Mostly, they still abide by strict traditions regarding marriage; but on Facebook, Cẩm and her friends were free to chat and flirt.
Some of the boys Cẩm chatted to online were cute, but Long was different: they could spend whole afternoons messaging each other.
By 14, she’d dropped out of school to help support her family, and had taken a job at a hotel in Sapa town, a former French hill station now crowded with tourists exploring the nearby mountains.
By 15, she’d logged on to Facebook for the first time, escaping online to chat with friends and flirt with boys.
Girls are prized commodities in this part of the world, thanks to the one-child policy introduced in China in 1979.
A Confucian preference for male children has resulted in many families opting for sex-selective abortions or performing female infanticide at home.
Not long after, Cẩm was at her grandmother’s house with her mother, a few villages over from their own, when she logged on to Facebook to see if there was any news from Long.
Instead, she had a friend request and message from his younger brother Bình, asking if she was in Sapa.
Identity stems not necessarily from the nation of their birth, but the ethnicity of their clan – be that Black H’mong, Flower H’mong or White H’mong.
Five months passed like this, until they finally met in person on Cẩm’s 16th birthday.
They met once again a few weeks later at Tết – Vietnamese new year – and then, just as suddenly as he’d come into her life, her new boyfriend disappeared.
The four sat down at a cafe and, as the boys ordered beers for everyone, the girls went to the toilet together to freshen up.
Cẩm and her friend went back out to meet the boys and started chatting, sipping their beers as they talked.