Mengding, a town in Dima Dai and Wa Autonomous County, in Lincang, a city in Southwest China's Yunnan Province, is home to people from 23 minority groups, including the Dais, Was, Yis and Jingpos. The town has long been known for the Dais' songs, dances and handmade paper. The town, which borders Kokang, a region in Myanmar, is an important business portal between the two countries. Many Chinese refer to the town as a "bright pearl."
Tao Wantong, a woman who lives in the town, and Mei Xiang, a woman from Myanmar, in 2000 established a small restaurant in the town. The young women named their restaurant "Xiangyue Xiaozhu (Dating at Cozy Hut)." The restaurant's iced lemonade, roast beef and "cross-the-bridge rice noodles" are especially popular.
The restaurant over the years has evolved into an enterprise, Xiangyue Xiaozhu Culture Communication Company, dedicated to promoting the traditional culture of China and Myanmar. The company has established three restaurants, an ecological farm, a tourist agency and a food-development company in Lincang.
The restaurants offer dishes made with vegetables and poultry products from the farm. The foods are integrated with both traditional cultural elements of China and Myanmar.
"A good café or small restaurant should be bright and simply furnished. The café's owner should be friendly to his/her customers, but he/she should not shower too much attention on the customers. Those who frequent the café might know each other … The coffee is priced, but the quality time you spend in the café is priceless," an Austrian customer wrote in the visitors' book several years ago.
During the past 10-plus years, Tao has put much effort into creating a pleasant environment in her restaurants, so customers can find joy and peace of mind when they visit the "huts." Decorated with wooden furniture, cotton or hemp curtains and seasonal plants, the "huts" have a cozy, homelike atmosphere.
Some of Tao's friends and acquaintances wonder why she has never accepted their advice on improving the restaurants' sales. Although Tao understands the people offer the suggestions to her out of kindness, she has her own business philosophy. She runs her business not just to make money; she hopes customers will feel relaxed — both physically and mentally — when they drink coffee and/or enjoy meals in her restaurants.
"I hope a pleasant meal … will leave our customers feeling physically and mentally relaxed … They will not regret spending a few leisurely hours drinking coffee and/or having a light snack with their friends in the elegantly decorated restaurants, or simply spending some quality, alone time there, either meditating or reading a book," says Tao.
Promoting Traditional Chinese Crafts
In addition to embodying Mengding's traditional cultural elements in their dishes, the restaurants use handmade paper, produced by the town's Dai and Naxi residents, to make menus and posters to publicize information about the restaurants. The craft of making the handmade paper dates back more than 600 years. In 2006, China added the craft to its list of the country's items of intangible cultural heritage.
The paper, which is made from cotton, is thick and strong. Dai and Naxi women steam the paper to make sure the paper is strong.
Tao employs Ai Ying, a young Dai woman, who is one of the inheritors of the craft, to develop the craft, so her company's employees can use the craft to make various products, including notebooks and paper lampshades. Many of the products have sold well, both at home and abroad.
For hundreds of years, Nongme, a Dai-inhabited village in the town, has been known for its handmade brown sugar. The sugar, made by stewing sugarcane, has many health benefits, such as improving the functions of one's spleen and stomach, strengthening qi and invigorating blood circulation.
Tao plans to establish a "manor" in the village, and employ dozens of villagers to develop the craft of making the sugar, so her restaurants can use the sugar to make dishes. Tao hopes the "manor" will attract more visitors to the village, to promote the local tourism industry.
Given the restaurants' delicious foods and pleasant environment, the "huts" have won the favor of countless people both from home and abroad.
Tao has encouraged her employees to offer a helping hand to those in need during the past few years, to repay society for the care and assistance she has received. She and her employees have donated money to children from poverty-stricken families, and to victims of the magnitude-8 earthquake that razed large areas of Southwest China's Sichuan Province on May 12, 2008. She has also arranged for her employees to visit residents in a home for the elderly.
Every year, around the Spring Festival (on the first day of the first lunar month), Tao visits parents of her employees from China and Myanmar, and she gives gift money to the elderly. By doing so, Tao hopes her employees will be filial with their parents.
The company employs about 200 people, including youths who formerly had no jobs and left-behind women (whose husbands have left home to work elsewhere).
In recent years, numerous Chinese women, like Tao, have started their own businesses in the town, to promote the traditional culture of China and Myanmar.
(Executive Editor: GU WENTONG, Women of China English Monthly January 2017 Issue)
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