February 15th, 2019, it was a breezy afternoon at the mountainous northern part of Vietnam, the day before I started to ride my rented motorbike for the known ‘northern loop’. This journey started from Ha Giang, a small town located about 300km north from Hanoi. This northern part is a border area between Vietnam and China and now a growing tourist’s attraction.
The history between Vietnam and China is a long story. Vietnamese historical record, Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư noted that China and Vietnam had contact since the Chinese Warring States period and the Vietnamese Thục Dynasty of the 3rd century BC.
In this northern loop, I had record several sounds, including the sound of Song Lo river which pass from China to Vietnam, cricket and frog sounds at Yen Minh, one of the small towns in the northern loop (after a quiet mountainous area), the sound of a village closest to China – its just about 600 meters from China separated by mountains, etc. Among these recordings, one of my favourite recordings was the sound of Hmong children playing cards at Dong van Plateau. Hmong people are an ethnic group that live in the most southern part of China, northern part of Laos, and northern part of Vietnam. I could feel that they were mountain people and their traditional clothes seemed to protect them from the cold weather
When I stopped at Dong van Plateau, I met a group of Hmong Children. They were around 4 – 9 years old. As tourism grew in this northern loop, Hmong children also began to have interactions with the tourists, which most of them were foreigner. They started to know how to be photographed and several tourists gave them candies or chocolates. But as children, they were just the same as other children in the world: sincere and very cute. Actually, I feel that they didn’t really care about the foreign tourist and just enjoyed playing.
One thing that really caught my attention was that they played cards but with Hmong language – of course. The sounds they made while playing cards were very cute and funny. In this recording, you can hear them mentioning their cards, although I cannot understand their language. But I feel the Hmong language sound itself is very interesting and musical (the intonation, the accents, the pronunciation, etc).
According to various references in Southeast Asian history, the Hmong-mien language belongs to the native language family of this region, in addition to the four other language families, namely Austroasia, Austronesian, Tai, and Tibetan-Burmese. Whereas the Hmong themselves are believed originated from the area around the Yellow River of China, then spread to southern China, and then also inhabited the highlands of northern Vietnam and northern Laos.
I recorded this Hmong children from a very close distance. These children made a circle while playing cards and I just sat beside them, and put my Tascam handy recorder very close to them. I only use my Tascam handy recorder, and did not organize my complete microphone setting because I do not want to disturb them with my tools. I just want to record their pure authentic behavior. Also, one of the wonderful moments was when one of the children finally realized the handy recording in my hand and shouted “photoo!, photoo!” enthusiastically. Since they were innocent kids, they thought my handy recorder was a camera. Oh how funny and cute. Their languange, accents and laughter when playing cards were really captivating. It’s a kind of music!. In the background, you could hear tourist motorbike passed by and several tourists converse while taking photographs of the beautiful Dong van Plateau.
There was another story about Hmong people. During Vietnam War, many Hmong people was recruited by the CIA to fight comunnism in Vietnam and Laos. After America gave up in this long war, Hmong people entered a difficult situations as minorities in Vietnam. They become marginalized and also seen as traitors. I am not an expert and I also have no deep interest in politics and war (I often couldn’t understand that). But in this afternoon, the sound of Hmong children playing cards really touch my heart. I hope we could share love as human being.