Each year, Mannao and 11 other ethnic Dai villages take part in a dragon boat race on the Mekong River by the town of Jinghong. With this year’s race over and the copper sun slinking behind plantations of rubber and banana trees, now was the time for dining and dancing.
All the villages that had taken part in the race on April 16 would throw parties that night, but here in Mannao the rice wine would flow more freely, the women would sing louder and monks in saffron robes would shoot homemade rockets into the sky because Mannao had once again affirmed its standing as the top rowing village in the area.
“When you win first place, you just feel different, you feel happy,” said Yi Xiangsan, one of the rowers. “You have more face.”
Where dragon boat racing is concerned, a legend that began in 1961 with a visit to the area by Zhou Enlai, then the prime minister of China, has cloaked Mannao with an aura of invincibility. That year, as Mr. Zhou watched, Mannao won the annual race. Mr. Zhou, who is revered by Chinese as the humane foil to Mao Zedong, gave several Dai villages a silver bowl, locals say, but the one he handed Mannao was a little bigger, a little finer.