Sunday, 18 March 2012

Best Salespeople of Vietnam: The Black Hmong and Red Dao

If you have merchandise or goods to sell, you could do far worse than to get ladies from Vietnam's ethnic minority hilltribes to do the selling. They are by far the most persuasive and tenacious of salespeople one is likely to encounter anywhere. This lady from the Black Hmong in Sapa got me to part with VND 220,000 (about SGD 14) for this exquisitely stitched shirt, after a healthy round of bargaining (the starting price was something like USD 20). There were smiles around - she got the cash, and I got something to wear at the next concert, plus this cheerful photo!

This lady from the Red Dao was still selling her handicrafts in the freezing cold at 9 pm at night. The street leading to Sapa's Chao Long Hotel was misted over and damp, yet that did not deter her from approaching me to sell this lovely bag. She got VND 150,000 (just under SGD 10) for her sheer determination, and I got a new bag to carry my concert booklets and CDs.

It is not true that the Red Dao women are totally averse to having their photographs taken (which is thought to take away part of their souls). For a potential sale of postcards, trinkets and handicrafts, they are more than willing to be models for wannabe photo-journalists. Rule of thumb: When you buy from one lady, you must also buy from the other. Then both of them will be happy and leave you alone.

Their modus operandi: most of the ladies will wait outside your hotel, any tourist attraction or wherever your vehicle stops, and they will gently approach you with offers to look at their merchandise. Any show of interest will attract further ladies, and within minutes you will be swamped. To avoid them, just say "No, thank you" and they will quietly disperse. Anything else, you'll have an entourage following you wherever you go.

For our trek to Lao Chai. four Black Hmong ladies and an infant formed our entourage. They were very friendly, non-aggressive and mostly helpful, especially in the matter of crossing small streams and mud tracks. They ask questions like, "Where do you come from? How old are you? What do you do?" Their sales pitch only comes hours later, when they have retured to their village or when they spot other tribes people approaching. In an essence, they have claimed us as "their tourists" and vice versa, and it would be remiss not to buy something - anything - from them.

Many of the ladies work on their crafts wherever they choose to sit down, as this Red Dao lady has done outside of Ta Phin Cavern.

Taking a short break, before the sales pitch begins.

Do not think for a moment that these ladies are not connected to the 21st century world. Almost all of them have cellular phones! The Red Dao lady in the middle doubles up as a medicine cum herbal treatment lady, and the handphone was a gift from her grateful patients.

Finally, our ways must part. I do so by buying something from the Red Dao ladies - a sling bag or cushion covers, anything will do. Anyway, some of the items are just too lovely to resist. Fact: I ended up buying more sling bags than my wife!

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