Posts Tagged With: tea tasting

SUN AND MOON PAGODAS

We’ve left the Urumichi area, which means oasis. It is part of the Gobi desert and we saw oil refineries that the government controls.  We are headed for Guilin, pronounced guay-leen and the roadsides are lush with terraced gardens. In 1998, this area flooded and 1500 people died. The government let the area return to farmland and forest. Makes me think of New Orleans, where the best solution is to let the river have its way, but we don’t have an autocratic government, we have property rights and developers rights and political sensitivity.  The horrifically expensive taxpayer fix will result in  more flooding, reduced wetlands necessary to buffer severe storms, more loss of property and life, and eventually the City of New Orleans will  sink anyway. The Army Corps of Engineers keeps building levees and moving sand from one beach to another ignoring science and heeding the popular political fix.

Clustered housing here is practical and uses less land than individual farms. A collective. It is a method that can stifle innovation and experimentation. But, Vicki says, it is tried and true. After all, people have occupied the area along the Li River since 214 B.C.  Why not high rises? Because no one can build higher than 20 floors so not to obscure the view of the beautiful mountains. Oh, my. A sentiment to admire.

Guilin was destroyed by Japanese bombs, but has been rebuilt. We are aghast when Vicki calls Guilin a small city of only 640,000 people covering 67 kilometers. We stop at a tea factory for a formal tea tasting.  As in days of old, tea is packed into bales, bricks, wheels and multiple sized rounds. We find the same shapes we saw in Jiliang that we didn’t recognize as tea. Not a tea bag in sight.

Everything here is loose leaf and smells divine. The city is famous for its osthumansis (acacia) trees that are in bloom. Intensely fragrant, like orange blossoms, they are used to make wine, tea and perfume. Guilin has 13 nationalities. The Yau and Dow are predominant. There are 3,000 caves in the mountains here, many of them open to tourists.

This magnificently carved wooden Buddha tray is outfitted with a gas burner and we are about to taste ten different kinds of tea. The rules are thus:  First, you smell the cup. Then you sniff the tea and chew the leaves a bit to make sure it is good and strong. Then hot water is poured in the cup to warm it while the tea is brewing in hot (not boiling) water. You surround the cup with your hands to warm them. You can drink the water or pour it out before the tea is poured. Then you slurp noisily. That is considered the best way. It was fun. Then there was theatrics of tea. A dragon tea pot that turns from green to red when the hot water is poured into it. And a baby boy tea pot that pisses into your cup when the water heats it.  There was a lot of slurping and laughing and talking and comparing. They sell aged, 28 year old  Puer tea, said to reduce blood pressure, cure diabetes and clean your liver. You can use the leaves nine times before the flavor and benefits disappear. Hmmm!  I bought some. It stayed flavorful for about four cups made with the same leaves. Their cups are smaller than mine, though.

We get to our beautiful hotel and Michal is taken by a carved jade dragon boat. Priceless. It is a free day for us and we can wander the town and eat anywhere we want though Vicki warns us to beware of pick pockets and even some merchants are rip-off artists. Our stop here is to boat up the Li River and see a part of old China and some famous, mystical rock formations.

Guilin is quite modern and university students go to coffee shops like Western students do. The whole city smells like orange blossoms though we don’t see the trees. The Dau people hold a folk song festival in Guilin in the spring. The Dau people have a beautiful courtship ritual. A woman throws her bouquet at the man she wants. If he catches it, that is his acceptance and they are one.

As we gaze around we run into Vicki and she points out a modern Chinese pharmacy.

Kind of reminds us of a fish and herb market. But, there are lizards and insects and worms and animal parts, very clean and dried.

The Chinese have centuries of medicinal experimentation with herbs and such and it seems prudent to respect it, even while we know many remedies don’t work, such as rhinoceros horn and other animal parts. Our own drug companies have learned much from the Chinese. They are healthy people.

After dinner we load into a boat near these Twin Pagodas for a ride on the Li and Peach Blossum Rivers as they merge together and form four city lakes. These pagodas are joined underwater and one can swim into and out of them. At night they are lit up beautifully.

Pictures are impossible, but you get the idea, anyway. The lake shores on all sides are lit up like Christmas trees. Entertainers sing from various famous boat replicas, like the Marble boat from the Summer Palace, and a dragon boat. Bands play modern and traditional music every section of the way.  You see people dining on shore or in pretty boats as  you continually pass under bridges, all replicas of famous bridges. Twelve of them. Each has frescoes of great beauty and interest. We point and guess, the Brooklyn Bridge, Golden Gate, Glass Bridge, Cambridge Math Class Bridge. We didn’t recognize them all.  It was another dreamland journey as we stayed mesmerized by the passing scenes. Near the turning point we saw  fishermen night fishing with their cormorants. The boatman smacks them with his cane if they try to steal a fish out of the basket and pretend they caught it.  He calls to them, “Ai, ai, ai!”  The birds continually fly out and back. We see live fish, flopping in the baskets that will soon be delivered to a local restaurant. Another magical experience that clings forever in memory.

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ELEPHANT CAMP, DYNAMITE AND A MAGICAL BALLOON

The elephant ride was the high point of our tour. We walked into the camp in awe of these intelligent, marvelous creatures who can weigh up to 4,000 Kilograms. The first thing that greets you is a stand where you can buy bananas and sugar cane sticks to feed them as you walk around and see all of the elephants. Notice the bananas hiding in my pocket as the elephant promptly put a hat on my head so I would give her a treat. Most elephants in Thailand are domesticated since there are approximately 3,000 elephants in camps and only habitat enough for 300 in the wild. (It is against the law to capture a wild elephant.)
Each elephant has a mahout and a keeper. When a mahout grows old, his son often takes his place so the elephant has a human family in which he/she places trust for life. If the elephant changes owners, the mahout typically goes with the elephant. They can work until they are 40. They live to be 50-60 years old.
We road out into the jungle and crossed the river a couple times. The elephant babies cavort and play along with the working adults as we rode along. At several stands on the trail, the elephants get a snack. They are gentle, well trained and well cared for just as we care for our working horses. The Thai government inspects the elephant camps and the Thais are proud of their elephant heritage which is long, enduring and colorful.

The elephant can easily carry 150 kilograms on his neck and 600 kilograms on his back. (100 Kilograms equals about 220 pounds.) Even so, I was worried about that when Mason and I were riding our beast. The trunk has 40,000 muscles with no bone. The trunk can perform quite delicate tasks but is powerful enough to lift 800 kilograms. Whew! Now, that is one powerful beast. They are amazingly good natured and take to domestication quite easily.
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From the camp, we loaded onto bamboo rafts for a trip down the Ping River. On the way, we saw many elephant camps. They hug the Ping because the elephants need much water and green food. Many camps are small with just a handful of elephants.
On this refreshing ride,  our pilots allowed each of us to pole the raft. The Ping is shallow at this time of year, a gentle, pleasant float.
After lunch, we visited a farmer who grows rice,  tea and herbs. We tasted several interesting cold tea drinks with unusual flavors added. One tasted like peach, another, turmeric tea, was gritty and slightly bitter. His specialty is growing herbs and we walked through his garden where the cooking and medicinal herbs had name tags for our benefit. From the farmer’s pier we loaded into a long boat for our “dynamite” tour. The dynamite was an all you can drink rum and juice drink served with sweet snacks. Salty snacks are rare here.
It was such a perfect day and then, we disembarked in the dark at this ancient temple. Panu asked us if we wanted to send away bad luck in a paper balloon like the Thais do?
We divided into groups and held what looked like a white paper lamp shade about the size of an oil drum in diameter, three feet high, with a top. The bottom struts held a “tuna” can full of wax. The wax is lit, the balloon fills with heated air until it is hard to hold. Then we let it fly and watched as it went up, and up and up and away with our bad luck. It was magical.
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