On my last morning in Sapa I had a quick breakfast at the hotel before heading out to meet Vi. I was worried she would still be upset, but – just as Ge predicted – Vi showed up in a great mood. No trace of the drama from the night before.
Vi led us to her place to say hello to her older sister Chau, who I hadn’t met yet. Chau was happy to see me because she needed help translating an e-mail written in English. Chau’s spoken English was excellent, but abbreviations threw her off. Native speakers don’t always realize how confusing it can be to use a shortcut like “min” instead of writing out “minute.”
Ge’s room was just two doors down from the room Vi shares with Chau, so Ge gave me a tour of her place, too. It’s basically one big room with a thin partition that divides the main space in the front from a narrow section in the back that has cooking equipment on one side and a toilet on the other. With both My and Little Chu staying in Sapa for a few days, Ge and her husband had a full house.
Chang and Ya dropped by Ge’s room to tell me that they had to leave on treks soon and wouldn’t be able to join us that afternoon. I was already bummed out about it being my last day in Sapa and it didn’t help that I already had to say goodbye to two of my friends. Chang agreed to pose for one more photo.
Ge invited everyone to have lunch at her place before our hike up the mountain. Earlier I’d told Chu, who was still pouting, that I’d meet her for lunch, so I anticipated trouble. Ge said she thought Chu would be OK if we all ate together. I kept my fingers crossed. Ge told us to meet back for lunch at noon so I went to check out of my hotel room and then took a few photos before meeting Chu.
“You ready lunch?” Chu asked.
Uh-oh… “Ge invited us all for lunch at her place,” I said, wincing on the inside.
Chu’s face darkened. I braced myself. “You say you have lunch with me,” Chu complained.
“Yes, I still want to have lunch with you. But also with Ge, Vi, and the others. Ge said we’re all invited.”
Chu didn’t like it one bit. “I not go mountain with you,” she said.
I didn’t want to upset Chu, and up to a point I was OK with Chu playing me, but that point had been reached. I’d already accepted the fact that I lacked whatever combination of skills I needed to keep everyone happy. “I wish you’d come to the mountain with us,” I told Chu. “But I understand if you can’t. Now let’s go eat at Ge’s.” Chu did follow me to Ge’s but she was as good as her word and didn’t join us on the mountain.
Lunch was excellent. We had the exact same dishes Chu’s mom served – steamed rice, pork, tofu, and some kind of green vegetable – and everything tasted great. My favorite meals in Sapa, far and away, were the ones I didn’t have in restaurants: lunch at Chu’s house, the lunch the girls made in Ta Phin, and lunch that day at Ge’s place.
A little later in the afternoon Ge’s husband Choo came home to join us for the hike up the mountain. Choo, who is 20 (same age as Ge), seemed like a good guy but didn’t speak much English. “Also he too shy to talk to you,” Ge said.The mountain we hiked up is a high point that’s been gated off and turned into a tourist attraction. Choo, who grew up near Sapa, had never been to the mountain before and seemed fired up to see the views.
At one point Ge pointed at my Keen sandals and asked, “You like?”
I told her I liked them very much. “They’re comfortable on hikes, they protect my feet, and they can go in the water no problem. They may not look great but they work great.”
Ge wasn’t convinced. She made it clear that no self-respecting Hmong would ever be caught dead in such ridiculous looking sandals. “But it OK because you tourist,” she concluded magnanimously.
We had to hurry back down the mountain so I could catch the 5pm minivan to the train station in Lao Cai. The group joined me at my hotel to see me off, and even Chu showed up to say goodbye. She was still pouting but found it in her heart to give me one more high-five before I left.
My first photo in Sapa showed Vi and Ge right after we met. I asked the two of them to pose in the same place four years later. (I wish I had access to the 2006 version so I could post the two photos side-by-side, but it’s on a different computer.) It may take another four years but I’ll find my way back to Sapa. I’m already looking forward to seeing my friends again.