The first part of my story concluded with a soothing hot session in a traditional Red Dao herbal bath – which was a divine pleasure after the chill of the cold night had crept in our bones. With a last beer around the cosy fireplace, it was clearly time for bed.
Our accommodation at the newly built homestay of Chao Man May’s was simple but equipped with all necessary. The duvets were warm and the compartments with a curtain provided privacy. As it was only Zer and us in the new building, we said “good night” and went to our beds to enjoy a quiet night. We thought.
Sometime in the night, after we had managed to fall asleep between the occasional grunts of the pigs in the stall nearby, a much less obvious sound made us strain our ears. It was a rustling sound, like little feet of a small animal making its way through the building. My senses were alarmed, my imagination ran wild – “It seems to come closer! What can it be? Maybe a poisonous reptile? A scorpion?” I was awake and asked my husband if he was too. And he was. He too had heard the little sound and felt alarmed by the unknowing. We both decided to wait and listen for it a bit longer. There it was again! The uncanny feeling of something coming closer in the dark, not knowing what it was, made us indeed act silly. We switched on the lights and with a “Hello?!” we interrupted the silence of the night. Just a little giggle from a few meters away reminded us that Zer was still here too. We decided we should let it be and go back to bed – had it been something extremely dangerous, surely we would have been informed. The rustling sound came back a few more times, but we couldn’t care anymore – sleep had overpowered us.
The next morning Zer awoke us with a smile and after last night’s episode he revealed to us that what we had been scared of was a rat walking on the roof beams looking for rice. So we had provided the amusement for the breakfast with our hosts.
Dress Up – it’s a wedding!
Breakfast was delicious, Chao Man May had prepared pancakes with bananas and honey, fruit and some tea. Once we finished Zer made a hugely interesting proposal: “Well, we can go trekking as planned, or we can go with Chao Man May to a Red Dao wedding in the village. What would you like to do?” A wedding – oh wow! That sounded just brilliant. “But is it ok if foreigners come? Can we go like this?” I pointed down to our muddy boots and little elegant trekking clothes. “Don’t worry – we have an idea!” and giggling Zer and Chao Man May disappeared in a room and brought out a bag with traditional Red Dao clothing. My husband received a jacket of Chao Man May’s husband, black with beautiful embroidery on the back and the sleeves, and I got the full attire from head to toe. It was a great, especially as I observed Chao Man May with a big smile on her face, excitedly pulling bits of the costume here and there into place. Done! We looked like real Red Dao people and ready to go to the wedding!
As a gift for the couple we could give some money in an envelope – the important thing was that it was an even number, otherwise it would mean bad luck. And we would have to give it with both hands to the mother of the groom as the tradition requires. All this sounded very exciting and we started walking towards the village. On the way there we stopped at a meeting point of the local woman, where they were sewing and exchanging their handicrafts.
Big eyes, astonished faces followed by approving nods and smiles from the locals, as they realized “us” in their costumes. Chao Man May chatted with the women, examined a few of the sewing pieces, and then decided it was time to move on.
Cheers to the couple!
When we arrived at the location, we could hear flutes playing from afar and Zer explained to us that the bride is being accompanied down the hill by other women and that she and the groom will only meet later. In the meantime we would be celebrating with the others down here at the community place, eating and drinking. Zer and Chao Man May sat with us at a round table covered with little dishes full with various meats like chicken, pork, beef, but also potatoes, carrots, fruit and of course rice. The groom, dressed in modern clothes, a white shirt and blue jeans, and his mother in traditional costume, joined us at the table, chinking glasses with “happy water”, which burnt as it went down our throats. Every time the little cups filled with rice wine were empty, an immediate refill happened.
The flutes and drums accompanying the bride had come close now and Chao Man May invited us to follow her up to where the musical ceremony took place. In the backyard of this community place we climbed up a little hill which led to where the ceremony was. We could observe many traditionally dressed women gathered around the bride who was hidden underneath some sort of red veil construct and umbrellas. A man with a flute and another with drums walked around the bride and other women while playing. I have recorded a short video of that part which you can watch on my tripspirit.org YouTube channel. What I noticed was that not all guests wore traditional costumes, though in the minority, some were dressed in modern clothes.
A group of modern dressed guys approached and asked if it was ok to take a picture with me. As I had been taking pictures all along of people in beautiful ethnic clothes, I thought it was just fair that others now took pictures of me in beautiful ethnic clothes.
We returned to the dining area where most of the crowd had left and the remaining food was being cleared away. Potts and cups of tea were reached around and the fires were being extinguished. I returned to “our” table to find Zer who told me that my husband “had gone missing”. I was not sure what that meant, so he smiled and said, “Come, I show you”. There he was – sitting, laughing and drinking with the local dudes! On his way back from the toilet he had been invited to join their table. I was welcomed in the round with another shot of happy water, which was quickly poured in my cup.
After countless shots of rice wine and some interesting cultural exchange it was time to leave. Chao Man May, Zer and the two nearly drunk Westerners said thank you and good bye and we started walking home. But Zer had another surprise for us – as simple, as ingenious it was.
The story continues with the last part of our three day adventure, which will include a jungle walk and a visit to Sapa O’Chau’s own boarding school, which is completely owned and run by the ethnic minorities of Sapa. Stay tuned!