No 11, Vol.5, December 2015 – January 2016

Buffalo bazaar Can Cau of Si Ma Cai has long been famous in Lao Cai Province. On market days, hundreds of buffalos are brought here from the highland hamlets of Bac Ha, Si Ma Cai, Muong Khuong, even from Sin Man District of Ha Giang Province.
In the last few days, the weather in Si Ma Cai has turned cold. Heaven and earth are sunk in thick fog. At 6 a.m., the clock rang. I threw off my blanket and looked out, but could see nothing. Having warmed myself with some rice noodles, I hurried down to Can Cau, not wanting to miss the buffalo bazaar. Groups of people, blurred in the fog, went down the San Chai slope in rhythm with the tintinnabulation of tiny bells.

Ms Giang Thi My of Hoa Su Pan Village, San Chai Commune woke up at 4 a.m. to help her husband take three buffalos a dozen kilometres to Can Cau. This season, the buffalos don’t have to plough, so Ms My takes them here, hoping to sell one for a good price to buy a new TV set or a motorbike for the New Year. Every now and then, I meet a group of people walking tens of buffalos down the slope. The buffalos walk leisurely on the asphalt, without any leash.
7 a.m., Can Cau bazaar brightens with colours. Hundreds of buffalos have gathered, blackening a whole area. Buyers, sellers, villagers and tourists all are talking, bargaining, having fun. Mr Sung A Dung of Can Cau Commune said people bring their buffalos here to sell if there is a good bargain. Otherwise, it’s a chance to show off their family’s buffalos, which is fun too. So every Saturday, each family walks their whole herd to the bazaar to ‘exhibit’ them.

While admiring a bull, I started at someone’s shout, ‘Stop them fighting!’ In a wet clearing, two loose ferocious bulls were ramming against each other, their eyes shot red. They hung onto each other, their sharp horns interlocked, flinging to both sides. Curious spectators flocked to the site, shouting, cheering. Mr Dung added, ‘Buffalos brought here are mostly bulls, very ardent. Fights like this happen every time the bazaar gathers.’
Amid this Can Cau ‘stock-exchange’, it’s hard to tell the buffalo traders apart. Everybody carries a backpack or a brocade bag across one shoulder, or a money bag-belt bulging on their stomach. Each times the bazaar gathers a trader may bring tens, even hundreds of millions to buy buffalos.

I mingled in a crowd around a big bull. A buffalo trader named A Sung, a scraggy, tiny man with a gaunt face and piggy eyes, was scrutinizing it. Some buffalo sellers whispered among themselves that this man had decades of experience and was famous for his shrewdness. A Sung came over, loudly slapped the animal’s behind, rubbed its belly and pinched it. Then he snuck behind the buffalo, kicked hard at its knee while his hands pulled its tail, making the animal jump as if electrified. Not yet satisfied, he unbridled it, wrestled to open its mouth wide to inspect its teeth. The animal blew white foam, seething, lifted its horns and pulled back. The trader finished, missing no detail. A buffalo seller whispered to my ear, ‘That’s what I call knowledge! Slap and pinch to see if it is fit. Check the teeth to estimate its age.’

According to the sellers, buffalos are less pricey this year. A big VND45 million bull last year is worth only VND43 millions this year. I noticed that the buyers and sellers have some conventional signals among themselves. Satisfied with a buffalo, a trader would ask its price. The owner firmly says, VND37 millions. The trader proposes VND32 millions. The owner stretches out his right hand and says decisively, VND35 millions is the final offer! The trader is almost convinced, but still hesitates. He looks at the buffalo, turn away, then turns back and jerks up his chin, ‘VND34 millions, let’s shake hands, huh?’ Seeing that the owner is unmovable, the trader agrees to pay VND35 millions and shakes his hand. Money is paid and the two men shake hands again. The trader takes out a paint tube, sprays number 8 and a colon on the buffalo’s behind, meaning ‘sold to new owner’. More and more buffalos are branded on the field as the day goes on. Some trader has bought as many as 20 buffalos. Each time the bazaar gathers a big number of buffalos are sold, sometimes worth even billions of dongs.n

Photos: At the buffalo bazaar Can Cau of Si Ma Cai in Lao Cai Province

By Tuan Ngoc