Dean Owen

4 years ago · 3 min. reading time · visibility 0 ·

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The Dong Journey

The Dong Journey

I’ve travelled much of China by car (The Great China Roadtrip), but in my nine years here, I find there is still a whole lot to be discovered. This time around, we took a ten-hour bullet train ride from Shanghai to our temporary base in Liuzhou in Guanxi prefecture. Just a few years ago this journey would have taken 30 hours, but in just a short span, China is becoming connected by trains that cruise at upwards of 300kph.

From Liuzhou it was a quick 3 hour bullet train ride to Sanjiang Dong Autonomous County, land of the Dong Ethnic minority. There are 56 ethnic groups in China of which the Han by far represents the largest at close to 92% of the population. In the past, China has perhaps held a staunch and tightly controlled stance toward ethnic minorities, but no more so than many other countries. What is important is that in modern times, the government has arguably been supportive of ethnic minorities with the setting up of autonomous zones and relaxation of family planning rules for minorities. Ultimately it is all down to a critical need for social stability, but that is a topic for another day.


Here we visit the Dong, I’d like to say “in their natural habitat” but that would sound like David Attenborough on film visiting Silverbacks in the DRC. The Dong are a proud and beautiful group of close to 3 million people who trace their roots back to the Bai Yue in ancient China.



First off, I’d like you to watch this video when you have time. It is six minutes long, but taken from two hours of footage + a healthy 26 hours on the cutting room floor. Never mind what I do for beBee, China should probably make me an Ambassador after that video!


Dong life centers around the Drum Tower, a polygonal pagoda made with wood and stone, and like the Wind and Rain bridges and their homes, made without a single nail. It is a place for meetings, settling disputes, dances, festivals, games, and even practicing of martial arts. During the harsh winter months, a fire is set inside the tower and all the townsfolk are responsible for keeping the embers glowing. There are often a few Drum Towers in each Dong village, some dating back over 300 years. Some may represent the village, and some, a clan that shares the same surname. Along with the ornate and sturdy Wind and Rain bridges that dot the landscape, these are symbolic of skilled artisans and carpenters, trademark skills of the Dong through generations.

The Dong women folk are particularly skilled at spinning and weaving techniques, and their costumes are ornate and colourful with popular hues of blue, green, purple and white.

If you are lucky enough to enjoy Dong hospitality, no doubt Oil Tea, or Yaucha, will be served. There are a huge variety of preparation methods, but in general, oil is pressed from the seeds of the narrow-leaved paperbark, a species of tree in the myrtle family. In the West, this oil is often used in skin care for its cleansing properties or even to treat wounds. The oil here is used to fry tea leaves in a wok, and once fried, it is brewed, and a variety of ingredients are added to each bowl. These can include as puffed rice, dried soybeans, peanuts, and in our case, cubes of coagulated pig’s blood and a pinch of salt. Despite how it sounds, the tea had a very clean taste and I can appreciate how it can be a staple, especially during those long winter nights. Guests will perhaps be surprised to see just one chopstick resting on their bowl. It was mentioned to us that the chopstick was to be laid across the bowl when we have had enough, signaling our gracious host to stop serving. In my case, that chopstick found use after just one bowl of coagulated pig’s blood Oil Tea.

The Dong people are polytheistic, deeming everything around them as possessing supernatural properties. According to legend, Sa Sui was the great grandmother of the Dong people, who sacrificed her life defending her village in battle before jumping off a cliff to save them. She is omnipresent and omnipotent and is believed to still protect the Dong wholeheartedly.*

I will revisit the Dong in a later article no doubt. The stunning Wind and Rain bridges deserve perhaps an article of their own. But for now, I do hope you enjoyed the video. It really is only recently that we, as foreigners, have had such efficient access to this beautiful corner of the World.


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*Source: Dong Ethnic Group’s Sacrifice Ritual to “Sa Sui”



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Lyon Brave

Lyon Brave

4 years ago #34

I've landed a job in China. I have a couple months to decide if I am going to take it.

Dean Owen

Dean Owen

4 years ago #33

#41
Glad you enjoyed the video!

Pascal Derrien

Pascal Derrien

4 years ago #32

that was a day for learning something new :-) greta video and great editing skills meDean Owen

Dean Owen

Dean Owen

4 years ago #31

#39
That's funny. This was not my vision for China before coming here. Thought I would stay for 5 years or so. On year nine now and I just want to see more! Thanks for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed the video. And thanks for sharing here and on Twitter Donna-Luisa Eversley

Lisa Gallagher

Lisa Gallagher

4 years ago #30

#34
You've been a busy guy. Spontaneity is a great attribute. I hope to travel more one day sooner than not!

Dean Owen

Dean Owen

4 years ago #29

#33
Hope you enjoy the video Aleta. Thanks for the kind words.

Dean Owen

Dean Owen

4 years ago #28

#32
Thanks for stopping by @Jerry Fletcher. The dregs are very important to me as it is often the unassuming picture that sparks an idea for a story.

Dean Owen

Dean Owen

4 years ago #27

#31
Glad you enjoyed the video Sushmita Thakare Jain. I will never stop exploring 😀

Dean Owen

Dean Owen

4 years ago #26

#30
No I am back now after a quick trip to London last week. The Dong trip was just a bit of spontaneity.

Jerry Fletcher

Jerry Fletcher

4 years ago #25

Dean, Thank you for sharing your enchantment with those of us that cannot be there first hand. Save everything that you left on the cutting room floor. Too often, as I have ventured into the second or third story from a visit I've lost that one moment in time that others would savor.

Lisa Gallagher

Lisa Gallagher

4 years ago #24

#16
Well I'm no pro but your video looked pro quality to me! You did all of this with your Ipad, pretty cool! You're still on your trip? When do you return? This is a trip for pleasure or business? I wish I had an Ipad... there are some apps that you can't use on an Android OS, which I'd love to have!

Ken Boddie

Ken Boddie

4 years ago #23

#28
No worries, Dean-san. I'll be the only one wearing the kilt. 😂

Dean Owen

Dean Owen

4 years ago #22

#27
I think you.are confusing Scottish lasses with apes. Easy to do! I do hope you get to see your cousins on your next trip. A group photo is going to be very interesting..... 😉

Ken Boddie

Ken Boddie

4 years ago #21

#25
Can't handle the red-haired ladies, Dean-san. Too fiery tempered for me! 😂 Seriously though, I'm still kicking myself for missing out on the orangutan sanctuary, just west of Medan, during my last trip to North Sumatra and Lake Toba. Travelling with Indo relies has its benefits but also has drawbacks, particularly when it comes to interests in wildlife. 😢

Dean Owen

Dean Owen

4 years ago #20

#22
You could always drop everything and book a one way flight! My greatest fear is not seeing the world before I die. I also want to see it while I am able as many journeys are extremely physical. A great start perhaps for you would be to volunteer at the Orangutan sanctuary in Borneo: http://globalteer.org/volunteering-with-orangutans.aspx

Ken Boddie

Ken Boddie

4 years ago #19

#23
Yes, Dean-san, but caught at silly mid on. 😔

Dean Owen

Dean Owen

4 years ago #18

#21
Oh yes, I had to leave out whole portions, including the meals which included a veritable feast of hillside creatures. Still, material for another article. I've actually become quite a fan of coagulated blood hot pots. It tastes a bit like coffee jelly. And you know what Ken-sensei, I'd been wracking my brain for Dong jokes since I got back. You'd think it was easy, but I couldn't come up with one. And here you go right off the bat! Grrrrrr.....

Ken Boddie

Ken Boddie

4 years ago #17

Well done, Dean-san! This is a part of China of which I had no knowledge ..... until now, thanks to your fascinating portrayal. Like many of China's ethnic minority groups, no doubt, the Dong in their own environment appear enthralling and intriguing. And how about that pig's blood tea? Best served in the skin of a durian, perhaps? I grieve for the hours of footage left on the cutting room floor. Eat your heart out Spielberg, Cameron and Polanski. At the risk of being misunderstood, may I say, "Owen's Dong is definitely not too long"?

Dean Owen

Dean Owen

4 years ago #16

#18
Most welcome @Irene Hackett. I too am blown away everytime I watch it back. I had always felt Lake Como in Italy was the most beautiful place on the planet, but more and more am feeling there are quite a few spots in China that can easily compete for that spot.

Dean Owen

Dean Owen

4 years ago #15

#18
Most welcome Irene Hackett. I too am blown away overtime I watch it back. I had always felt Lake Como in Italy was the most beautiful place on the planet, but more and more am feeling there are quite a few spots in China that can easily compete for that spot.

Dean Owen

Dean Owen

4 years ago #14

#10
Much appreciated my friend. Would be happy to take you on a day trip if ever you are in this neck of the woods.

Dean Owen

Dean Owen

4 years ago #13

#9
So glad you enjoyed my noobie video Lisa Gallagher. Hopefully by the end of my journey here, I might become semi-professional. Happy to be an iPad Nomad, since the whole post, including taking pictures, video, editing and publishing was done on an iPad Pro.

Dean Owen

Dean Owen

4 years ago #12

#8
I tell you Aurorasa, as I was editing the video on my iPad for hours, I was finding that music so therapeutic I'd fall asleep every time.

Dean Owen

Dean Owen

4 years ago #11

#11
Sponge of culture 🤗 You are too kind CityVP Manjit. Truth is in places like this, wherever you point the camera, you'll capture something good. But it was tough getting the video down to 6 minutes, took me a week (and I was aiming for 3 minutes). I do hope to be able to bring you more ethnic minority groups. I have found the Naxi, Baima, Miao and Mosuo particularly enchanting. https://www.bebee.com/producer/@dean-owen/in-the-kingdom-of-women I have been here 9 years and still don't have a mental map of the place!

CityVP Manjit

CityVP Manjit

4 years ago #10

Footnote : I am talking about Western man in terms of American history and not its indigenous people, which is worth studying.

CityVP Manjit

CityVP Manjit

4 years ago #9

Dear Dean Owen you are a sponge of culture, soaking in every drop imaginable and then best of all, have the art and ability to translate that and share it with us. I would never think of taking a shot of the sleeping man at 2 minutes into the video and the cultural celebrations are not just accidental - the procession and the invitation to the Dong family tea ceremony requires prior contact or research. As a form of education the video is stunning, as a means of bringing home Dong culture and it encouraged me to find out more such as sites like this http://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/nationality/dong.htm I also found it interesting that their are pockets of this Dong culture that can still be found in Vietnam and Laos. The challenging thing about China's ethnic history is geographically understanding the country, unlike the United States - I don't have a mental map that I have which can discern a Texan from a Mid-Westerner etc and China's history has thousands of years to it that America does not have.

Gert Scholtz

Gert Scholtz

4 years ago #8

Dean Owen I am blown away by the elegant and graceful beauty of this place and the Dong people. Fabulous video! Thanks for bringing these unknown parts of the world to us Dean.

Lisa Gallagher

Lisa Gallagher

4 years ago #7

Wow, the rolling hills and Mountains are astounding Dean Owen. Video quality looks professional. What a sight , the Drum Tower and Pagoda at night. So lucky to be meeting so many from different cultures. Thanks for sharing this. Excellent buzz!!

Dean Owen

Dean Owen

4 years ago #6

#6
Thankyou Mohammed, no need for an ambassadorship. I would promote China anyway as I do hope to break the stereotypical view of China as it is a beautiful country. Besides, they just granted me a rare 2 year visa, so I am happy as is!

Mohammed Abdul Jawad

Mohammed Abdul Jawad

4 years ago #5

In brevity, China captured! Splendid video. Great glimpses, marvelous scenic beauty, elegant depiction of Chinese art, traditions and culture. One can see the shimmering surroundings and people taking pride in their country customs. Dean Owen With this appealing video, definitely China should make you their ambassador. :) What if it turns true!

Dean Owen

Dean Owen

4 years ago #4

#4
Glad you liked it! I can't stop watching it. For authenticity I wanted to find some Dong music to go with the video but it is almost impossible to find royalty free Dong music. Thanks for stopping by my friend.

Dean Owen

Dean Owen

4 years ago #3

#2
I am so glad you liked the video. Such a beautiful and relatively unknown part of the planet. I am glad the video is done and I can revisit Sanjiang just by hitting play over and over.

Anna Magnus

Anna Magnus

4 years ago #2

Thank you @dean owen for that simoly beautiful visual , audio and writen experience . The video was like feeling a gentle breeze wash over me

Dean Owen

Dean Owen

4 years ago #1

If y'all have time, do explore the video I made for this article. If your connection allows, a high resolution is preferable. Thanks!

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