Friday, October 31, 2008
All the Tea in China
The Great Wall, dumplings (steamed and boiled), tea balls that open to floral sculpture in boiling water, old women with mandarin collars smiling from centurian doorways, public toilets, tiny apples on skewers dipped in caramel, red lanterns, technicolor Mao, Tienanmen in the smog, toddlers swaddled in padded clothing, coal carts peddled down alleys, The Forbidden City, sound-barrier-breaking spitting, cobalt eaves, silk measured with an abacus,Peking duck with plum sauce.
The conference, titled: "The Interconnected World", was grand. Grander still, the city it was held in. Beijing was synesthesia: you could taste color, smell the sky, and touch the language.
I spent most of my free time in the little Hutongs, the alleys of the old city. Here, laundry hung on hangers in front of windows. Greens dried on door stoops. Donut makers set their vats of oil at intersections in the early morning chill.
A friend, who had spent Christmas there a couple of years ago, gave me the name of a tea shop I "had to visit." I was curious about finding a small alley in a warren of such places. I'd printed off a sheet of practical words with their Chinese characters: taxi, tea, beer, toilet. Somehow, with lots of smiles and nods, I found Alice's shop. The owner uses an English name for such foreigners as myself incapable of capturing the tones of the language (my "thank you" and "hello" sounded like "purple" and "fountain pen" for all I know). I spent hours with her and tiny cups of tea. And I returned again and again. She and her husband and only daughter live in the tiny hall behind her shop. I came back home with enough tea to keep our island's water purification plant in business indefinitely.
And then the Wall. My calves just stopped aching from that up-and-down, 10k hike along the spine of mountains. History and stone. Rise and fall. Time.
Back here on Saipan, I am getting ready to visit my Chinese tailor. She is tiny and sweet and speaks just a few words of English. We communicate well with sign language, but I probably won't be able to explain that the pant hem she'll fix was ripped in her homeland, a world--internconnect--away.