Even though technology has left its mark on most households, nature still rules in the village of Ta Phin. There is a story behind every custom and tradition. Dao people have learned from their parents how things should be done, and for most parts those rules still apply to their lifestyles today.
Nights in the village begin early at dusk as families gather around the fire to cook dinner. Although women run the kitchen, in all the families that I stayed with, men had an active part in preparing the food; from preparing the meat to setting the table, pouring the rice wine and entertaining the guests.
Dao kitchens are part of a big open area in the house where everyone gathers upon entering. There are usually two stoves in the kitchen; one for cooking and one for preparing the herbs for the herbal bath. Dao women cook one dish at a time on the cooking stove, and they use the same pot to prepare all the dishes. Considering that there are usually five to ten different dish prepared for every meal, preparing dinner can take up to an hour. They set the table and where everything is ready, you are invited to eat.
|Dinner table at a Dao Home stay|
I stayed with Chao Ta May and her family on my second night in Ta Phin during the recent CBT Vietnam Project trip to SaPa. At night we all gathered around the fire as she welcomed us with a bowl of fries; a very unique fried potato dish with garlic and salt or sugar! A much needed appetizer while we were waiting for the actual meal.
Chao Ta May’s son had recently got married and was living with his new bride at the same house. As Chao Ta May was preparing the dinner, I asked her about the wedding customs of Dao people.
“We found her in the book” she replied with a smile. It took me a while to figure out that this ‘book’ was actually a record of available girls in the neighborhood villages and was made by a matchmaker. “I picked her. We sent her family two silver bracelets and waited to see if they would accept them” she eagerly continued. “Then we sent the chicken”. “The chicken?!” I asked spuriously. “Yes! 10kg exactly, and we waited again. When they accepted it, we sent the 70kg pig”. She explained that these numbers were important because the bride’s family had to invite certain people in the process and needed to feed them. “Things have changed!” she continued. “When I was getting married I had no way of seeing or contacting my future husband until the wedding day. He was in another village! Nowadays kids contact each other before the marriage. My son and his wife had sent each other pictures by phone and were talking for a while” she continued with a smile. “When all the decisions are made, the bride should start making her dress. It takes her one year to finish the dress” she said that with a smile! She must have been thinking about her own dress.
As Chao Ta May was sharing this with us, I couldn't help but thinking about the traditional weddings and arranged marriages. If it was not for the match makers and the ‘books’, have these young boys and girls who live miles away in different villages ever had a chance to meet? After all, there seems to be a place and time for everything, even for an arranged marriage and that is in Ta Phin and among Dao people. As for the book, I am on one already; it is called Facebook, so where is my chicken!?