VIBRANT HIGHLAND, COMMERCIAL LOVE A long time ago, an ethnic Giay girl and a Nung boy had fallen deeply in love. The girl was so beautiful that her tribe did not want her married to a man from another tribe. A violent conflict soon arose between the two families. To stop the bloodshed, the lovers were forced to part. Secretly however, they promised each other to meet in a remove village of Khau Vai for a single day every year, for the rest of their lives. Far up in Vietnam’s mountains sits a small village of Khau Vai. It is said that for a single day every year people from the region gather in the village leaving behind their families and seeking out their past lovers at an exotic love market inspired by the Hmong legends reminiscent ofRomeo and Juliet.With the event being largely unknown and shrouded in mystery despite restrictions on foreign visitors to the region, I was determined to experience this happening and discover more about local life. My heart has always been in narrative film. I find reality too frustrating, but I couldn’t resist as this adventure had both. There was no budget and few resources, but I felt determined and I had a dedicated skeleton crew. For this close up of my production manager, I asked her to think of her first love. For this shot of my camera man, I asked him to think of the local sausage we ate in the mountains. My Hmong translator had to be shown as a graphic. Despite the humor, there are some who may not appreciate her participation in the project. To reach out destination, we needed to take the bus to the mountain city of Ha Giang, then bike to the small town of Meo Vac and from there take a rocky path to the village of Khau Vai. With my Belarussian Minsk loaded on the bus, we were ready to get on the road. We started our journey weeks before the Love Market, giving us time to meet the locals, to learn about the event and to film the preparations. In the city, I met my local contact who arranged the extra bikes for our onwards trip. I came to the Love Market four years ago. and at that time it’s very, very impressive because there are so many ethnic minorities like Tay, Nung, Giay and Hmong people. They come drinking, eating and singing together. Along the road in the market you could see some young couples. It’s very, very colorful. Actually, it’s a good chance for… first – for young boys and young girls to come and meet each other and express their sentiment and the second reason… For old people; they were in love before but cannot get married and that’s a good chance for them to come and sleep one night together. Our journey started weeks before the event. Our goal was simple: Visit the region and find one real, local couple whose love started at the Love Market but couldn’t be; a couple who only meets once a year for a night of nostalgia and passion. With legends so rich, intially – this task seemed fairly easy. Not quite so… Story research prior to filming was challenging. Local politics largely lack transparency, people only speak their own, rare languages, education is often lacking. Kinh, or lowland Vietnamese people rarely understand the ethnic minorities. Consequently, facts differed depending on who I asked. Through my network, I connected with an academic expert knowledgable on the region and the local people’s lives. EXPERT: THIS MOTIVE OF RECONNECTING WITH LOST LOVES SOUNDS RATHER ROMANTIC. POOR FARMERS ARE RARELY IN A COMFORTABLE ENOUGH POSITION TO GET VERY ROMANTIC… THINK ABOUT IT… DON’T PERPETUATE THE SAME MYTHS THAT THE VIETNAMESE TOUR GUIDES ALWAYS DO… By next morning, with our gear packed on our bikes we were ready to drive up to the small town of Meo Vac, not far from the Vietnamese border with China. I’m in a cloud… The rain cleared up right in time for an afternoon break by the side of the road. This is a Yao wedding and the groom is already drunk …and he’s asleep. Ok… I don’t want anymore! I don’t want anymore! Corn wine! Corn wine! Have a drink with this man, sis! This man who’s filming us. Tell him to stop filming and have a shot. Finish this, then film. Here! Just a little bit! You live in Vietnam?! Oooh! This lady over here is trying to invite me for a drink. …all the time. Cheers! Drinking corn wine and eating stew! Great. Very strong.You’re pretty!You’re pretty.Pretty? Not really… We’re at our sister’s wedding. We’re very happy, thank you for joining us! Very happy. Bottoms up! Ok, enough. Let’s get out of here before I’m drunk. Couple hours later we arrived in Meo Vac. Being a remote and a largely unknown place, I was surprised to have many locals recognize me. Perhaps not many foreigners have visited here as many times as I did. We checked in to a local hotel and headed down for dinner to my favorite restaurant. There, we were greeted by the charismatic owner who we came to call “Madame Sausage”. You keep trying to take my picture! I hate..!Spring has come, dispersing thousands of flower spirits on lifeRejoicing at the break of dawn, tens of thousands of birds chirp everywhere.Hear the laughter, so that our lives are filled with love…Due to its proximity to China, harsh poverty and perhaps other reasons the government doesn’t want known, foreigners are restricted when traveling in the province. In the morning, I obtained travel permits from the local police, while most of the town was enjoying an entirely different kind of festival in the central square.…built our relationships, paint the sky blue.Birds spread their wings, tweeting happily to welcome a season of sunlight.We’re on the way to Khau Vai village, but right now we stopped to see the valley of Meo Vac… yeah… gorgeous. Then just as I got to Khau Vai, this was the moment when my Soviet era bike suddenly died. In the village we met one smiley local, who offered us her stories and guidance. I’m from Khau Vai. At the Love Market, I sell pho noodles, pork, chicken and when people come for the Love Market, I provide them accommodation for some money. Some years I had younger guests, some years older. Each year, different ethnic minority guests stay at my place. Few years ago the house was so packed with guests, there was nowhere to sleep. Some had to sleep upstairs. I don’t get any sleep that night. When they’re all gone, that’s my turn to go out for a bit. I have my own love story… but some years my partner turned up at the Love Market, some years he didn’t. When he was here, he would come to my place for a meal and a chat. Everything was good. We dated for a year, then got married. When we were in love, we went to the Love Market. We went to every market. We have three kids. Now they’re all at school. My husband passed away four years ago. We built our home together… We were good to each other, cared about each other. In the shadows of Mui’s house, sitting by the fire, was an old woman. Seeing the camera, she became distressed. I turned it off right away catching only a shaky blur. The woman – Mui’s mother – was afraid the camera would steal her remaining life. In the afternoon, a local handyman offered to fix my bike… with a hammer. It quickly turned into a village-wide attraction. EXPERT: ALL MINORITIES IN THE MOUNTAINS HAVE USED MARKETS TO NOT ONLY TRADE BUT SOCIALIZE AND MEET POTENTIAL PARTNERS. AT SOME POINT, THE LOWLAND KINH (VIETNAMESE) HAVE STARTED FANTASIZING ABOUT “LOOSE”, WILD AND EXOTIC HIGHLAND WOMEN AND HAVE SINCE FOCUSED OBSESSIVELY ON THAT SIDE OF THE MARKETS… MANY DIRECTORS DON’T TAKE TIME TO UNDERSTAND THE SITUATION. MAKE SURE YOU DO… By the time the bike got fixed, it was too dark to drive, so we decided to stay in the village for the night. In the morning, guided by Ms. Mui
and eager to find our couple, we set off to meet the local minorities from the region. The first time we met… …I grabbed his hand and we started talking.
…we were holding hands and just talking. I saw her, she was beautiful, she also thought I was handsome. When we met, we just smiled at each other. We got along well and we decided to be together. First time we met, we held hands together and a year later he came back and he said: “come with me, let’s be together!” When we first met, I was wearing this same jacket and Hmong pants. She was wearing a Hmong dress. I also wore leggings and a traditional hat. with a Hmong layered skirt and a jacket. When I first saw him I thought “oh, he’s very old!” “I don’t want to marry him!” Oh no, old is good! “I want to find a young guy!” We met each other in a village near Khau Vai. First time I went to the Love Market, I was around 16. I approached her first. The man always approaches the girl first. When all my cousins saw her, they all thought she was good and… All his cousins were saying… …that I should marry her. …”you are good together, you should marry!” We loved each other, we couldn’t live without each other. So we got married. So we discussed it together. we said “yes-no-yes-no”… …then we thought we were already getting old, both of us over 20 so we should get married. Following Hmong culture, I kidnapped her and brought her home for 3 days. Then after that I brought her back to inform her family and then we came back to my house. Then the neighbors came and we drank together and I introduced her as my wife. Interestingly enough, not one of the couples has actually met at the Love Market. EXPERT: YOUR QUESTIONS ARE MUCH TOO BROAD AND ACTUALLY REVEAL HOW MUCH YOU ARE STILL MISSING OF THE WHOLE PICTURE. GO, ASK THE LOCALS QUESTIONS THAT DIG DEEPER THAN THE SURFACE, THEN YOU’LL GET THE REAL STORY… This time of the year, we work in the fields planting corn. We also need to get grass for buffalo feed and get wood for the fire. It’s your turn… In one year we plant about 10kg of corn seed. We only have enough to eat.
We never have much extra to sell. We raise small animals and when it’s necessary, we kill them for food. If not necessary, then we sell the animals and we use the money. We use the money to buy some cooking oil or salt, for eating. We are living very poor and we have to work for our own money. We sell some chickens and a couple pigs so that’s where we get the money to buy a small buffalo. And buffalos – we raise the buffalos till they’re big, then we use them for ploughing the corn fields. When we have someone who wants to buy the buffalo, we sell the buffalo and save the money for difficult times. Slowly, step by step… and then we build the house.So what happened this year, why did your animals die?They’re sick… Sick, so most of the pigs are dead. Most of the buffalos are dead also. They wouldn’t eat… They wouldn’t eat grass, they just stayed hungry and died. And the pigs wouldn’t eat the corn powder and then they died too. We have 2 children. The two older kids are alive.
And the two younger ones… …the first one was born and died after five days.
Another died after three days. We don’t know what happened. They had a fever, always cried and then after that, they passed… We were very upset. We miss them and we’re very upset about it. We were upset and cried and then we killed a buffalo for the funeral. After that we were so poor… Just say it… I gave birth at home and I didn’t go to the hospital.
That’s why they’re dead. We, Hmong people, are living in the mountain hills. Other ethnic minorities, they have traditional funeral scriptures passed on through generations. We, Hmong, we don’t have such written texts. When someone dies, we need to perform a ritual to send them off to another world. To send the spirit away, we need to use the khen. If we don’t have the khen, we cannot have a funeral. It’s very important for Hmong people… I used to go to funerals and played there… When I was little, I used to follow my old man. He took me places and told me about the Hmong customs. He knew how to make the khen but the craft died. So I followed him to funerals… Then he taught me how to make it so that if it gets broken, I can fix it; so that I can make it. If I didn’t know how to make one, in case it got broken, it’d be a write-off. When I go to funerals or somewhere far away, if someone’s khen is broken and they don’t know how to fix it, I’ll do it for them. Khen is often played at funerals, when we go out;
we perform at festivals and on other occasions.Weddings, too?Of course!Have you ever played khen at the Love Market?Oh, yes, many times! I go to the Love Market every year, but because I have a wife and kids, I only go to the Love Market for the day and get home at the end of the night. If I didn’t have a wife and kids, I wouldn’t like to go home so soon.When you play the khen, do the girls fancy you?Yes, many! Even at funerals! Still unable to find my story, I kept asking people about the history, roots and legends of the Love Market tradition. However, instead of gaining insight, I only felt more puzzled and confused.How did the Love Market begin?
How did this tradition start?Oh, I don’t know about that…How did the story start? How did it end?
The whole story…Hm… don’t know. When we were small, we didn’t know about the Love Market. Then when we grew older, it was already there. They opened the Khau Vai Love Market in 1989. Not only were the origins of the Love Market unclear, but I also found that the Hmong language doesn’t even have a word for Love Market. This lead to even more confusion. I only go to the market to buy things. When we go to the market, we go together and we buy some sweets to eat. We go together to see if there’s anything to buy for the kids. If we don’t need to buy anything, we don’t go.So there’s no such story around here?Not in this village… …maybe in another. At one point, my translator mentioned a piece of gossip she overheard earlier that day. Apparently many locals wouldn’t even know the legends if it wasn’t for government distributed fliers. We then tracked down a lady who I hoped could tell us more. They give out the paper and then the people who know how to read, they can read it and the people who cannot read, they show it to others who can read.Does the paper tell you how to run the Love Market?In the paper, they talk about the young couple, to remind the young generation about the boy and girl who were in love at the Love Market so that they’d all come to the Khau Vai Love Market.Is it the Kinh government or local authorities that distribute this paper?The Kinh government writes the paper and when the Love market is getting closer, then our local authorities give it out to us. Around the 25th-26th, when we go to the Love Market,
they give each person one paper.Who gives you the paper?Is it the village police or
the village chairman or somebody else?The head of the village and the head of the commune, they give it to the local people. I was beginning to feel that I am seeking the wrong story. The question in my head was weather the government geninelly wants to promote a tradition or whether there’s a bigger conspiracy here. This made me think of another legend from the region. Wondering if I’d find a connection, the following day we headed up to the village of Sa Phin, where the old, royal Hmong family residence is located. EXPERT: YOU SEEM KEEN TO INVESTIGATE ANOTHER COMMON MISTAKE LARGELY ENCOURAGED BY THE VIETNAMESE STATE FOR POPULIST PURPOSES: HMONG KINGS. IN SHORT, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS HMONG KINGS. IT IS CHIEFLY A SYMBOL, STILL OCCASIONALLY USED BY THE REGIME IN HANOI – AND BY THE TOURISM INDUSTRY. On the way, one of my crew was pulled over. A foreigner’s presence often deters the authorities from explicit corruption and luckily this time also, my white skin was enough to be let go on a friendly note. The royal family hasn’t lived in Sa Phin for decades and nowadays their house only serves as a tourist attraction. Still, with barely any tourism in the region few people ever visit. It’s got lots of symbols of opium inside. Good. Good place to be. But no opium… This is the house of the opium kings, apparently, from some years ago, decades ago, and we have three different versions of this story and have no idea what the story actually is cause depending on who you talk to, everybody says a different story. EXPERT: ACCORDING TO THEIR OLD MYTH OF CREATION, THE HMONG PEOPLE ORIGINATED IN A LAND FAR NORTH, AMONG SNOW. EXPERT: FACTS ARE VAGUE, BUT SOMETIME IN THE 1700s, MANY HMONG MIGRATED SOUTHWARDS FROM CHINA. MANY SETTLED IN THE NOW MOUNTAINS OF VIETNAM. The king’s name is Vuong Chinh Duc. His forefathers came from China around the end of the 17th century. He was born into a very poor family. In the late 19th century, he was one of the brightest men in Dong Van. In the beginning of the 20th century, when the French started to invade the area, after countless battles between the French and the Hmong people felt that he was the one who could ensure peace in the area. So it was the Hmong people in Dong Van who worshipped him and called him “King of the Hmong”. In 1900, the French started their invasion, but due to the complexity of this area’s geography the French couldn’t defeat him, despite numerous efforts. In October 1913, the French had to sign a peace agreement with him, according to which, they’d respect the people’s freedom. EXPERT: THE TALE OF THIS PSEUDO HMONG KING IS A POPULAR ONE IN VIETNAM. HE WAS IN FACT MORE LIKE A STRONGMAN WITH LOCAL CLOUT, WHO THE FRENCH LATER PUT ON A ‘THRONE’ SO THEY COULD BENEFIT FROM THE OPIUM INDUSTRY. Opium was one of the only sources of income for people in Dong Van. It was difficult to grow anything else besides opium on this rocky terrain. They also grew corn for food, but opium was the only source of income. In 1945, the reign of the Hmong king ended and the area became part of the revolution. After 1945, the family lived a normal life as civilians. At the beginning of 1947, the Hmong king died. EXPERT: IT SHOULD ALSO BE NOTED THAT WITH THE ‘KING’ IN AILING HEALTH, THE COMMUNIST REGIME HAD FOUND IT CONVENIENT TO RECRUIT HIS SON TO THEIR CAUSE IN STYLE, FOR REASONS NO DIFFERENT THAN THE FRENCH. The king Vuong Chinh Duc had three wives. All his wives were very beautiful and he chose them amongs the most beautiful women in Dong Van. There is this “kidnap the bride” tradition among the Hmong people, but he – he chose the beautiful ones whom he liked, then married them. EXPERT: THIS SHORT-LIVED DYNASTY DID NOT LEAVE A LASTING MARK ON THE HMONG EGALITARIAN POLITICAL FABRIC IN VIETNAM. THE PROBLEM WITH MANY FILMMAKERS IS THAT THEY ARE DYING TO FIND A ‘GOOD STORY’ THAT WILL CARRY THEIR FILM. TRIBAL KINGS ALWAYS SELL, AS DO EROTIC TALES OF THE “NOBLE SAVAGES”. SAD… I used to regret being born into this family. Around 1960, due to the land reform policies, we were denounced as a landlord family. I wasn’t allowed to go to school, the Vuong family were forbidden to take any position in the local government… But later on, the state made some changes so we could be proud and be known to many people. We were walking up this road to a small village by the road side, to give out some donations. We went into this house. The lady invited us in for some tea We did an impromptu interview then, but then Matt wanted to have a more professional interview, so that’s what they’re doing right now. I have 2 brothers, 3 sisters. When we were young, we farmed rice and collected vegetables for the animals and we were looking after the younger siblings. My younger sister… very long time haven’t heard
any news from her; don’t know where she lives, don’t know if she’s gotten married, if she’s got a good or bad life… Seven years ago, I was at the market.
Then she came by too. She asked me to give her my umbrella so I gave it to her. Then I told her: “you can go walk around the market. It’s getting dark so I will go home.” Then I came back to my husband’s home and I thought she’d also gone back to her home. After four days, I was going to work and I heard from other people that she never came back. The people thought maybe she got married, but I said: “Married? Married and she didn’t say anything?” She went to the market and she just disappeared… I don’t know if someone took her or she wanted to leave. When we found out, she was already gone… We were asking around if she got married or not. In Hmong culture, when somebody marries a young girl, 3 days later the family of the man would come to inform the woman’s family. She was gone very long, so maybe someone kidnapped her… We’ve been looking but we couldn’t find… EXPERT: BRIDE KIDNAPPINGS LIKE THIS ONE HAPPEN EVERY DAY. HMONG GIRLS SEE IT AS A SOURCE OF PRIDE AND A DISPLAY OF THEIR SUITORS’ LOVE. THEY RESIST MAINLY TO SHOW ATTACHMENT TO THEIR FAMILIES. YET UNWANTED KIDNAPPINGS (TRAFFICKING) OCCUR MORE AND MROE OFTEN AND MANY DISAPPEAR NEVER TO BE SEEN AGAIN…You have two younger sisters, right?Yes, they’re younger. The other one has been gone for about five years.Do you still hear from this other sister?At the beginning we used to, but now – not anymore. At the beginning, she had one baby and then she asked me to visit her… in China, one day’s drive away. When I went to visit her, she was just staying at the house.Did she not work?She was just looking after her baby. We don’t speak Chinese, so we were just speaking Hmong language. When I was there, I only spoke to my sister. The others spoke their own language, so I didn’t understand.Was she doing well? Was she healthy? Did the people there treat her well?Yeah, they treated her well…So when she was there, did somebody buy her?When she was there, she was brought to many different places…They brought her to many places to be a wife or for what?Yes, resold for marriage… She asked me to come back and visit her again. She raised a few pigs and she wanted to kill them for food to welcome me. She bought one big bag of rice and she wanted to kill the pig for me and she asked me to visit her, but I didn’t have time. I was too busy so I had no time to go, so she asked when I’d like to come… Oh, it’s very far, so if I went, it would cost a lot of money. When i go, I have to pay myself the money for the bus… Then two years later, she had another baby. It was another baby girl again. And then, I called her again and she didn’t answer… Her husband answered and he said she was coming back to us. Her husband said she had already left and she was not with him so from then on, she just disappeared… After the new year, we didn’t hear any more news from her. She disappeared for 5 years. We had no news for 5 years again…Around here, do the kidnappers only take girls?Do they also kidnap boys or older people?Yeah, they steal boys as well. Here we stay a bit further from the village, but up closer to the village, they steal more boys. The little girls they kidnap are usually 14 to 16. I am also scared when I go walking far from home. Our people who have been working in China, when they come back to visit, I’m afraid they’ll be tempted and will take me back to China with them too. I’m also scared they will do bad things to me. When I go to work, I’m alone, so I’m also afraid… …we talk to them for fun.…let’s finish this up. We got police.who are you? Where are you from?I’m from Lao Cai.Lao Cai? why you came here?
…you didn’t ask for permission? you never asked information from the government! you just do it like this and we get in trouble, or what?…we were just passing and started to talk to her.so then you have to ask permission! …why do you just film?!We’re on our way to Dong Van, so we just saw her…we just came inside to ask her a few questions…if you want to do anything, you need to ask a permit from the government! you cannot do it yourself!…let’s just play stupid.
Tell him that I’m really sorry,you know, I didn’t know and… and we will go now.when you do it, you should ask for permission! not just do it and then people think bad about us!…I know, I know.Can you keep rolling, Hoang?
…on this? please? just roll your camera?Oh, we just came to visit and we’re not doing anything bad, we’re leaving now…They want to know about the people living up here, in the mountains, near China…don’t need to explain! no need to explain! don’t talk too much or I will take you to the police station! you didn’t ask us for permission! you cannot do whatever you want!So what’s he say? Is it…are you Hmong?He says…Yes, I am.do you have an ID?I left it at the hotel.which hotel do you stay in?We’re sleeping near Khau Vai and Meo Vac.Just say that we’re really sorry,you can tell him that I don’t want to cause trouble,I just want to talk to people cause I think they’re beautiful…OK, we just need to leave and we don’t need to……so we’re going.I just want to give him a “banh chung”, so even if he’s not happy…just say I want to apologize, I just want to give him… to say sorry, ok?We bring this from Hanoi…no, it’s okay. you cannot do whatever you want..!Just give it to the lady and we leave.Yeah, give it to the kid and we leave.Take it.…he’s calling somebody!It’s ok… let’s go, let’s go quickly.Yeah… we just go.Ok, lets go… before anybody else gets……foreigner…can you…?…foreigner……all right, we gotta go, quick.yeah…video…What is he talking about?
Is he calling… backup?So we had a little run in with the cops and it kind of killed one of the interviews and it stressed everybody out and we’re taking a break for coffee and trying to see if some of our crew our going to stay or are going to leave the project and it’s really gonna affect the rest of the film, so… Let’s go. In a blow bigger than I’ve faced on any of my other productions, fearing potential repercussions, both of my translators, and so the core of my team, decided to leave the project. It was now only me and my camera man. Back in Meo Vac, the town was celebrating in preparation for the upcoming Love Market Without my crew, the project was at a standstill before I even got to the main event. Trying to save the situation, I reconnected with Thien, my contact from Ha Giang. He agreed to join the project and in the meantime, he connected me with a local Hmong girl from Meo Vac. In a complete coincidence, she happened to be one of the performers I was watching on stage. I took part in a lot of performances since I was little and it’s kind of a hobby of mine. I still like performing. It’s like doing your part to introduce your local culture. To greet people coming to the Khau Vai Love Market, we performed a lot of pieces. They related to my area and nearby ethnic groups: Hmong and Lo Lo. For Lo Lo, the performances were reenactments of our daily life activities. As for Hmong, we did a khen dance and antiphonal singing. Compared to old times, from my grandma’s generation, life has changed a lot and my way of living is different from those in the villages. First of all, here in the city, we have better education. Out there, people are uneducated and backwards. They are still superstitious. I want my people to have a more modern, civilized life so we can learn better things. At this point, my people aren’t there yet. EXPERT: THIS IS A WONDERFUL EXAMPLE OF A VIETNAMESE-EDUCATED HMONG, BUYING THE IDEA OF HMONG PRIMITIVISM AND PROMOTING THE STATE’S URGENT NEED TO CIVILIZE THEM. THAT IS – TO BECOME LIKE THE KINH.So if she meets some really handsome boy tomorrow, at the Love Market,and the boy wants to spend only one night with her,and not tell her boyfriend, would she do it or not?If a handsome guy flirts with you and your boyfriend doesn’t know about it… what will you do? Flirt back, nothing to be afraid of! She agrees! Tall, nice build, handsome… Go and get him! …nothing to worry about! Even with Thien nearby, the lack of a Hmong translator forced me to shoot some of the remaining scenes in silence. Lucky for me, that afternoon I met Cho, a tour guide, who happened to speak English, and whose story touched me in the most personal way. I went to Love Market when I was 17. I look such beautiful girl and after she know me she said: “You’re ok, I talking with you.” And after that, me and my friend going to catching she, to become my wife. We went to her family, we catching her. we bring her to the motorbike… she calling she’s mama: “Mama! Come and help me!” So, she’s mom coming: “You want to marry my girl?” “Tomorrow you bring your mama, papa to here and we will talking!” My family paid for the girl’s family very expensive… about $900. After three days, we sleep together. Now, I have one son. He looks like my wife… …and now I’m a little sad for my life. You know, I am gay… so my wife and me, now we separate nearly two years. Now, my parents, they take care of my son and I work in the city and my wife, she… went home. About three months ago, my parents… they know I am gay. My mom, she cry… she cry… she cry everytime. She say:
“You are minority…” “You are from minority” “I never see any minority boy like boy!” And she say:
“You’re going to the hospital!” I say:
“Why I’m going there?” “I’m no sick!
I’m never sick!” “I’m very strong!” “I eat a lot, I’m trekking everywhere!” And my mom say:
“You will like girls! You will be better.” And she bring my grandmother to my house. She told me: “My grandson!” “You are very friendly, you are very nice…” “…you have a problem in your family?” So I say: “My Grandmother, I like boys, so…” “…I can’t going to hospital!” After that, she said: “I have traditional medicine and you drink…” “…one month, you will feeling better.” “You will… strong man!” Now, I don’t have any boyfriend. I work every day… work, work. My son is now two years and five months Many people say:
“You are gay, so do you afraid later your son look like you..?” “your son like… boys?” So I say:
“My son choose. I never mind!” Few days ago I read one paper. There I read: “Vietnam is so developing, it’s so opening…” “Why we don’t open for gay marriage?” Very hopefully in 2014 the government in Vietnam, they have a paper for gay marriage. Oh… the last year is so many things to me, so many problems. I went to temple and they told me my life is so… …it’s become better now, everything passed and I have a new life… new life coming. Listen to me, I’ll tell you! You just step here, then you can come down! Back in Meo Vac, I found out that all the hotels were overbooked and all the prices tripled ahead of the Love Market. Having nowhere to stay, we were invited to crash in the backroom of the restaurant. I’m awkward in front of the camera…
Ok, forget it. In the front, the staff was preparing traditional cakes enjoyed during festive times. Finally, it was the day of the event. In the morning, I visited the Meo Vac Sunday Market, where once a week, people from villages kilometers away come together to trade food, animals and essential supplies. Hoping to somehow ease the hardship of at least one local family, I asked my old friends to meet me at the market.Apparently grabbing its ear tests how healthy it is…No, I’m making that up.I left the couple with a pig and a bag of rice. Finally, it was time to head to the Love Market. Roads in the region tend to be busy with people, some heading to their fields, some returning from the city and once a year – many heading to Khau Vai for the Love Market. Despite the vibrant colors, most people face long and exhausting treks every day.How far is it from your house to the market?Very far.How many kilometers?How many kilometers..? About 10km.How many kilometers is it?More than 4km… 7km… It takes one hour walking…When do you usually leave for the market?Around 6am.Leaving at 6am? When do you arrive?Around 9 o’clock.How many times in a week do you go to the Meo Vac market?In a week?Yes.I go there two times a week. Once every six days.Are you tired?Very… very tired! We’re carrying heavy things and we walk very far so we’re very tired. Again, without a Hmong translator, shooting was challenging. However the biggest challenge to filming was that ironically there seemed to be no couples anywhere. Instead, I could not get away from the crowds of Kinh tourists, and at times it seemed like I was the biggest attraction of the event. The local TV also must’ve seen me as an attraction. They pushed everyone aside, pointed their microphones at me and not knowing English, they just motioned for me to speak. Yeah, I really like Khau Vai. I’ve come to Ha Giang province three times before and I think it’s one of the most beautiful areas of Vietnam. After my interview, we stopped by Mui’s house, which for the occasion has turned into a restaurant. In a last push to find some truth behind the stories, I asked for assistance from the TV crew, who arranged for their local contact to finally tell me the whole legend of the Love Market. Ladies and Gentlemen! According to legends, Khau Vai Love Market started with a much loved story of Khau Vai people. There were a Nung boy and a Giay girl. They both were from families of tribe leaders. Back then, people from different tribes weren’t allowed to get married. For that reason, the two families forbade the lovers to get together. Hey, Ut! They’re gone. Go home. Whenever you hear my singing just come to this stream. I’ll wait for you. Ut, when… when you hear my flute come to the edge of the forest, where there is a stream, where there is a peach tree in bloom, where there is a nightingale tweeting. I’ll wait there for you. They were still deeply in love so the whole clan of the Nung boy charged on the girl’s land. Beat them up! Charge! They beat up people, ravaged the Giay clan’s houses. Oh god! Stop! Everyone, stop! We’re here! Just because… just because of us the two villages are fighting… Seeing that they could not change the rules of the tribes they fled together to May pass. Every year on the 26th of March, according to the lunar calendar, they would meet there. They only arranged to be there during the Love Market. Neither of them ever got married. They lived and died at May pass. Nowadays, the tent where the Nung boy stayed is Ong’s temple and on the site of the Giay girl’s tent, Ba’s temple was built. The legend of the Khau Vai Love Market began in 1919 and ever since, the story is passed on through different generations. Every year, the 26th-27th of the third month, according to the lunar calendar, is the time for lovers, lovers that are deeply in love, but cannot be together. The Love Market is not a place to buy or sell things, only to exchange love. And that’s the legend of Khau Vai Love Market, as it is told by Khau Vai people. Seeminly missing a few plot points I wondered why this story apparently so loved by Khau Vai people, actually had to be told by a government employee. Despite the festive mood, there still seemed to be few if any couples around. Adding to my disappointment was Thien, for whom the typical pressures of filmmaking turned out to be too much.Did you find a lover at the Love Market today?No.And everybody else?None of you found a lover here?No, none.So ask them… What does their perfect lover look like?You go to Love Market to look for a girl.
What would she be like?What type of girls are you looking for?We haven’t found one.Ok, but what do you want?I don’t know.Now, if you’re to get married, what type do you want?No…They don’t… no, no, no and nothing!Nothing?Stop, stop…Nothing, nothing…I ask any question but just “no, no and no and no!”Don’t get angry.I get angry… because… I’m not really comfortable…I’m gonna kill everyone right now!They, they don’t want to answer anything…I asked many questions but just no and no and no and no!Yet again, aside from my camera man, I was left without a crew. With a disappointing climax, with it being late night, I had also given up. Pushing further would only result in forced stories and awkward footage. Instead, I decided to let go and join the festivities. Or maybe I just needed to calm my nerves with some rice wine.Stepping down the street at the first gleam of daylightWalking through the corner of the parkThere are many things, people salute the breaking dawnLooking at the old people doing tai-chiHow peaceful my mind isBeloved Hanoi… yeah…The red sun is gloriousThe streets suddenly become more crowdedLooking at the hasty stream of peopleFollowing the long line of vehicles… yeah…Taking you to the streetswith many colors and many lightsEating at a small street stallHanoi is cozy, gentle,graceful and poeticEvery time I’m away, there’s a feeling my heart missesTaking you through ups and downsMany months and years have fadedNaming every ancient streetThe Sword lake is shimmery in the washed out afternoonThe smell of milk flowers is so sweetCalling autumn to stay longer for us to enjoy… passionate HanoiDespite being one of my favorite Vietnamese songs, this anthem to Hanoi, reminiscent of middle school and puberty, was not at all what I hoped for nor expected. With it being nearly sunrise, instead of heading home, most people crashed where they could. Most people, but not the grandma. When I first came here, to their house, I remember she was scared of me and my camera. I just want to ask her “why?”Grandma, do you remember when he came here last time?Oh, him? Yes, I remember! But I cannot speak to him!Were you scared?I was scared a little!Why were you scared?I wasn’t scared!?Not scared?Oh, I remember the camera!He took the camera out and you were scared, no?Oh yeah, I was scared…What made you scared?I’ve never seen before!Oh, never seen before?Now I see, I’m not scared. Now, I’m not afraid anymore.Tell her that even if she’s quite old,but when I look at her, I think she’s very happy and very friendly.Ask her, how can I live so old and be happy in my life?Grandma, he’s asking – you’re very old, but how can you live so happy and healthy?Oh..! You guys are still very young and beautiful! I try to be nice to people. When I see someone hungry – I give them food, when I see someone thirsty – I give them water… That’s how I live old. EXPERT: SOME ENTERPRISING, VIETNAMESE MIDDLEMEN HAVE MANAGED TO INCLUDE THESE ‘LOVE MARKET’ TALES TO THE DAILY FODDER OF MASS TOURISM. WITH TIME, EVEN LOCALS STARTED COLLABORATING IN THIS SEEMINGLY GOOD BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY. IN OTHER WORDS, YOU’VE BEEN TAKEN FOR A RIDE, THANKS TO THE BIASED KINH VERSION OF THINGS… The experience was a ride indeed. Maybe the tradition is lost and replaced by tourism, maybe it was never real. What is real, are the people – their lives, even if painful, much more fascinating then the legends told. SOON AFTER OUR FILMING, DO & DUNG INFORMED US THEIR PIG HAS DIED. A YEAR LATER, RIGHT BEFORE THE LOVE MARKET, DO’S FATHER PASSED AWAY. PAO BROKE HIS LEG IN A FARMING ACCIDENT LEAVING HIM IMMOBILE AND FORCING HIS WIFE TO CARE FOR THEIR FIELDS AND ANIMALS ALONE. HE DID RECOVER MONTHS LATER. LUONG MARRIED A TAY MAN. SHE WAS NOT KIDNAPPED BY HER HUSBAND TO MARRY. THIEN MARRIED A YAO GIRL AND NOW MANAGES A HOTEL IN HA GIANG CITY. VUONG THI CHO GAVE BIRTH TO A BABY BOY, PASSING ON THE “ROYAL HMONG” HERITAGE. CHO MANAGED TO FINALIZE THE DIVORCE WITH HIS WIFE. RIGHT AWAY HIS MOTHER DEMANDED HE FINDS A NEW GIRL. VIETNAM FAILED TO PASS THE MUCH ANTICIPATED GAY MARRIAGE EQUALITY LAW. IN THE YEAR FOLLOWING OUT FILMING, THE VIETNAMESE GOVERNMENT EXTENDED THE LOVE MARKET TO A 2 DAY EVENT. A KINH THEATRE TROUPE WAS BROUGHT FROM HANOI TO MEO VAC TO DRESS IN ETHNIC MINORITY CLOTHING AND PERFORM A PLAY BASED ON THE “LEGENDS”. BY 2020, THE VIETNAMESE GOVERNMENT PLANS TO TURN HA GIANG PROVINCE INTO A MAJOR, NEW TOURIST DESTINATION. Subtitles by: Etherium Sky. / Due to linguistic differences, spelling of certain names and titles may differ between languages and regions.