I once asked Chu if she would like to visit me in Hanoi. She laughed, "I could never make it down there. You see, Phil, it is too hot. They would laugh at me, to see this young Hmong girl. I have no clothes other than these. So, you, you come see me at the market." So that is exactly what I do. On each return visit, I head straight for the market. It never takes long to track her down. Chu is now 17, and one of the highest of her generation. She has ambitions to become a primary school teacher, the first girl from her tribal group to do so in northern Vietnam. Chu is also keen to assist us with developing ETHOS as a sustainable tour operator.
The dirt floor in Chu’s house was cool, the dim light of smouldering embers lit up many tiny faces in the shadowy bamboo shelter. Local children crowded round to teach me some Hmong phrases: Where are you going? I am going to the market, to home, to the field. There was no formal greeting of "How are you?" but rather, inquiries about where one was going, where one was from. I suppose that is the essence of language, to explain the comings and goings and the in-betweens.
We ate a simple meal of cabbage and lard, while discussing which families could most benefit from ETHOS adventures and tourism. Chu was keen to point us towards the poorest families, usually those with only one parent. She led me from house to house, introducing me to so many tiny faces. It is this open attitude to life that led me to fall in love with Sapa in the first place all those years ago.