Following tradition

16 September 2016
Following tradition

After a tiring day of walking for more than six hours to reach the old tea plants and then returning to the village, I needed to recover. The food in this region of northern Vietnam is delicious. With the Dao people who were hosting me, I followed tradition: throughout the meal, I toasted many times with the people who raised their glass to me. Each time I had to down my drink in one, and shake hands with them. Between slugs of the local rice alcohol, I took time to appreciate every tasty dish. The meals were prepared in the room where we sat to eat, on the ground. As soon as the meal was over we lay down on mats, in the same room, with nothing to separate us apart from a mosquito net between each person, not even from the jungle outside, with all its noises that interrupted my sleep. I could hear noises from the other mats: a mother breastfeeding her baby, someone else snoring loudly, another person coughing, and other various sighs and mutterings. By the time the cock crowed I’d been awake for some time, and I went outside to walk, to watch the day break from the edge of a rice field above the village. When I returned for breakfast and sat down, I was surprised to see the master of the house offer me more rice alcohol, and enthusiastically raise his glass in my direction. I declined. I couldn’t believe it, I was dreaming of tea, but in vain; my host was serious. He grew gloomy at my protestations, and would have been offended if I’d continued. Travelling is all about adopting the traditions of the people who are kind enough to welcome us, so I swallowed my drink. Later, he offered me a well-deserved tea, a tea I’d rarely longed for so much.

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