, connecting to the larger market and improving accompanying policy.

Components are parts that make up a whole.

The capacities of home owners are what they able to do.

Small groups on CBT were set up for mutual assistance and a CBT fund was established, as well as peer visits and workshops. 

Assistance means help. Mutual assistance happens when two people help one another.

Your peers are people who are the same as yourself in one way or another.

The project has set up 28 homestays in two provinces, trained locals on safety for visitors, nutrition and home-cooking, and how to run a home-stay.

Nutrition is good food. 

In 2018, the provinces welcomed 28,600 visitors, of which 9,000 were from abroad.

Abroad means overseas.

During the project, 500 homestay-related jobs were created and more than 1,000 people benefitted from charity activities generated by the project.

Generated means “made”.

Total turnover of VNĐ6.5 billion from 2016-2018 was recorded, not including the sales from local products.

Turnover is all the money that a business makes, not counting what it spends on things like salaries, rents and purchases.

At the end of the project, an assessment by independent consultants rated its success as 4.5 out of 5.

An assessment is an examination.

Consultants are people who are hired for their special skills to do a once-off job rather than be fully employed.

Now we have four homestays in our hamlet and by the end of this year, two more will be added to the list," Kinh said about the homestay model that worked for him in Nậm Hồng Commune of Hoàng Su Phì.

A hamlet is a small group of houses, not big enough to be a village.

In Kinh's case, he was born with an entrepreneurial mindset and reached out of his community for new skills and expertise before he met with the project co-ordinators.

Someone with an entrepreneurial mindset has a way of thinking that is inclined towards turning ideas into businesses.

Expertise is expert knowledge in a particular field.

Co-ordinators are people who get people to work together for the same purpose.

"I used to have people staying at my home," Kinh said, standing in his brother's house, which also became a homestay overlooking the iconic rice paddies.

If rice paddies are iconic to a place, people think of that place when they see or talk about rice paddies.

"The porters used to look for places to stay for trekkers and they would stay a night at our home then leave."

Porters are people who carry things, like baggage, for other people.

Kinh said he spent six months in Sa Pa (Lào Cai Province) learning how to cook before working in manual jobs to find a foothold in the hospitality business.

Manual jobs are jobs done using one’s hands.

Kinh's successful model spread to Quyên – his younger brother – and two more households in the commune, who invested in facilities to host up to a dozen visitors overnight.

To invest means to put money into something in the hope of getting something out of it.

Facilities are things that make it easier to do something. Facilities to host people may include extra beds, linen and so on. It would be difficult to host people without these.

A dozen means twelve.

To serve visitors who wish to have some privacy, Kinh even built separate bungalows with 24 beds, still with a great view of the fields, of course.

Privacy is what you have when you are alone and without anybody entering your space.

Aware of the potential for waste, home-owners have trash burners on the premises and the ability to collect water.

Potential means possibility.

A premises is a place, or property.

It is deemed disrespectful to turn down a drink when you’re a guest at someone’s house. 

Deemed means considered.

Disrespectful means rude, unpleasant and not called for.

From the homeowners perspective, they used to drink at parties or at the market on Sunday.

A perspective is a point of view.

Now they have to make a toast to visitors every meal, having a bad effect on their health. 

A toast is a salute that involves people raising their glasses in honour of someone.

Making a toast was so deeply rooted in the culture, almost every member of the hosting board toured the room to offer a drink, shaking hands for another round, so the ritual goes.

A ritual is a ceremony that follows a certain routine.

A western man in our group, who had been declining offers to drink for three days (five meals altogether) saying he had to fast before a meditation trip, at the request of a local lady decided to ignore all he had said before. 

Declining means refusing.

If he had been trying to attain nirvana, there's only one more step to reach enlightenment, then he dropped out!

Reaching nirvana means reaching a spiritual highpoint.

 

WORKSHEET

State whether the following sentences are true, or false:

1.      The story of Heidi is about her life with her grandmother.

2.      Heidi is a well-known work of Swedish literature.

3.      Triệu Mềnh Kinh was born with a mind that turns ideas into businesses.

4.      Vodka in the mountains is made from rice.

5.      Wine in the mountains is made from maize.

ANSWERS: 1. False; 2. False; 3. True; 4. False; 5. False.

 

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