This was a different kind of trip for me. Usually, I like researching about a destination before I visit. I like knowing more about the culture, the people and the history. This time around, the decision to travel was made rather quickly. And in between other things going on, I was hard pressed to find time to find out more about Vietnam.
The conical hat is seem in the countryside and in the city. In a way, it worked quite well. I had no pre-fixed notions in my head. Which is also probably why I was unprepared for some of the similarities I would encounter.
The countryside especially, with the rice and paddy fields was very much a sight I’ve witnessed during my journeys in Assam. Except that in some places in Vietnam, they practice what is called terraced cultivation due to the hilly terrain.
The other thing that was familiar were the conical hats that men and women wore to ward off the sun. While it isn’t exactly the same, the resemblance was definitely there. While our jaapi is conical with a slightly flaring outer section, the hat that the Vietnamese wear is completely conical.
A shape found in many other countries in South East Asia including Cambodia and Thailand. And the origins of the “jaapi” though not very well documented, is said to originate from the same area. The material used is the same – bamboo / palm leaf.
On a visit to the Ethnology Museum in Hanoi city (the capital of Vietnam), we get a glimpse of the weaves and material used by different tribes (up to 56) residing in different parts of the country. And I couldn’t help but notice the similarity to some of the patterns and colours that our tribal people from Assam and the North East use. Usually, these weaves are common in our mekhela chaddors that Assamese women wear.
The other familiar thing is the rice wine we were offered in a village in the north of Vietnam where we were on a two day trek. Apparently, this kind of wine is offered on special occasions in the village, like weddings and other big celebrations. After sipping on the strong concoction, I found it quite similar to the rice wine, lao pani, brewed by the Assamese folks back home, especially in our villages.
Of course, many many years ago, when there was free trade and movement of goods and people across countries (unlike the restrictions we have in modern times) one can only imagine the kind of exchange that might have happened between these neighouring countries including Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Well, no one probably needed a passport in those days so think of how different thing were. Of course, there were no planes or cars in those days either, but people did get around to far away places. Fascinating.
Though there are many similarities, of course there are also many distinctive features of the country, I must admit that the language is extremely different. The languages of Vietnam are quite complex and has no similarity to our tongue. The main one (Kinh) is highly influenced by several different scripts and the history behind it is quite fascinating. The food, though extremely delicious and varied was also a treat and there was something new to discover every day. The Vietnamese love their fish and meat and their preparations are quite healthy so even though their portions are large, they do manage to stay rather slender! Something we Assamese with our love for rice have yet to figure out, of course :-).