Tea picking for T?

The act of drinking tea, and Tea houses are a valuable part of the Chinese culture, so I decided to enjoy an afternoon of visiting an old-school chinese town called Ling Pe and experience the highly recommended art of tea picking.

Accompanying me on this tour are 2 German men, Bernard and Christoph, and a couple from the UK, Helen and Ed.

Our Chinese driver, who can speak only chinese, takes us to Liz’s Courthouse, which accommodates a lush green tea plantation up on a hill surrounded by bamboo forests with an amazing view over the countryside. He begins informing and instructing us on how to pick a good tea leaf as we all got to work.

Priding myself on being the kind of person who appreciates all sorts of cultural activities and has a keen interest for a vast range of topics, I listen intently with the ears of a dedicated student and went about my tea picking with a forced enthusiasm.

Unexpectedly, after my initial questions (How do you harvest? Is this green tea? How much do you sell it for? and Can you smoke it?) and after 5 minutes of practical, I found myself getting distracted, the mosquito’s were bugging me. I wondered fearfully if there were any venemous snakes or spiders lurking near my feet? I was irritated that my trekking shoes were getting extremely muddy.

T, thinking – Ok, you’re not getting into the experience, just calm down and try to see the joy in it that everyone else can. Be one with nature. It’s like meditating, just breathe and do the activity. Be one with the picking. Yoga zen yoga zen yoga zen..tolerance tolerance tolerance… (Tummy growls) God, I’m STARVING!

I shamefully and disappointedly admitted to myself that I had no interest in the activity and was completely and utterly BORED, and starving because I was bored. I was done pretending to be a happy tea picking hippy and could have easily learnt this from television as I flicked past the tea harvesting channel.

I broke the (supposedly) tranquil silence and ask Bernard, who I admired for his ability to speak 4 languages and the fact that he was in China to perform as a musician at a charity event, to ask the driver how long more did we have to do this for and, more importantly, when was lunch going to be served?

Bernhard – ‘Now. He must have heard your prayers’

T – ‘I started praying an hour ago’

Bernhard, laughing – ‘I know, 20 minutes would have been enough’

T, smiling but thinking – More like 2 seconds.

What I have learnt about myself? I enjoy drinking the tea that other people skilfully cultivate and harvest. And that learning to meditate in India could go either way, but if I can master it, will be an extremely handy skill to have.

Beware of the Sichuan hotpot

One of the first things I did in Chengdu was seek out the famous Sichuan hotpot at the recommended ChongQing QinMa Hotpot Restaurant.

This Sichuan meal is a broth of stock, oils, spring onion, Sichuan peppers with lots of chillies boiling in a hotpot usually resting centre of the dining table, while additional ingredients such as tender beef, shrimp dumplings, noodles and veggies are thrown into the boil during the course of the seating.

First bite – OMG. Delicious! Yum!

Second bite – Hot searing pain in my mouth.. But I like it.

Third bite – Everything taste like metal.

Fourth bite – My mouth has reached a numb nirvana.

I end the meal fully aware of a low burning heat that accompanies my gut out of the restaurant. The sensation intensifies during my walk through Chengdu town, and strangely creeps closer to the point of volcanic eruption with each passing hour.

My body was still hosting this inferno at 4am that morning, and my internal organs were so inflamed that I was wondering if I could still have children(?)

In hindsight, when the waitress asked me how I wanted my hotpot – Mild, Medium, or Hot – requesting ‘HOT HOT’ was way too ambitious.

What not to do before flying out of Beijing.

1) Go out drinking til 6am in the morning, only getting a couple of hours sleep

2) Pack the night before but end up being unorganised anyway due to waking up late in a panic

3) Leave unfinished book at the hotel. Don’t have time to say goodbye to any friends made.

4) Jump into a cab without eating something first to help fight off the intense nausea

5) Break out in cold sweats in plane wondering why everyone’s staring.

6) Land in Chengdu looking like a monster panda with makeup smeared all over face, scaring the little boy who was waiting for me at the airport to lead me to my hotel transfer.

Last night in Beijing!

Jess (not her real name) identity will remain private for the personal albums

It started with an innocent dinner with Jess at this fabulous restaurant called Dali.

Dali, a modern chinese restaurant with a hint of thai fusion (spice wise), is hidden in the back streets of the hutongs and was hands down the best food I’ve ever had in Beijing. If it wasn’t for Jess, a friend of a friend who is a Beijing local (and an exceptionally wonderful lady), I would have never experience the delicate explosion of tastes that each serving camouflaged through its simple and clean appearance. It was like a colourful fireworks display in my mouth – definitely a happy seat wiggle moment.

After dinner we hit Kokomo, a rooftop bar in Sunlitan which caters to the expat community, and 6 Mohitos later we’re making plans for me to learn Mandarin and move to Beijing, or for Jess to move to Sydney, or go to Europe together. I was really enjoying talking to a Chinese national who is really proud of her country, agrees with the one party, and is passionate about what their government does for the people (which we don’t see a lot of overseas). It’s hard for an outsider to completely understand what it must have been like for China in the past 30 years since they open their doors, and even harder to understand what it would have been like through the cultural revolution the ten years prior. I’ve come to really appreciate the history, the culture, the values, and surprisingly the language, which in the beginning of my trip sounded harsh, like everyone was shouting at each other, and now I find it so fascinating.

We were joined by a young american boy, an expat working in Beijing as a professional football player, and an army of french men.

American over-tanned footballer, without introducing himself – so where do you girls live?

T – ‘I’m just passing through, Jess is from here’

American over-tanned footballer to Jess – Can I have your number? hands over mobile. (To T) I’d ask for yours too but you’re just passing through. (smooth)

Jess – ‘you’ve got the key lock on.’ (hands phone back)

Jess to the table but aimed at this cute french man‘bottoms up!’ then skulls her 10th mohito (we’ve also had about four beers in between)

T – this is going to turn ugly

15 minutes later, Jess throws up on the cute french mans knee. The bar staff, used to this kind of thing, comes out with a bucket of water and quickly washes away the evidence, this process of spewing and cleaning repeats 4 times.

T – ‘Honey, its time to go home’

Somehow, like a cat, I always find my way home, and this proves true even in a foreign country, blind drunk, at 6am in the morning.

Lazy afternoons of ice-cream and literature

I’ve simultaneously become addicted to Haagen-Dazs ice-cream and Paulo Coelho novels. In fact, my favourite thing to do when I’m too tired to be a tourist is plant myself into a cozy Haagen-Dazs lounge and slurp ice-cream while reading for the afternoon.

See the picture? That’s what I devoured yesterday, while relishing Paulo Coelho’s ‘Zahir’. Belgium chocolate rum ice-cream with a cookies & cream ice-cream bar resting on a warm chocolate brownie, with an extra scoop of rich chocolate ice-cream for good measure.

I know, I’m in China, what am I doing in a German cafe reading books when I could easily do that at home? Truth be told I never even thought to do this at home, there’s always someone to meet, or somewhere I have to be. Im on holidays, and essentially I can do what ever I want, and if what makes me happy is eating ice-cream for dinner four days in a row, then so be it. Maktub

A night out at the Beijing egg watching 3 northpole magnets forced to be on the same stage

The Beijing egg was so round, so full, so fertile looking – It made me want to nest.

Officially known as the National Center of Performing Arts, the Beijing Egg is where musicals, opera’s and performance art shows are staged. I was curious see what the acoustics were like, and sneak a peek at the internal architecture, so being a person who LOVES theatre, it seemed that attending a musical was the perfect way to kill two birds with one egg. (haha)

I chose the only musical playing during my remaining time in Beijing. The name and information on the posters were in Chinese, but the characters looked interesting enough, and my friend Will informed me that the name of the musical was an epic ‘Somewhere Far Away’

I’ll start by saying that I am a critic by nature, of everything, and the last musical I attended was Wicked (see the review, it was excellent) and while I could take into account the cultural differences in musical tastes, what I can’t stand is a musical that has a SHIT plot.

Firstly, even though everything was sung in Chinese, surprisingly there were these 56″ screens at the lower left and right of the stage which introduced each scene, song, character, had subtitles, and even an epilogue in both chinese and English, leaving no room for musical interpretation. Oh yeah, I knew exactly what was going on..

The plot – The characters wanted to go far west, far far west, far far far west, as they kept on singing. Then there was this love triangle between the leading man, the leading lady, and this other guy that seemed to pop up and hang around whenever the leading lady was alone.

There was a lot of awkward him reaching out and walking a couple of steps towards her, then pausing and turning away. Her, emotionally distraught, kind of stumbling around towards the leading man, then stops herself before touching him. Other guy, clumsily leans in and takes a step towards the girl but isn’t confident that she’ll return his affections, so he too halts before making the connection. All repelling each other like three north pole magnets forced to be on the same stage, singing simple phrases like ‘let me hold your soft hand’ to the back of the head of their object of desire, while the subtitle screen explains in detail all their cravings and fears. What cracked me up at the end of a particularly majestic tune, was this single, clear and confident, clap that came from behind me. Just one. ‘oops, I didn’t mean to.. it just slipped out..’

There comes a point, a painful and intolerable point, when you have to make a choice.
Do I risk being rude and leave? Like the time Dale and I went to see Pearl Harbour at the movies and were so disgusted that it had been turned it into a love story that we walked out (only after the main scene of the bomb dropping on Pearl Harbour of course)
Or do I be polite and bare it? Like the time Mark brought my father and I to the amateur version of the classic, award-winning musical Chess (He didn’t realise it was amateur night and thought he scored some really really cheap tickets).
Or the time Mark invited me to a paid survey and told me it was going to be about Television (I’m a massive TV critic) and what it actually ended up being was the two of us sitting in a dark conference room with a projector playing an awful Packed to the Rafters episode, while having 12 wires hooked up to our skulls, a tight wet swim cap holding the wires down, and made to wear flashing glasses so these scientist could read our brain activity – I’ll never forget sitting there, looking very Clockwork Orange, when Mark turned to me, wires connecting his head to the expensive equipment behind us, his eyes hidden behind the special flashing glasses as he held my hand and said in his best geek voice ‘we’ve made it, baby, we’ve made it.’

Afterwards, Mark and I happily tucked into some dirty bird (KFC) as a reward for being good little guinea pigs. It was a very ‘Where are they now’ moment.

The musical was somewhere between the Chess and Packed to the Rafters survey experience – I wanted to DIE. And couldn’t stop fidgeting and scratching, getting imaginary itchy spots everywhere due to not being riveted. I eventually decided that it would be better for the lady next to me if I just left. So before the show even got to the halfway intermission, I quietly snuck out and went home via curly fries from Mcdonald’s as a reward.

Going language crazy before the dog snaps me out of it

The strangest thing happened yesterday as I did my usual morning socializing with the local old ladies of the hutongs.

Every morning I greet the grandmothers of the hutongs, and then listen politely as they tell me about this, that, and the other, having no idea what they’re saying, but on occasion being able to pick up a few things from their creative use of full body actions. I try to answer any questions to the best of my very poor ability(my grandmother would be so ashamed of me, but I do know that all questions end in ‘Ma?’), sometimes, in desperate moments, I respond by saying anything I know in Chinese, even though what I do know has nothing to do with what they’re trying to communicate to me.

Old Ladies – Probably asking me to come in the evening for dinner, or to watch TV, or play a game of cards.
T – Mandarin for ‘My name is Tiara. I am from Australia. Dont have’

BTW – I am getting really good at mahjong!

This particular morning, I greet my usual ladies and then I swear to God they start speaking to me in fast English!

You know that movie, I can’t remember the name but I think the main character was either Christopher Lambert or Antonio Banderas, and he’s stuck with these tribes in the woods, and he can’t understand the language, so he listens as they sit around the fire and talk. As he listens , the movie is in subtitles, then slowly you hear an english word here and there, then a sentence in english, then the whole conversation is in English and the subtitles disappear indicating that our hero now understands and can speak the tribal dialect?!

That’s EXACTLY what it was like for me yesterday!

Except, the English words weren’t making any sense ‘truck west I can see it pantry’, and it only lasted for about ten seconds before everything went back to Chinese.

Then, as if to snap me completely back into reality, the white fluffy neighbourhood dog bit me.

The Summer Palace

The summer palace was where the Emperor and Empress used to spend their summers, and today it’s still a great place for tourist and locals to escape to away from the city.

Initially meeting the same crazy crowds as everywhere else in Beijing, once you walk further around the lake, away from the masses, the Summer Palace’s scenery fills you with peace, tranquility, and serenity.

The path around the lake takes you through well manicured chinese gardens, interesting high-arched bridges, and traditionally designed pagodas. It’s such a lovely, quiet, picturesque environment that easily wisks you into a relaxed, reflective mood as you stroll the grounds. I found myself smiling, grateful for this wonderful travelling opportunity, ‘The Greatest American Hero theme’ song playing in my head as I appreciated how beautiful my surroundings were, thinking about my life, about what I’m going to do in the future, then about my mortgage, then frowning, the music in my head changing to ‘Deeply Disturbed’ by the Infected Mushrooms. I picked up my pace and turned my light stroll into a sturdy march. Lucky, because the path still took a good 2 hours to complete.

At the Summer Palace, the Emperor had built a tower of incense to Buddha (the Buddha Temple of Incense), and as I reached the entry of the temple, my auto-guide informed me of a famous belief that ‘those who walk up the 100 steps to the Buddha Temple of Incense will live for 100 years’. My first thought was ‘what steps?’

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), I didn’t follow my map correctly and went against the grain of people, somehow taking the gently inclined slope up, and the steep, thigh-burning, 100 steps down.

Will taking the easy way out and only going down the 100 steps have a reverse effect on my life’s longevity?

My arse was willing to take that gamble.

Something about the cats and dogs

I love how in Beijing, particularly in Nanlougu Xiang, cats and dogs are allowed in bars and cafe’s, not just in the alfresco areas, actually in the bar and cafe. Sitting next to you, lazing about, playing with other puppies, I even have this cute white kitten playing with my toes right now – I love it!

Most people wouldn’t understand this, but while in China I’ve been wishing my dogs and cats were here, not only because I miss them terribly, but also so I could share this experience with them (WHAT?!). For example, while I was doing the Great Wall I was thinking how much Hiro and Sumo would have loved it! Crazy huh? But they are like my children..

The little kitten, less than a year old, who was playing with my toes, is now terrorising a couples romantic lunch. I can understand where the cats coming from, there’s a fly on the window that needs urgent attention, I can see it and totally understand. But unfortunately, I don’t think these patrons are too happy about the kitten pouncing through their meal to catch the fly. Hopefully they won’t complain though. He’s just a kitten. Besides, the fly is much more unhygienic than the cat.

Now, I’ve also seen a lot of less than satisfactory animal treatment, which I won’t go into because it breaks me, and Beijing is not the rest of China, I’ve heard that pets in Beijing have only recently become a household luxury. Before then, the Beijing culture wasn’t too animal friendly at all.

Still, I wish Sydney had more pet friendly cafe’s and pubs.

Darling Harbour on steroids – Houhai @ Shichahai

I got super excited when I discovered this recreational goldmine – It’s not only gorgeous, it looks like so much fun!!

Houhai in the Shichahai Lake area is lined with designer restaurant after designer restaurant, bar after bar. Imagine Sydney’s Darling harbour on steroids and you’ll almost have it.
In the lake there are traditional boats, water peddling boats, floating restaurants, locals swimming with hundreds of water lilies beautifying the lakes borders. On land there are bicycles, 2 seater bicycles, 3 seater bicycles and if that’s still not enough, they even have the family four seater bicycle, people flying kites, juggling, and kicking the glow in the dark hacky sack around – at the same time!

Walking along Houhai there is Reggae Bar, Bob Marley Bar, Purple Bar, Michael Jackson Bar, Country & Western Bar, Jazz bar, Lotus Bar (etc, etc, etc). All with a duo of acts singing modern chinese and all time favourites for live entertainment.

If you happen to come by yourself, like I did, don’t worry, there are many young hosts standing in the front of these bars and clubs who are not shy about grabbing your hand, leading you into their bar, sitting you down, getting you a beer, and keeping you company with the usual line of questioning – What is your name? Where are you from? How long are you in Beijing? Why?

Entering the stage is Kitty and Tom (Foolery I’m guessing). They perform at the Purple bar 7 nights a week, she wears a Sailor Moon outfit most nights and looks like a life-size doll (can I have one?), and he has orange hair. Together they’re ‘Born to be Mild’. Not really, that’s just the name I’ve christened them with after viewing their performance. Understandably, its difficult to keep up the enthusiasm night after night especially when competing against the vast amount of bars who are offering the exact same service, scenery and style of entertainment, side by side, on your street.

I enjoy being on holidays, with my only direction being south, and having no boundaries.. except when asked if I want to sing karaoke, in public, in chinese.

After Born to be Mild? ‘No way!’

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