Tag Archives: Yunnan

Hangzhou Trip Part 3: Tea in Autumn, Silk in Fountain(?!), and Unseen Looms Looming Luminously

23 Mar

I love this shot because it captures the two best things to do in Hangzhou–drink tea, and bum around West Lake. It’s a glass of chrysanthemum tea, in case you were wondering–and yes, it is hard to drink it around the flowers.

My week in Hangzhou was really quiet. I spent a lot of time wandering through museums, drinking tea, thinking and writing–it was actually National Novel Writing Month at the time, and I was just starting Nine Circles. My friends back in Changsha thought I was crazy, but I wrote most of my 50,000 words by hand that year. A small notebook turned out to be more portable (and less steal-able) than my laptop!

I think that’s basically what a week in Hangzhou is supposed to be like, though. People said I was missing out because spring was the best season since the trees around West Lake bloom, but I have no cause to complain because the autumn had scenes like this:

The color palette makes it look like something out of a postcard, but I was really there (staring with mouth gaping like an idiot before I fumbled for my camera). It’s from the garden of the tea museum. The Hangzhou Tea Museum & garden are surrounded by fields of–you guessed it–tea.

Tea’s a strange plant. I had ample time to go and poke it (no, don’t worry, I did not actually sully your future tea with my greasy little hands–I just stared at it a lot), and it’s so…well, shiny! I expected it to look dull in the light, dry like what you wind up putting in a tea bag/strainer/yuppie tea-making implement of choice. But of course that’s tea leaves that are ready to exude tea-ness when immersed in hot water–that is, tea whose leaves have been made permeable. Permeability in water is probably not a good thing in nature, for most plants, most of the time! So natural tea apparently comes with an outer layer of shininess, which is presumably removed in processing.

At the Tea Museum I learned and promptly forgot more than most of you will ever know about a single beverage. Among the most interesting random facts I have more-or-less retained:

  • the tea plant is sort of originally from India, by way of Yunnan Province
  • Changsha (my teaching site) was actually an important tea trading town, in ancient times
  • there exists something called Dark Tea which is distinct from Black Tea in that it is more oxidized or something
  • back in the day, they used to drink tea REALLY WEIRDLY. Like, they would mix in onions and spices and random stuff. It sounds like a soup more than anything, really. This modern purism thing is completely different from the “authentic” ancient preparation of tea.
  • Tibetans drink butter tea, which is a whole different thing
  • Back in the day, tea used to be packed into cakes for transport, because really how else are you going to do it? loose leaf is for us extravagant moderns
  • in a Chinese tea ceremony, it is proper (and fun) to pour hot water over absolutely everything first, to cleanse and heat your serving cups and pot
  • China mostly exports green tea; black tea is largely from India (even though my favorite black tea, Yunnan tea, comes from China!)
  • From now on I want my tea in the form of cakes transported from Yunnan province by llama, then I will add onions and cinnamon to it and make my friends chug it
  • Not really

There was also the silk museum, which had a huge gorgeous fountain out front. Presumably the statue’s sash is meant to be silk…getting wet?! It’s a tragic fountain!

The silk museum was pretty groovy–lots of beautiful clothing (that I didn’t get good shots of because it’s all behind glass), plus some interesting stuff about silk worms and different historical looms. Looms are crazy, you guys. I saw so many looms from different eras of history, from ancient up to today. Think Babbage and early computation. Think about Odysseus’s wife weaving and unweaving her tapestry to ward off suitors…I don’t really remember what loom she would have used, but it is just impressive that she had a loom. Loom loom loom.

Okay I am clearly sleep-deprived so I am going to cut this entry short. Next time, I will wrap up my Hangzhou trip with some photos of Lingyin Temple and ancient cliff-carvings of Buddha!

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Teaching English in China with CIEE

7 Mar

CIEE sent us to some cool events, including an acrobatics show (above). See that big hollow metal ball? They rode MOTORCYCLES in it. Like, straight up. Well not straight…you know what I mean.

Overall CIEE was a pretty decent placement agency. I wound up with a workweek of around 8 hours/week, paid the equivalent of $6,000 for the whole year, which was enough to live pretty large in that area. Plus, when I was stranded in the Middle of @#$king nowhere, Yunnan Province (a very scenic area), the lead Shanghai staffperson totally wired me $50 to get my sorry butt back to civilization (also known as Kunming).

That said, they did technically place me in an “extralegal” position. You know, like every teaching position in Changsha.  I didn’t figure this out until about 7 months in; apparently you are technically supposed to have two years post-graduation work experience before teaching English ANYWHERE in China, for visa reasons I guess. Except…nobody with two years experience is going to accept a position in Changsha! They’re going for Beijing or Shanghai or someplace else with milkshakes and peanut butter on every corner. So the one year they enforced this rule, Changsha had no English teachers.

That’s mainland China for you–existing on the creative side of the law.