Chunlong (春龙) slapped me on my fingers when I tried to write my first Chinese character. I yelped and asked: ”What’s wrong, it looks exactly like yours?” He responded that it was not the looks of the character he criticized, but how it came into being. This was my first encounter with ”Dao”.
The character Dao (道) translates as ”way” or ”principle”. Dao is the nature of the truest action, one can say. Dao also implicitly tells us that the truest action carry an inherent elegance. Think of a stallion. Think about how elegant and powerful it is. Not because it wants to look good in your eyes, but because it is. The nature of a stallion is such. A stallion is easy to imagine and understand in relation to this, but all living things have the same natural elegance and power — if Dao is present that is.
Dao tell us how elegance and power can be brought into everyday life, for anyone, for anything, anywhere. Like for instance: In my handwriting.
When Dao isn’t present
Chinese people are really good at having Dao in many aspects of life. Like in their hand writing for instance — so much elegance is there! And look at how often they eat in reverent silence and how rhetorically aware they are when they speak. So much Dao.
But sometimes Dao isn’t present at all. One really good example of this is found in the dairy industry of China. Dairy has never been a big part of this culture. At least that is how it was until about 30 years ago, when suddenly dairy products started to spring up like mushrooms. Why? Probably because of economical reasons. It is economically lucrative to produce and sell milk, at least if it is done in very big quantities. Huge investments were made. Milk propaganda came into being and is still to be seen everywhere in the country.
Since I am from Sweden it is not a new thing for me to see when a lot of effort is put into producing and selling milk. The whole concept of milk-drinking is one of the most Swedish things you’ll ever find. The Swedish dairy company of Arla is so closely related to the cultural ideals of Sweden that you would meet some heavy resistance from most Swedes if you ever spoke bad about that company. But there is a difference between Swedish and Chinese dairy: In Sweden, some of the dairy goods actually got a lot of Dao — one could say there is an elegance in the craftsmanship of it. Why? Because dairy got a deep rooted history in Sweden (as with with all of Europe, of course). The time to perfect it has been there.
The mathematics on this one is quite obvious: In China, the time to perfect dairy goods has never been there, but instead you’ll only find a very conceptual approach towards anything dairy. How can Dao be there then? Unfortunately it can’t in this case.
That’s what me and Alice discovered when we arrived in China and thought that we would find at least one reasonable yogurt. But in all of the (many) shops we went to we found absolutely nothing of elegance. Everything was always sweetened and the list of additives on every package was always long. Why even have additives in yogurt? That’s almost like shouting: ”Our yogurt is not good enough, we need to cover it with makeup so that you’ll like it!” Imagine a stallion that needs makeup to look good. Do I need to say more?
This is why we started exploring the Dao of yogurt by becoming yogurt makers ourselves.
There is a green and lush field of grass under sun. A cow is moving slowly from patch to patch, doing nothing all day but digesting that greenness. In the morning the next day all that green has become a pure white liquid. A liquid full of almost every nutrient a mammal will ever need. To make it even more bio-available for the human physiology one puts the liquid on the stove, heats it, and then let it stay under cover in the warm sun for the rest of the day. By nightfall the liquid has turned into a cream — the yogurt! One eats that and will immediately feel saturated and very balanced.
Thus the Dao of yogurt is explained.
Yogurt has two ingredients: The milk that it was made of and the bacteria that made it cream up. If one finds more ingredients than that then the simple question would be: Why? And there would be no good answer. The secret to yogurt is its simplicity. When the simplicity is lost, the Dao is lost.
Me and Alice got so fascinated by this simple super food that we started making it with the help of our high-end probiotics/bacterias (this one and this one). By the means of a rice cooker and a cooling box we have now been in production-on-the-move since mid-December. We have a trolley of kitchen stuff and probably don’t look like any backpackers you’ve ever seen before. As we travel onwards we continue our exploration of Dao in the field of yogurt.
As for the Chinese people one can say a lot more about their complete lack of Dao in this field. Their crude relationship with food in general is a great mystery to me. At times I find their food culture to be intimidating and at other times I find it to be at the peak of mastery. Chinese Tea is an example of the latter.
During one of my last days in Xi’an I was invited to a friend of a friend for a casual cup of tea. I had heard that this friend-of-a-friend sold some teas from her apartment. I thought it would be a great gift to bring a ”real Chinese tea” to a couple of friends that I would later meet in Nepal. Little did I know that the greatest gift would be given to me, the gift of meeting the tea master herself, miss Bówén (博文).
I can’t say if it was because of the tea helping me to remember or if that day was just auspicious. It doesn’t matter. I remember that meeting as if I am still sitting in the room drinking tea. Every little scent, sensation, feeling and color is yet there. I could write a whole book about the teas that we drank during that early evening.
But right now it is a bit too much to share all of that, it clearly deserves it’s own text. So I will just say this now:
All the herbal infusions and rooibos lattes that I have been drinking and unknowingly called tea. Not to mention all the teas that I have been drinking, thinking that they were actual ’good’ teas. All of that is like Coca-Cola now.
Chinese tea of pure origin, brewed according to the traditional methods, is as close to Dao as I have ever come. The elegance and power is immeasurable.