Not certain if my memory of Phongsaly is real or fake.
Because the ends and starts of the conversations I observed in Moutern seemed similar enough that I think I might be misremembering the whole thing.
In my memory, discussions followed a schematic: a greeting and introduction (delivered in a particular fashion and with particular physical posturing), then the conversation proper (when the back-forth of the speakers’ exchange falls into a repetitive pattern where one person speaks while the other listens and performs reactive acknowledgement), and finally the winding down of the speaking (when sentences are short and staccato until one party chooses silence).
The beginnings and ends, with their apparently more defined behavioral rules, seemed to resemble each other because of those rules — likely because I couldn’t understand a single word being spoken.
Continue reading “Descriptions to Moutern”
Suzhou is silk, gardens, and Green Snail Spring.
That is: Biluochun (碧螺春//bi4luo2chun1), which is yet another of China’s most famous teas. It’s so named because it’s a green tea, rolled into a spiral resembling snail meat, and harvested in early spring. This tea has a very light, sweet flavor with a delicate floral aftertaste. Many experts rank this tea just as highly as Hangzhou’s Longjing.¹
Suzhou is also renowned for fine silks and embroidery. The Suzhou-style (苏绣//Su1xiu4) has a history of over 2000 years and is noted for its pastel coloration and masterful depiction of environment scenes like flowers, birds, animals, and gardens.² The tiles were taken at a small gallery showcasing the silk embroidery.
The classical gardens of Suzhou are a UNESCO World Heritage site and flooded with tourists at all times. These gardens, built during the Northern Song Dynasty until the late Qing Dynasty (11th-19th century), have nearly a thousand years’ history. Mostly built by wealthy scholars, they mimic in microcosm natural scenes of mountains, hills, rivers, and forests.
Arguably the best and most prominent of the city’s classical gardens is the Humble Administrator’s Garden, which seamlessly melds natural scenes (eg. plots of flowers or trees) with human architecture (pagodas and stained glass windows). Once you’ve been here, all other gardens pale in comparison, really.
However, you won’t be able to enjoy the crafted beauty in peace or solitude — consider yourself extremely lucky if you can manage to take a photo of the scenery without masses of tourists in the shot. (They’ll also make sure to promptly point out in Chinese that you are, in fact, a laowai). The photos below I took while finding respite in the behind-the-scenes bonsai potting area.
Sunshowers in China’s inimitable tea capital.
Without a doubt, it will start raining while you search for the aptly underwhelming Old Dragon Well, the namesake of Hangzhou’s most famous export: Longjing tea (龙井茶//long2jing3 cha2). However, you’ll find a place to stop for lunch and a couple cups of tea because of the fickle weather. Whether you’re a beginner or connoisseur, you’ll recognize that the Dragon Well tea is incomparable. Surprisingly full-bodied (sweet, slightly nutty) with pleasant earthy and floral undertones, Longjing tea is considered by some to be the best green tea in the world.
Several legends connect the now world-famous Longjing tea to Emperor Qianlong. While in Hangzhou, the Emperor visited the Hugong Temple on Lion Peak Mountain (狮峰山//shi1feng1shan1) and was presented a cup of Longjing produced from 18 trees near the temple. He was so impressed that he conferred them the honor of 贡茶//gong4cha2, or imperial status tea (also, tribute tea). Tea is still produced from those 18 trees and is sold for more money per gram than gold.¹
The famous West Lake that inspired artists and emperors is very much “an idealized fusion between humans and nature.”² The tiles below depict the bridges and boats that allow visitors to themselves become a part of this beautiful fantasy.
If China is the green tea capital of the world, then Hangzhou is the capital of capitals. Any trip there would be incomplete without traversing the tea-growing hills east of the West Lake and seeing the Lion Peak Mountain itself. Green leaves, whose precise preparation contributes to its celebrated status as much as its remarkable flavor, are arranged in terraced rows of hedges to soak in the sun and rain. Their fate is a kettle of boiled water halfway around the world.