Life goes on in our little mountain town, always changing and ever the same. The six months since I was last here have seen numerous radical transformations.
A new highway has halved the travel time from Hanoi, and the town is now indundated with weekend traffic from the capital. The number of Vietnamese tourists is increasing on an almost-weekly basis.
The sounds of construction echo through the town centre, building codes are disregarded, and brand new hotels have sprung up as if from nowhere. Others are sprouting outwards and upwards, like jungle plants striving for the sun.
Just beyond the town, a major development project is underway which will, within the next year or so, alter this area forever. As ever, the lion’s share of profits will fill the pockets of the Kinh majority, while the minority groups that draw people here feed on the scraps.
In the past six months, two of my friends have launched a restaurant, another has opened a small shop. One friend has married, another is pregnant, a third has recently lost her partner to a motorcycle accident.
And, of course, girls continue to disappear to China. Some of them return; most do not.
I still recall what an idyllic and carefree place this town appeared to me when I first arrived here almost four and a half years ago, and what a magical paradise it was to me then.
That was before I learned of the poverty, exploitation, extreme racial and gender imbalances, alcohol and substance abuse, domestic violence, pedophilia and, of course, human trafficking.
Before I learned that everything has a price tag, and someone must pay.
Four years ago, and again, earlier this year, I considered this town home. There are people here who no longer consider me a foreigner or friend, but family. I have forged connections here I will never forget.
Yet I have the feeling that this stay may be my last; it’s almost time for me to say goodbye to this little mountain town.
Yesterday was an epic day, a dramatic shift for The Human, Earth Project and all we’ve worked to achieve. After months of nothing but bad news, events have taken a very interesting and unexpected turn.
Nothing is certain yet, and there’s nothing more I can say at this point. It’s too soon to start counting chickens – as I write, everything is hanging in the balance.
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