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10 posts from April 2008

April 29, 2008

Leaving Hangzhou

They wanted this bike!
Originally uploaded by Donna & Andrew

This was taken in a park in Hangzhou. Our guide during the Hangzhou/Wuzhen part of our trip isn't really very good (He ignores us) so we don't know anything about any of the places we've visited. When we get home, we'll have to search on Wikipedia and try to fill in some of the blanks.

We're taking a train from Hangzhou to Suzhou today.

More of our Hangzhou pictures here: Our Hangzhou photo set


Originally uploaded by Donna & Andrew

Well, sorta.

A Chinese mother asked to have her baby boy's picture taken with Andrew. As she handed him over, I couldn't help but think of the previous two times strangers handed us small children here in China. I wish we didn't have to give this little guy back!

More Wuzhen pictures here: Our Wuzhen photo set

Hanging out at a Hangzhou tea village

The girls fell asleep before we got in the van so we loaded their strollers into the van (with them still sleeping in them) and drove to a Hangzhou tea village. Since they were still asleep when we arrived and unloaded the strollers, I stayed with them until Andrew finished the tour.   I don't care much about tea but he was born in England and I'm pretty sure I once read somewhere that Brits bleed either Marmite or tea if you cut them.  I can't confirm this but I have experienced his gift for writing and I can assure you that you'll love reading about his tea village tour experience here:

(Andrew typing)  We visited the Meijiawu tea village in Hangzhou, where they make Long Jing (Dragon Well) tea.  The girls were sleeping, and Donna's not as passionate about tea, so she sat with them while I went in for the tour.  We started with the tea plant itself and a demonstration of processing tea.  From picking to being ready to drink the tea is dried twice and goes through various forms of processing -- all this can readily be completed within 8 hrs, so you can drink the same day you pick.  I was a little surprised at the tea plants themselves.  They're unremarkable oversized shrubbery, maybe four feet across and three feet high.  Only the fresh green leaves are picked, and there are three picking seasons:  spring (the best), summer, and autumn.  Each bush can live for around a hundred years, but each 25, it must be cut back to the roots and given three years to rejuvenate.  The new leaves are picked and then dried -- they're dumped into a big vat kept at around 200C, and some poor soul sticks his hand into this oven and stirs them around in a complicated manner.

After that high-level process overview, I went inside to a beautiful tea garden, showcasing a statue of a solomonic-looking fellow who turned out to be tea master Lu Yu, revered for his wisdom in pronouncing the local tea the best in China.  Per this declaration, Long Jing has been formalized as the national tea of China, and various complex grading systems have been put in place.  There's even a system by which individual batches are labeled with a seal of approval that contains a lottery-style scratch-off number whose correctness can be verified by the buyer at an online website.

After hanging with Yu, I continued to the next pavilion where a tea expert (saleswoman) would help me to understand (buy) tea.  She had mastered the snap transition from imperious to servile depending on whether she addressed me or the underlings -- I had encountered this before in high-end rug dealers, so knew myself to be in capable hands.  An underling poured water into glasses moving the kettle up and down three times, signifying welcome.  We would then tap three times, signifiying our gratitude.  She showed me three plates of Long Jing tea leaevs, and explained the three key criteria for evaluating them:  vegetal smell, light green color, and smaller leaves.  By now our tea was ready for drinking.  She instructed me to cover the glass with one hand, leaving a small opening, put my eye to the opening, and let the steam from the tea bathe my eyeball in ancient goodness.  The vitamin A from the tea would counteract the effects of excessive reading or computer use.  It's an unusual sensation.

After the eyeball bath, she reached in hushed reverence for another packet of tea and explained solemnly that she would now show me tea that wasn't available anywhere else -- not Shanghai or Beijing, certainly not whatever benighted country I came from, just right here outside Hangzhou, and only because I seemed to be a trustworthy sort with a passion for tea and a clean set of eyeballs.  She unwrapped this new package and encouraged me to emote with her about how vegetal it smelled compared to the other tea that had been sitting around getting stale, which I did.  She then suggested that I might be interested in buying some of this remarkable tea, which I was.  We went through some price discussions, and she offered some highly complex package deals involving gift boxes of different sizes.  I told her I didn't really drink caffeine, and she explained that green tea is low in caffeine and the highest quality tea required only 2/3 as many leaves as the next grade down, neatly skirting the issue that Long Jing is apparently surprisingly high in caffeine.  I asked whether I could buy a smaller packet, and she told me that yes indeed I could, but she couldn't recommend that I waste my money in that way when the larger packet was slightly cheaper by weight.  Once my small packet had been prepared, and its virtues extolled, she went on to offer me a wide variety of dried flowers that unfurl in boiling water producing rehydrated dried flowers (also known as "flowers") -- I was to imagine the potential for party fun involving guessing whether a jasmine or a chrysanthemum would eventually emerge.  They were quite beautiful, but I demurred and was sent on my way with an efficiency that left my head reeling.

Oh, I forgot to mention:  the surrondings of the tea village were stunning, and the tea being cultivated on the mountain is beautiful.  It was a great trip, and I highly recommend it to anyone.

April 28, 2008

Xi'an Fish Dumpling

Xi'an Fish Dumpling
Originally uploaded by Donna & Andrew
Isn't this litte fishy dumpling almost too cute to eat? He was as delicious as he was adorable!

Xi'an (those are terra cotta warriors in the background!)

daddy and gwen
Originally uploaded by Donna & Andrew

We left Beijing Saturday morning and flew to Xi'an where we were met by "Our New Friend", Alice. The girls have started referring to our tour guides that way and I guess it's convenient since we get a new one every few days and sometimes Mom and Dad can't keep their names straight. Heck, sometimes Mom and Dad can't even keep our own children's names straight!

Alice kept us busy from the moment our plane touched down until it left the city two days later. I can't remember the names of all the places we visited and I don't want to dig our itinerary out of an overpacked suitcase so you'll just have to be happy to look at some pictures here: Xi'an Photo Set

Those photos are mostly from our visit to the Terra Cotta Warrior exhibit but we have others that are really spectacular and I'll try to get those posted as soon as I can. I'm really behind in blog posting since our days are incredibly busy and life in this hotel room is pretty insane when the kids aren't sleeping. Last night, I stayed up until 1:00 am trying to spruce up and upload these photos to Flickr. It took so long because I didn't have a Pro account (something you need if you want to upload unlimited numbers of photos) and I didn't have the Flickr Uploader tool. Now I have both and I think I've got it all figured out so posting to the blog should be easier from this moment on....... if this post goes through (it's being sent from Flickr). My fingers are crossed!

Yippee!  It worked --- and I can actually see the photo this time!

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