Monday, April 11, 2011

Day 4 - This Tour Goes to ELEVEN! Part VI - Tea and Home

(Yes Tavin, I mean the Hotel... not home-home.)

To end this ever elongating tour of sights north of Beijing, we were to be treated to a demonstration at a Tea House, and drink a little to help us recover from our long rambley day.  
What made the visit to the Tea House most memorable was it's situation in one of the Hutong areas.  Old Beijing - twisty streets and court yarded dwellings and businesses.  Places one goes to when you know where you are going, since you must knock on a door and be admitted.  Not places you can glance into shop windows, and browse to kill time.  There are no shop windows first of all, and you hold consultations to determine what you need to purchase, no independent viewing of wares set out to tempt you.  However, this area of Hutong was under a sort of renovation.  Work was being done on the widest lane, and an arch was being set up to attract tourists.  
The most thrilling part of this was the active welding that was going on as we walked under the arch, accompanied by showers of sparks!  Somehow I think that might violate both union rules and OSHA.  Not to mention several lines in the average industrial insurance contract.

As I said, this Tea House was in the Hutong, and street renovation or no, driving into one is close to pure madness, when it is even possible.  So we walked under the spark showering arch, twist, then turn, and on into the Tea demonstration.

When is a Tea Demonstration like a Magic Show?

When it is at the end of a long day of tours... you're tired, and the woman who's performing clearly does this all day, for days in a row.  She had a patter, hand choreography, and a few moments of humor.  She even was wearing a robe of the Mysterious Orient.  Or in this case, a padded jacket, with an outside of polyester satin tapestry.  

She poured heated water here and there, conjured different teas, told us their qualities in short, rehearsed bursts, and between the decorative "tea flowers" (those bound balls of tea leaves that bloom upon brewing) and the "fruit tea" (low quality leaves and small pieces of chopped dried fruit liberally dosed with sugar.  "You don't even need to brew it, you can just eat it!"), she even demonstrated the "tea baby" (an unglazed little boy figure that pees after the correct applications of cold & hot water)

It was all quite skillful, the tea better than the average, and I even learned (at last) one of the proper uses for my adorable tiny tea pots I've been collecting desultorily throughout my life.  (Pssst, I've also learned at long last how to pick out the duds from a useful one - not that I'd been trying hard.)

And, like so many Disney rides, it ended in a gift shop.  And a good thing too.  As I was to discover later in the trip, finding a good place to pick up little souvenirs that are not a) knock offs of designer luxury goods or b) unredeemable cheap plastic crap that has more to do with a bargain toy bin than anything else, would turn out to be harder than I thought.  
There were plenty of big expensive, heavy souvenirs, and little things that were just cheap looking and uninteresting.  But something interesting, that fits in a corner of the suitcase - that turned out to be Japan's specialty - strangely not China's.  Or at least not right now.  Maybe part of the problem was growing up and living in Seattle where many of the popular souvenirs had surrounded my childhood, always on display at Pike Place Market.  How could a wooden jointed snake be at all exotic if I'd been tripping over them for as long as I could remember?

We departed the the tea/gift shop with some pretty good tea (I was to get my paws on better in a few more days... but this gave me a decent grounding to help me get the other), some scene changing mugs, and 2 tea babies for appropriate recipients.  
At last we were driven back to the hotel where we paid our tips and lugged all our packages out of the mini van.  We said goodbye to the most jam packed of days we would experience in China. (Thank Goodness!)
Looking back - I can see this is when the pneumonia started to set in.  But at the time... "It's just a cold.  I'll just drink some more tea."
Dinner (which I don't remember at all) and Splat! into bed.

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