All the Tea in China

I think everyone who blogs about China has to have a post somewhere, sometime with this title.  I mean, how is one to resist?  The International Herald Tribune has published an interesting article about tea-growing in China, titled  Tea, Wild or Not Enriches Chinese Province.

From relative obscurity a few decades ago, tea from Yunnan, especially
Pu’er, has become a fashionable, must-have variety in the tea shops of
Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing. Surging demand for Pu’er tea has made
farmers here rich and encouraged entrepreneurs to carve out ever more
plantations from jungle-covered hillsides. …

In the remote southern hills of Yunnan Province, tea has never been
something you buy at the market; it grows in your backyard, like
blueberries in the woods of Maine.

Domesticated tea plants are trimmed into hedges to make harvesting
easier. In the wild, they grow to resemble the old and gnarled olive
trees of the Mediterranean but with bigger and more abundant leaves.

Peng Zhe, deputy secretary-general of the Xishuangbanna Dai
Autonomous Prefecture, a tea-growing district here, compares the wild
tea to fine vintages of Bordeaux or Burgundy.

"To appreciate Pu’er tea is similar to enjoying wine," said Peng,
who is also the head of the local tea promotion board. "You need to
understand the different areas where tea grows. The fragrance is
different from one mountain to the next."

I’ve had Pu’er tea.  It’s quite tasty.  Check out the article.  Better yet, if you have the chance, try the tea.

Alas, It was Too Good to be True

A couple of weeks back, the Beijing city government announced that, in order to ensure a ‘smoke-free’ Olympics, smoking will be banned in government offices, sports venues, museums, hospitals, schools, and internet cafes, bars, and restaurants.  My first reaction was to jump for joy.  One of the more difficult things to adjust to here in China is the constant bombardment from cigarette smoke.  It’s everywhere, and in a country that has 350 million smokers, that’s not at all surprising.  My second reaction to the announcement, though was, simply, NO WAY that they are going to be able to ban smoking in restaurants.  Smoking, drinking, and eating are three essential strands of social interaction and networking here.  Take one of the away, and the country could be facing some real social instability.  Apparently something happened to knock the bureaucrats back to their senses, because this week the city government announced that restaurants would be exempt from the bans after all.  Crisis averted. They will, however, be required to offer smoking and non-smoking sections.  That may be fine  for big restaurants that can seat 500 people (yes, Beijing has a lot of those), but what about the holes-in-the-wall noodle shops that have 2 tables and 8 stools?  Sorry folks, it ain’t gonna happen.

For a few weeks I enjoyed imagining going into a restaurant and not having to fight my way through a thick blue haze of cigarette smoke.  It was a nice thought while it lasted, but alas, just too good to be true!

Mud!

That’s been our weather for the past couple of days.  I didn’t know it was possible, but we seem to have had sandy weather and foggy weather all at the same time.  Which means, of course, the air just smells like mud.  And in the morning we know that it rained during the night because all the cars of big sploches of mud on them.  I wonder what it actually looks like when it’s raining mud!

The Holy Fire

The big news in town this week was the lighting of the Olympic torch that will be carried in relay for 130 days through 19 different countries.  The flame will eventually come back to China (obviously) and be used to light the Olympic flame that will burn for the duration of the Games in August.  The flame was lit at a special ceremony in Olympia, Greece and transported to Beijing on Monday of this week aboard a special airplane.  With all the pomp, circumstance, ceremony, and ritual that a 5000-year old culture can muster (and it’s a lot, believe me), the torch was lit in Tiananmen Square.  In Chinese the Olympic flame is called sheng huo (圣火), which literally means ‘holy fire’ or ‘holy flame,’ because if its connection to ancient Greek mythology.

The Games begin 127 days from now.  Interestingly, I have found that this seemingly incontrovertible fact can become a major cultural clash point.  Most westerners (especially those with any type of involvement with the Games) are saying "There are only 127 more days until the Games."  Whereas locals seem to be saying "There are still 127 more days until the Games." 

Which is it?  Only 127 more days to find out!