The Hmong people here in northern Vietnam have been raised in mountain villages of extreme gender bias, alcoholism and abuse.
For many of the young Hmong women who have come to town, almost anything is preferable to marrying a local Hmong man and returning to life in the village.
The young men watch impotently as many of the most affluent, independent and best-educated young women of their villages slip through their fingers.
My friend P returned last month from more than three years spent as a victim of human trafficking, the forced bride of a Chinese man.
Only three weeks after her return, P found herself again dangerously entangled against her will with another man – this time a violent young Hmong man who calls himself Lucky Charm.
P is an incredibly strong young woman. On top of the emotional turmoil of her return home, however, the constant houndings of the so-called Lucky Charm have proven too much for her.
Last week, Lucky Charm openly declared his intention to abduct P for marriage, in accordance with a brutal and outdated Hmong custom.
‘I feel scary,’ said P. ‘Make me think too much. All night cannot sleep.’
While Lucky Charm and his threats remain a very real danger for P, in the past three days this ugly little episode has taken a rather amusing turn.
On Saturday, it seems, Lucky Charm was riding his motorbike through the mountains with one of his male friends. In the course of conversation, Lucky Charm learned that his friend was also smitten with P, and intended to pursue her.
Lucky Charm is notorious for his explosive bursts of aggression. Quite possibly as a result of the ensuing argument, Lucky Charm crashed his bike and found himself in the local hospital with a broken leg. His friend, it seems, escaped relatively unscathed.
P and I were both underwhelmed with grief on hearing the news, and high-fived our way through our utter lack of sorrow.
Lucky Charm has effectively rendered himself harmless, at least for the moment. Without a physical presence, his madness is no longer frightening, but almost comical.
In a less fortunate turn of events, Lucky Charm has succeeded in getting P’s phone number from one of her friends, and has been calling with the frequency one might expect from an obsessive.
At first we let it ring, then I picked up a few times. For a while my foreign, male voice had the desired effect of scaring him off, and he’d hang up immediately. At last he mustered the courage to ask me if I was P’s boyfriend.
‘P doesn’t have a boyfriend. I’m her friend. You’re not, and she doesn’t want to talk to you.’
Eventually P began answering the phone by herself, and so the hilarity began.
‘Of course I’ll marry you,’ she told him. ‘When roosters lay eggs.’
P, who has not been interested to take this matter to the police, goes on to tell Lucky Charm about her entirely fictional ‘little policeman boyfriend’.
‘Shut up your mouth,’ says P. ‘Your leg’s broken enough. If you follow me I’ll carry the big knife and cut your leg off.’
P and I have been listening to a lot of Hmong music lately – particularly one song, to which we occasionally improvise our own verses about Lucky Charm. P decided to sing a few lines to the young man himself over the phone.
Oh whoa whoa yeah yeah
I want to see you die for sure
When you die just let me buy your chickens
Oh whoa whoa yeah yeah…
That little number stopped him calling for a full day.
When it seemed the situation couldn’t get any more absurd, Lucky Charm’s mother called, saying her little boy was at home crying all day and wouldn’t eat a thing. She, too, has decided that the only solution is for Lucky Charm to marry P.
‘Me, I never see people stupid like this,’ says P.
P’s own mother is worried that Lucky Charm’s family and friends could abduct her in the street at any time. P, however, refuses to back down, and will fight to the end for her freedom.
‘If people take me go, I just kill myself,’ she says.
This time, it seems, she’s serious.
My first four weeks here in town have been anything but dull, with P’s escape, disappearance and ultimate return from China, a fantastic road trip and now a stuck-at-home stalker threatening abduction. We’ll all just have to wait and see what lies in store for my final four weeks here.
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