“This is what I live for!” I exclaimed to Duy, my interpreter-guide, as we ambled down from a narrow pass, surrounded by the jutting shark's fins and dragon heads of the wild karst landscape. The tropical sun was warming us as it slowly sank in the west through the haze that always seemed to encompass this lush landscape. We were just below the 22nd parallel in the north of Vietnam and celebrating a photojournalism trip to a new tourmaline mine, opened only the previous week. “Mine” may be a stretch of the imagination, if one can visualize hundreds of people crammed into what had been a cornfield, now being torn asunder by the most primitive of mining tools: farming hoes, weeding tools, machetes, and a handful of small hammers, along with bare hands. It was a scene of chaos and the frantic pursuit of riches by poor peasant farmers and itinerant Dao (pronounced Dzao) tribal people. The mayhem and frenzy were infectious, and I was overwhelmingly thrilled to be a part of it; best of all, it had popped up out of the blue.
Dudley Blauwet, a gem and mineral dealer for nearly thirty years, travels the world in search of specimens and gem rough. He has traveled extensively to East and West Africa and to most countries from Southwest to Northeast Asia. Vietnam has become one of his favorite destinations during the past six years, with up to three trips there per year.