Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Tuesday, Oct 16 - Still in Fujian; more tea drinking

Today was another tea-heavy day. If there's any city that could make me get sick of tea, it's Wuyishan - in the little village area, every store is a tea store, and basically every convenience store or anything else at all has cans of tea and a brewing station. Every park has a tea station or two, a lot of the scenic areas have little pavillions with rock tables / chairs that would be perfect for an impromptu tea session (well if you happened to have a portable kettle and tea set, anyway). And in and around the mountains.... well there are tea bushes all over the place.

It's also weird to be somewhere so incredibly touristy with not a white person in sight. Seriously - I don't think I saw any non-asians at all the whole time we were in Fujian. As far as I know, no major insults hurled in my direction, though we definitely heard people talk about the 'waiguoren' (i.e., me) a lot.

After some sweet soy milk and buns for breakfast, and then a second breakfast at a little shop by the hotel, we headed over to the Big Teapot Inn (or something like that), also mentioned on Cha Dao, and also run by a relative of Mr. Zhou. We tried a few teas there:
  • high grade Dà Hóng Páo (Big Red Robe - 大红袍)
  • 17 year aged DHP
  • Jīn Fó (Golden Buddha - 金佛) - their specialty, which only they carry
  • Heavier roasting Jīn Fó
I thought that their aged Dà Hóng Páo was much better than the 14 year old one at the other place. The flavors were well balanced, and though it was strong flavored, there wasn't much sourness or an excessively roasted taste. The price was actually pretty reasonable, especially after a little bargaining (I'm actually kind of regretting not buying more - maybe I'll mail order some more if I like it). I also bought some of their specialty tea, even though it was a little pricey.

This is one of the classier establishments in the touristy parts of town; there's a downstairs storefront (which is pretty normal for the area) and then a spacious upstairs tasting room. The woman here was very chatty, and maybe a little patronizing. Thanks to not speaking Chinese, I've been spared a lot of lectures about oolong tea and yán chá in the past 2 days. Of course, I can generally tell more or less what's going on, but Louise kindly didn't burden me with the full translation. The owner's wife came over when we started bargaining on price, and was very warm and friendly. She showed us pictures of their harvest, tea processing, and a couple of token foreign friends, one of whom runs a tea shop somewhere and is a big customer.

We then headed out to do some more hiking, but it turned out I left my ticket at the hotel, so we went to lunch instead (same place as the day before). Once again, the food was excellent; this time, I tried chow mein with their hand-shaved noodles
and we also got a couple of vegetable dishes - long beans and hollow heart greens.

Then we went back to the hiking spot, and checked out some really amazing caves. The last cave was a climb through this narrow gap (supposedly caused by an earthquake), through which you could see the sky. It got so narrow at points, that someone with a few too many pounds probably would have had a hard time making it through. The steps were fairly uneven, and you had to pay if you wanted to rent a flashlight. You'd definitely have to sign all sorts of waivers to go in caves like this in the US. Here's a picture of us coming out:

By then, it was almost time for the afternoon run of the boats that run along the 9 bend river. Thankfully, we didn't get a play by play description of each rock along the route, and the ride along the river was enjoyable. Louise and I took off our shoes to enjoy the water that came through the bottom of the raft, but one of the pilots of the boat warned us that some of the people in the boats ahead of us were from Hong Kong and probably had some sort of deadly foot disease. I'm not sure if that was a credible threat, but just in case, we put our shoes back on. Rafting down the river, while a touristy thing to do, is a great way to see the beautiful cliffs of Wu Yi.

The rear boat pole-pushing-person (not the guy pictured above) cursed like a sailor, and was telling Louise that she should move to China and find a Nice Chinese Boy. He also said that people don't rely on their strength anymore, and they're lucky, because otherwise, skinny guys like me would never get a girl like her. He also said I was unworthy because I can't swim - god knows what he would have said if he found out I didn't eat meat.

After this, we headed back to Mr. Zhou's uncle's place for round two. This time, we were taken upstairs instead of in the tasting room down in the factory - I guess this is where the high rollers get to go? Anyway, the same woman (I never got her name) brewed up some more teas for us. We wanted to try the Bái Jī Guān we never got to try the day before, and then we moved into some slightly more rare and obscure Yán Cha (Bái Jī Guān and Bǎi Suì Xiāng are the only ones I have heard of or tried before).
  • Bái Jī Guān (White Cockscomb - 白鸡冠)
  • Bǎi Suì Xiāng (100 Years Fragrant - 百岁香)
  • Yán Zhōng Lán (literal - Cliff Middle Orchid? - 岩中兰)
  • high grade Cháng Qīng Téng - (Oldest? green? vine - 長青藤)
(I have characters and pinyin for most of these, so pretty sure I have the right characters and words, but correct me if I'm wrong, and help me fill in the missing characters if you know 'em or have a good guess).

The leaves of the last were huge! Here's a closeup of the leaves from that tea and the Bái Jī Guān together:

We got some dinner, and headed to the train station for our late (overnight) train ride back to Shanghai. Unfortunately, you can't buy tickets for other stations, so we weren't able to buy our tickets that much in advance, which meant no hard sleeper for us on the way back - we ended up having to ride in regular seats. This was really crappy, especially since it was a 12 hour, overnight, train ride. Vendors seemed to target the "cheap seats" more too - when we had stops at each station, vendors would yell REALLY loud promoting their products... for 15 or 20 minutes.

At one stop, Louise finally got out and yelled at the vendor from the door of the train, and finally went over and screamed in his ear. Later, a vendor at another stop was yelling while Louise was asleep; I don't speak much Chinese, but I decided to go out there and stare him down. I had a bottle of water in my hand, and (tired and frustrated from lack of sleep) flung some of the water directly at him, then stomped back to my seat. At this point, I was a little afraid that I'd get kicked off the train, and possibly arrested by the Chinese government, but I only got a dirty look from the vendor through the window of the train car.

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