sapa So picture this –

You’re on a mountain top way station near the Chinese border surrounded by Vietnamese ethnic minority villages. The inhabitants of these villages live, dress and farm much like they have for hundreds, if not thousands of years, but for the ubiquitous presence of TVs.

Only the young generation, hawking their tribe’s wares to tourists knows any English beyond “buy from me, buy from me”.

You pass by several young girls, who ask where you’re from; upon saying “Israel” and walking on, they break into song “ha kova sheli, shalosh pinot, shalosh pinot la kova sheli”.

What the heck? How pervasive is Israeli travelling that 12 year old girls from the Black H’mong tribe can sing a Purim song and call me “hamuda”?

The kids skipping school and selling stuff on the streets are terribly friendly, even after they realize you aren’t buying anything. The above mentioned Hebrew speaking ones hung out with a group of us for a good chunk of the night.


Seeing and hearing about their odd little tribal customs like no kissing, ever, not parents, not husbands or how they change the style of their hair upon marriage, their dress (they too wear the same outfit their people have been wearing for the last several hundred years everyday TM, but they apologize to you for their shameless conformity) reminds me that my heritage too is tribal at its core, with our own style of dress, customs and folklore. It’s just that we’ve prospered enough to have the option to leave it behind.

A blessing and a curse to be sure. Still, I just find myself happy that us Jews never got reduced being an ancient tribal tourist attraction, hawking menorahs on the street of some backward country where you can’t drink the water. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

About the author

Laya Millman


  • When I was there I asked them where they learned that song and one of the girls said “Tomer. Do you know him?”

    Those girls are all adorable. Super friendly and laughed about the hair on my arms and my face.

    How was the train ride from hell? Did you end up staying at the Cat Cat?

  • A few years ago I was at Sapa as well talking to the H’mong folks. It’s obvious from your post that they haven’t changed a bit 🙂

    The impact of Israeli travelers on the local environment is very pervasive everywhere you go, and I can attest that it is much worse in some other places, like Nepal and Thailand.

    Unfortunately, I don’t agree with your comment about the water. I know a few people from Canada and US that won’t drink the water in Israel out of fear of getting sick, and I also have quite a few friends living here in Israel who resort to buying mineral water on a regular basis.

    and finally, of course I know Tomer! who doesn’t? 🙂

  • I very rarely converse w/ Israelis outside of Israel, something about them usually seems off. Only once in recent years did I meet a nice couple, in the Dam, we chatted a bit, very empathetic nice people.

    In the states as well, there are a very few exceptions.

    At any rate, they will all be in the Diaspora soon, if this maniac olmert isn’t replaced by someone w/ a brain, like Avi Dichter.