|Picturesque hamlet: Traditional architecture of local houses found in Ban Coi. — Photos volunteerforeducation.org
by Phuong Linh
During the winter chill of northern Viet Nam, a white sandy beach filled with sunshine somewhere in the Down Under is a perfectly appropriate yet absolutely common choice for a vacation. But why not spend one or two days in the northwest mountainous area of Viet Nam to relish the fleeting wintry atmosphere, filled with green colour. An untypical non-white winter is surely an experience worth trying!
I had an opportunity to visit Ban Coi, Xuan Son Town, Thanh Son District, PhuTho Province, only 150km away from Ha Noi, a lovely destination despite the poor Internet and phone signals, frequent power outages, and limited infrastructure.
Towards the woods about 10km away from the Xuan Son National Reserve, Ban Coi emerges as Nature's masterpiece full of vibrant colours, in which the terraced fields, leaning against the mountain Ten, expose different hues according to different times and crop seasons throughout the year. As the dawn breaks, the thin fog can be seen floating in the air, hugging the mountain slopes.
"Annually, as a year comes to an end, around the Lunar New Year, the youth enjoy traveling to the Northwest to feast their eyes on orchid tree's, peach and plum blossoms. However, I personally love Ban Coi for the festive red poinsettia grown along the path leading to the village." Nguyen Thuy Dung, 22, shares.
Inhabitants in Ban Coi are mainly Dao people; a few are Muong people. They live in the area, somewhere halfway down the slope of Mountain Ten, which is 1,000m above sea level. Their life philosophy is "live in the woods, die in the woods," which means that the woods is pretty much their life. After the Government had a policy of relocation, the villagers now live along the stream Coi, on the foothill of the mountain Ten. There are over 85 families and about 400 inhabitants.
|Emerald envy: Ban Coi is full of greenery.
The nine-spur chicken
My group arrived at Ban Coi as dusk was falling. It got quieter and the darkness just rushed in. We had our dinner at the house of an old villager Ban Van Tinh, under the dim light run with the power from the water turbine nearby. A sip of wine warmed us up and got the stories flowing; a dish made with moss from the stream surprised us but the most delicious dish was the flavorful chicken, fresh from the range.
"After eating this, I'm not craving for the chicken I usually have back home anymore." said my friend Tran Quoc Hong.
Tinh chuckled and said, "This variety of chicken is said to be the nine-spur chicken in the Hung Vuong legend." We're so surprised to know that the nine-spur chicken, the creature that has been commonly thought to only appear in legend, actually exists here in this region.
After the fulfilling dinner with the old villager, we gathered around the hot tea pot talking about life in Ban Coi. What is interesting is that the people here still keep their traditional way of living with many unique customs. One of the most fascinating stories is the dating tradition of Dao people. A Dao man after his coming-of-age ceremony (13 to 14 years old) can come to the house, where the girl he is interested in lives, and …pull her hair to invite her to the stream nearby and have an intimate talk. If everything goes well, he will have to live at the house of the girl's family and work for her family for 3 years. This is the most challenging period to test his love for the girl. Hard work, eating on squat floors, poor sleeping area, no direct eye contact and especially abstinence from being intimately close to the girl are a few among other challenges that the husband-to-be will have to get through.
"My wife was the most beautiful in the village, there were a lot of other guys keeping their eyes on her. It took me lots of effort to manage to pull her hair," Tinh enthusiastically shared.
The sleep visit
Besides the hair-pulling custom, the sleep visit is another custom worth exploring because it shows equality in the romantic relationship and marriage. Girls who reach their coming of age normally work on the fields throughout the day, come home in the evening, and light a lamp and sleep. Any man who is interested in her can come and ask for a sleep visit. If the lamp in her room is still on, which means that no one sleep visits her yet, he will have to open the door by himself to come in. He can lie down beside her, and she will turn off or dim down the lamp. They only talk to know more about each other without touching each other. After a while, the girl has the right to decide whether to let the guy actually sleep with her or not. However, before they actually sleep, both of them have to ask their parents to see if they fit together, age wise. If their parents say yes, they finally can actually sleep with each other.
The ‘actual sleep' begins, which is also the time when the man starts to come and work for the girl family. Everyday, he has to work with the whole family, and sleep with the girl at night. During this time period, only with permission from the girl's family, can he come back to his parents' house. If the girl is not interested in the boy anymore, she will wrap up his clothes, add a handful of rice into his bag and say "You now can go!" or "Yesterday, I had a nightmare" as a polite way to say no to his love.
We laughed so hard listening to the old villager sharing this exhilarating custom. "If the sleep visit is allowed back home [Ha Noi], women would get all the advantages." Hong Trung Dung, 28, joking.
The night came as our stories and laughter went on. In this vast quiet darkness of the Northwest at night, we could hear the murmur of the stream nearby and the sound of wild flowers falling along the path. They brought our minds to this calm atmosphere of the area, away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and filled our memories with interesting stories told at the quiet night.
"Absolutely an unforgettable experience, I am impressed by not only the magnificent yet mind-soothing landscape but also the pure beauty in the villagers' traditions and culture." Nguyen Thuy Lan, 25, said. — VNS