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Dining with the Dong


liuzhou
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Note: This follows on from the Munching with the Miao topic.

 

The three-hour journey north from Miao territory ended up taking four, as the driver missed a turning and we had to drive on to the next exit and go back. But our hosts waited for us at the expressway exit and lead us up a winding road to our destination - Buyang 10,000 mu tea plantation (布央万亩茶园 bù yāng wàn mǔ chá yuán) The 'mu' is  a Chinese measurement of area equal to 0.07 of a hectare, but the 10,000 figure is just another Chinese way of saying "very large".

 

We were in Sanjiang Dong Autonomous County, where 57% of the inhabitants are Dong.

 

The Dong people (also known as the Kam) are noted for their tea, love of glutinous rice and their carpentry and architecture. And their hospitality. They tend to live at the foot of mountains, unlike the Miao who live in the mid-levels.

 

By the time we arrived, it was lunch time, but first we had to have a sip of the local tea. This lady did the preparation duty.

 

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This was what we call black tea, but the Chinese more sensibly call 'red tea'. There is something special about drinking tea when you can see the bush it grew on just outside the window!

 

Then into lunch:

 

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Chicken Soup

 

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The ubiquitous Egg and Tomato

 

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Dried fish with soy beans and chilli peppers. Delicious.

 

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Stir fried lotus root

 

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Daikon Radish

 

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Rice Paddy Fish Deep Fried in Camellia Oil - wonderful with a smoky flavour, but they are not smoked.

 

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Out of Focus Corn and mixed vegetable

 

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Fried Beans

 

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Steamed Pumpkin

 

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Chicken

 

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Beef with Bitter Melon

 

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Glutinous (Sticky) Rice

 

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Oranges

 

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The juiciest pomelo ever. The area is known for the quality of its pomelos.

 

After lunch we headed out to explore the tea plantation.

 

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Interspersed with the tea plants are these camellia trees, the seeds of which are used to make the Dong people's preferred cooking oil.

 

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As we climbed the terraces we could hear singing and then came across this group of women. They are the tea pickers. It isn't tea picking time, but they came out in their traditional costumes to welcome us with their call and response music. They do often sing when picking. They were clearly enjoying themselves.

 

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And here they are:

 

 

After our serenade we headed off again, this time to the east and the most memorable meal of the trip. Coming soon.

 

 

Edited by liuzhou
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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

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About an hour and a half later, somewhat behind schedule, we arrived at Guandong village (冠洞村  guàn dòng cūn), a traditional Dong village in the east of Sanjiang Dong county. We were here for something very special. The villagers were hosting a 侗族百家宴 (dóng zú bǎi jiā yàn), "Dong People Hundred Family Feast".

 

We rolled into the village and were escorted to the place of honour facing this drum tower. Totally built of wood, without nails, these are to be found in every Dong village. In fact, they have a saying that a village without a drum tower isn't a village, just a bunch of houses. The drum tower was used to sound warnings or to send signals. Today they are community meeting places, courts, places of worship etc. The centre of village life.

 

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In front of the tower, the villagers put on a short performance for our benefit.

 

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Like the Miao people, the Dong also have a Lusheng culture and their music is very similar.

 

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As you can see their dress is different from that of the Miao. Here they are singing a song about weaving.

 

After this they bring out tables to fill the square in front of the Drum Tower.

 

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At this point, I went for a wander. Behind the drum tower, is the 'main street' - actually, the only street.

 

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Here I met this charming young man who babbled away to me in the Dong language - not one in which I am very proficient..

 

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I returned to find  this. Everyone has taken up position at a table.

 

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I joined the one on the left.

 

Each family in the village makes a meal for one table. This chap made ours and happily served us. Real Dong style home cooking.

 

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This means that every table is having a different meal, although of course there are duplicated dishes. But the way it works is that you start out at the table of your choice and sample the delights on offer. Our table had:

 

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Daikon radish and carrot

 

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Fried carp(?) with tomato and chilli

 

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Tofu cubes stuffed with pork and cabbage

 

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Cured pig fat

 

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Mixed offal and greens in a hot pot.

 

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Lizard's Tail Vegetable

 

Now, you might be thinking "I wonder what the other tables have that I might prefer." No problem. You can just get up with your bowl and chopsticks and wander around the other tables. If something takes your fancy, you just join whoever is there. They will most probably offer you a cup of home-made rice wine and encourage you to eat more. Then you can wander off again and search for another table which looks inviting (they all do!) This is not only acceptable behaviour, but expected.

 

Here are some things I found on other tables.

 

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Some kind of steamed gourd.

 

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Smoked fish

 

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Bean Sprouts

 

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蛋饺. These are like jiaozi (potstickers) but the skin is egg rather than pasta. Mini-omelets.

 

and many more

 

The men take to walking around proposing toasts to all the women; while the women do the same to the men.

 

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Most just continue eating.

 

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Finally, we are full and it is time to leave. This is the bit that tugs my heartstrings every time. As the guests leave, the entire village follows them to the village gate singing their farewell song.

 

 

 

I feel it's important to say that they are not doing this only for the benefit of tourists. No money changes hands. It is simple, pure hospitality to strangers. It's not a movie set. This is real life for these people. I feel overwhelmed every time I experience it. And so privileged to be able to share in it.

 

We head for the county town, Sanjiang. Where more adventure awaits us.

 

 

Edited by liuzhou
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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

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When we arrived in Sanjiang we were led into a theatre where we saw yet another Dong musical extravaganza. This was a professional  production billed as a Love Story and although it was OK, it didn't have the magic or thrill of the amateur performances done for love rather than money which we had been watching for two days.

 

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So, I thought I'd now take the opportunity to fill in a little detail of the Dong people's food culture.

 

Like the Miao, they very much like their oil tea, made from Tea Seed Oil (Camellia oil). Do not confuse this with the inedible, indeed toxic, tea tree.oil. Dong oil tree is slightly different from the Miao's version. They include spices, ginger and, in particular, garlic. I'm never sure which one I prefer. Usually the one I happen to be drinking at the time.

Most Dong people consume this every day and they also share the Miao hospitality rituals associated with the oil tea, offering it to all guests until they can take no more. They also tend to tease guests by serving the tea without chopsticks and seeing how they deal with the rice, peanuts and beans etc which it contains. If a young girl offers a boy a bowl of oil tea, but with only one chopstick, then it has a meaning much more than simple hospitality. I can only politely translate it as "Take me, I'm yours!"

 

Sanjiang county has around 1 million hectares (287,000 square miles) of tea plantations.The best tea is picked in early spring and Sanjiang tea comes to perfection earlier than that in most of China. It is therefore called "No. 1 China Early Spring Tea" and has won many awards.

 

They also enjoy stick rice cakes made from glutinous rice and sugar. Really sticky, tooth destroyers. I've only eaten them once. It took me weeks to separate my upper and lower teeth!

Pickled foods are also very popular and not just vegetables. They also pickle fish, pork etc. Oil tea and pickled foods are mandatory at festivals and weddings.

 

Unlike most Chinese people, the Dong eat a lot of raw food, especially in summer. Carrot, bamboo shoots, tomato and cucumber are chopped into small pieces and mixed as a salad with a vinegar, salt and sugar dressing. They also eat raw fish and even raw pork in a sushi style.

 

Perhaps the strangest is their Herb Soup. This uses various wild herbs and half digested grasses from the stomachs of goats. They believe that this has medicinal properties especially for stomach ailments. The Dong name translates as "Dong Stomach Medicine". I've never had it.

 

After the show, I had a beer and went to bed. Tomorrow, I will post the final instalment which will include one more gustatory novelty.

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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I'm curious as to the serving containers.  They look like each one is a section of a large bamboo stalk that has been sliced from top to bottom to make two containers.  The natural sections of the bamboo make ideal ends for the bowls.  Does this make sense or am I just seeing things?  

 

 

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On 04/12/2017 at 8:45 PM, IowaDee said:

I'm curious as to the serving containers.  They look like each one is a section of a large bamboo stalk that has been sliced from top to bottom to make two containers.  The natural sections of the bamboo make ideal ends for the bowls.  Does this make sense or am I just seeing things? 

 

If you mean these serving containers

 

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then you are not seeing things. They are bamboo just as you describe. Bamboo containers are often used by the Dong, not only for serving. Rice and other foods are often steamed in bamboo containers too. They say it improves the taste.

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I know that bamboo is very hard as well as being non porous so using it to cook and serve in makes perfect sense.  Not to mention just how

beautifully it compliments the food.  I have a few serving pieces of acacia wood that give me the same feeling.

As always, I'm am awed by the places you go, the food you eat and the wonderful people you meet.  

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3 minutes ago, Shelby said:

I'm just in awe.  The people, the dress, the food, the tea bushes.  Everything.  The lanterns that hang where you took your wander before the meal.  Beautiful.

 

I've seen it many times over the last 20+ years and I'm still in awe.

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1 minute ago, Shelby said:

I meant to ask, do you stay in someone's home overnight?  I assume there are no Holiday Inn's close by.........:P

 

After the dinner and that awesome farewell we headed back to the county town and a very nice hotel. The whole trip was arranged and paid for by the local government for some very important foreign diplomats, so we were well looked after. Normally, when I'm in this area (about once a month on average)  I do stay with local families. I enjoy that a lot, but it was nice to have a bit of luxury for once. I'll show the hotel in tomorrow's post. I still have to sort out the photos.

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And finally.

 

On the Friday morning, we arranged a late start at 9:30, but I woke long before that, as is my habit, and after a quick breakfast of oil tea, steamed bread, boiled egg etc, I headed out into the cold early morning and wandered around the hotel grounds. Apart from a river view and a bizarre (but common) mangling of my native tongue, there wasn't much to see.

 

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So, I returned to hotel, put on more clothes and examined some of the artwork around the foyer as I waited for the others to join me.

 

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Eventually, everyone arrived and we headed into the town centre, which was but a stone's throw away. We started at Sanjiang Wind and Rain Bridge. Unfortunately we were unable to visit the best such bridge, that at Chenyang village. Although it is sometimes said to be ancient, the current bridge was actually erected in 1916 after the previous one was swept away in an exceptionally severe flood.

There is only one road to that bridge and it is un-passable at the moment as they are resurfacing and widening it. As I've said before elsewhere, the bridge is made entirely without nails and apart from the concrete pillars on which it rests is all wooden.

 

Here is Chengyang Bridge

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But as we couldn't get there, we made do with Sanjiang Bridge.  I was disappointed because I know several people in that village and had hoped to see them. Next time!

 

The Sanjiang bridge is made in the traditional way, but non-traditionally is a road bridge on one of the main roads out of town.

 

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We strolled across the bridge, which is only seven years old and went to a Dong culture museum. Perhaps the most interesting exhibit is a mock-up of a Dong wooden house interior.

 

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Bedroom

 

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Belongings

 

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Kitchen

 

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Dining Room

 

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Granary

 

Although this is a recreation of a Dong home, I have stayed in many real homes and this is an accurate simulation.

 

Then we went to see this. The town's drum tower. Again a totally wooden structure with no nails.

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Looking up inside.

 

By now it was almost time for lunch, but first a visit to a teashop, where we sampled some excellent teas and some of us made purchases. I came away with this.

 

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This is 虫宝茶  chóng bǎo chá, literally insect treasure tea. The treasure is that it is insect excrement. The bugs, caterpillars of a type of moth, eat the tea leaves and when they come out the other end the droppings are gathered and dried, then used to make a refreshing cup of tea! They are mixed with regular undigested tea. It is considered medicinal and effective against stomach complaints. I tried a cup before buying this jar. It tasted like tea but with a sort of fungal taste in the background. Not bad.

 

Then lunch:

 

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Again, as required, we started with oil tea.

 

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Fish hotpot

 

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Tofu to add to the fish hotpot

 

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Steamed chicken with its offal.

 

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Some kind of pork and vegetable dish. It was strange.

 

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Shrimp

 

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Mixed vegetable

 

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Taro

 

Then we saw the diplomats off by high speed trains and headed back home - a three hour drive. But not before another brief shopping trip here.

 

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where we met this ugly and not very intelligent chap who was doing his best to mate with a traffic cone.

 

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and I bought a big mushroom. Ganoderma.

 

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Back home, we were peckish again so hit the local hotel restaurant for a nice bowl of the city's speciality - luosifen (螺蛳粉 luó sī fěn). Snail noodles. Then home.

 

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I thoroughly enjoyed the trip and met some nice people.

Edited by liuzhou
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I'll echo others' sentiments - thank you again!  I love being able to see things most tourists would never get to see - even better with your commentary and knowledge of the area.

 

Out of curiosity, what should the translation of that hotel sign be?

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I'm thinking about having one of those DNA tests done.  As far as I know, I'm 100% WASP but somehow I feel that there may be just a single Dong gene lurking within.  Everything you post about them just makes me feel good.  

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6 minutes ago, KennethT said:

I'll echo others' sentiments - thank you again!  I love being able to see things most tourists would never get to see - even better with your commentary and knowledge of the area.

 

Out of curiosity, what should the translation of that hotel sign be?

I've spent far too long trying to figure out that sign xD

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8 minutes ago, KennethT said:

Out of curiosity, what should the translation of that hotel sign be?

 

2 minutes ago, Shelby said:

I've spent far too long trying to figure out that sign xD

 

Literally it reads "Care for the grass underfoot. Do not break twigs or flower heads." I would translate it non-literally but pragmatically as "Keep off the grass. Do not pick flowers."

 

The hotel's "translation" has been supplied by a Chinese computer translation program like Google Mistranslate.

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Some of you may remember the Dong Art topic from two years ago. These are the same people who produce that art. On the trip I discovered something I hadn't seen before. All over China, people produce bamboo trays for various uses. I found that the Dong have started using them as canvases for their paintings. Here are some which were on sale in one location. There was a Dong man painting them in-store.

 

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In those pictures they are weaving. Those trays are about 12 -18 inches in diameter. The next is much larger and depicts one of the 100-Family Feasts I attended and posted up-thread.

 

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Edited by liuzhou
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11 minutes ago, liuzhou said:

 

 

Literally it reads "Care for the grass underfoot. Do not break twigs or flower heads." I would translate it non-literally but pragmatically as "Keep off the grass. Do not pick flowers."

 

The hotel's "translation" has been supplied by a Chinese computer translation program like Google Mistranslate.

I was going with "Only walk on the grass with bare feet and watch out for the tree branches"  xD

1 minute ago, liuzhou said:

Some of you may remember the Dong Art topic from two years ago. These are the same people who produce that art. On the trip I discovered something I hadn't seen before. All over China, people produce bamboo trays for various uses. I found that the Dong have started using them as canvases for their paintings. Her are some which were on sale in one location. There was a Dog man painting them in-store.

 

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In those pictures they are weaving. Those trays are about 12 -18 inches in diameter. The next is much larger and depicts one of the 100-Family Feasts I attended and posted up-thread.

 

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Oh I would have had a hard time not buying one of these.

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1 hour ago, liuzhou said:

 

 

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I absolutely love this one -- a meditating (Buddha's) hand, I assume. Do you happen to have any more information about it, or can steer me in the right direction to find out?

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1

 

Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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3 minutes ago, Alex said:

I absolutely love this one -- a meditating (Buddha's) hand, I assume. Do you happen to have any more information about it, or can steer me in the right direction to find out?

 

Sorry, no. I just found it in the hotel foyer as I was waiting for the group to gather together and took a quick snap with my cell phone. Next time I'm back that way, I can ask, but it may be a while.

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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

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I love the hand sculpture, as well as the tray with the 100-family feast painting. It makes me smile.

 

The hand makes me feel quiet and calm.

 

 

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