I am grateful that this buying trip has been relatively painless and smooth. Though I came down with some sort of Asian flu, massive quantities of bitter Hong Kong roadside herbal drinks helped. Living in HK and commuting daily into China was a great strategy. The thought of staying in some mosquito and smoke filled hotel room with smog choked air outside was more than I could bear. However, the sacrifice was that I did not make it into any remote mountains, only scheduling meetings in the south. I think given how perilous the spring trip was, taking a break from being Indiana Jones was a reasonable route. Our rare tasting oolongs will focus more heavily on Taiwan teas then. Log on to the Events section on Teance.com for the tasting events coming up!
Clay pot rice with stuff cooked on top. Outdoors with a ton of people walking by at Causeway Bay. Rice is crispy on the bottom. Very, very hot. All flavors are intensified from the huge flames. Everything was exactly the same as when I was 5 years old in HK, down to the clay pots. The smells, the clanging and banging, the Cantonese shouting of orders. Nostalgia, comfort food, happy times. Suddenly, interrupted by Mandarin spoken by mainland Chinese. Brought back to reality.
Today: a tense conversation with the cab driver in Shenzhen on why Communism is a cult and Mao Zedong was a demon. Cabdriver thought that Japan would have invaded China had it not been Mao. I told him Japan fought the KMT, and then surrendered due to the atom bomb. Neither were results of Communism nor Mao. He paused, then kicked me out of the cab. I don’t know what’s gotten into me lately. Debating with cab drivers? In China?
A lonely scene early morning in Shenzhen. Me, a tea set not yet in use, a bowl of congee not yet on the table, tea water I will not be drinking, an ash tray I will not be using.
Tea water, like beer water, are terms we use to call restaurant free tea and China made beer respectively. Stuff that claims to be something but is just basically potable drinking water. Shenzhen is not a real city either. It was a created border city to HK. I was in a floating world of nothing real today.
Finally negotiated a batch of ‘96 loose Pu-erh for our 15 year Pu-erh re-stocking! Well, it’s a true 17 year Pu-erh, which in tea years is like a 60 year old human? Most of the market place Puerhs are ripen to drink at 1 year old…
People often ask me how I do it. I live overseas, but most growers and producers treat me like a local, which helps relationship building and getting the best stuff. Regular tea buyers don’t have much status since all you have is money and negotiation skills. Government officials and the local corporate sharks have a much more important priority. The trick for me is to blend in properly. How to do it? Having a good palate helps: all producers treat you differently when you actually understand their product. That’s the artistic appreciation score that corporate sharks and government officials do not have over me. Acting to blend in without offending anyone is the key. Here are some trade secrets:
Taiwan: repeat all instructions and requests at least 5 times. Act extremely worried at all times. Ask the same questions verbatim over and over again. Explain yourself constantly. Speaking Taiwanese Mandarin helps. Never speak with any sort of mainland accent. Also, complaining about China scores points.
Guangzhou: start with Cantonese to lay the right foundation, then negotiate in Mandarin. Be really good at addressing the Cantonese elders properly as ‘uncle’ or if they are older women, ’ boss woman’. Works well. Complain about the Northern Chinese scores points.
Hong Kong: act cold, efficient, totally impersonal. Keep reminding others it’s totally impersonal and it’s just business. Complain about China every other sentence and score instantly. And the sentences all have to be 50% Cantonese slang and 50% English.
China: Southern Fujian: observe strict hierarchies of families and extended families, almost like the mob. Speak only if you are sort of parity rank. Keep silent at all times if possible. Don’t make eye contact. Be invisible for at least a great duration of your visit. Then suddenly wow them with tea knowledge and then make your offer immediately.
Northern Fujian: speak really loudly and moderately aggressively. Be very assertive, keep making the same request until you get some response. Complain about Germans and Russian buyers to score points.
Shanghai and Hangzhou: be very very loud and assertive, very pushy and demanding. You will still get no place unless you have solid connections, but at least being annoyingly loud means you fit in. Act really angry at all times. Complain about the thugs that are the Shanghainese government and score points. Make sure you are not in the same room with government officials first.
Anhui: mellow, silent, deferential. Address the elders properly. Don’t take cold shoulders seriously. It means nothing. Nothing really scores points, but if you mention that Anhui tea is better than Fujian or Jiangsu tea, you win.
Japan: smile, bow, hand over biz cards with 2 hands, bow, wait for instructions. Comment proper compliments for every tea, accurately. Display knowledge of proper Japanese for each taste and varietal. Sit on knees properly without skirming. If the moment is right to speak, assure them that Americans will learn to steep their tea properly to score points.
Eating poisonous foods for dinner outdoors in smog choked dusk in Guangzhou. Moms of the world worry when their kids go to China and have to eat local food. Yet I don’t see horns bulging out of anyone or extra eyes growing out of foreheads? Preferable to invisible cancer cells. Good thing people drink tea nonstop or the 1.3 billion people in this country might all be dead or at least mutated… My day of restocking some teaware at the tea mecca was uneventful, which means, success. Sat and drank tea with a tiny antique dealer in the smallest shop (about the size of a single bed) featuring the tiniest items. Got a pair of rare seal emblem cups and intact pair of Gaiwan. Score. Found some shallow bowled glass Gaiwan perfect for steeping Lu Shan Clouds a and Mist. Another score. Got a collection of sweet tiny Yixing teapots of smooth brocade clay. Double score. Ore’s running out, any finds are good. Found a mad artist who talked like a fast moving unstoppable river, all about the various historical glazes of China. What a guy, what a shop; got some expensive dragon celadon gaiwans. I think probably only me and the river running mouth understands their value… When I got up in the morning today, I prepared myself for functioning as a half-wit. Half of my brain cells have choked from a stuffy nose from a bad cold, the other half choked from lack of oxygen in Guangzhou. Not too bad for being completely dysfunctional….
In all my years as a sort of ‘konger’, there has never been much political unrest. It’s not a very political place. People were content to shop and watch soccer. But then, today, massive protests run amuck on the streets, people turning out to protest the government of not issuing a license to a new TV station. Why? Censorship from the Central Communist government? Someone didn’t pay a bribe to Beijing? Seemingly such a small matter, but the embittered kongers are sensitive to creeping mainland China influence more and more.
Well, at least I had some very good Pu-Erh at Lockcha teashop today. Tea helps to calm frayed nerves.
Well, I will enjoy HK for as long as it lasts. It is still home to me at heart. Here is my prized find today: Hello Kitty wet naps! The collection is complete.
Heading out to dim sum on the MTR, still the best subway system in the world. I freak out when one out of 10 things don’t go right in HK,where I rejoice if ever, by chance, when 1 out of 100 things do go right in China.
Feverish day and sick with a cold, head foggy. Not a good day to go into China as I will need all my wits with me. Today, i’ll just eat and shop all day. And drink lots of all kinds of tea. HK is after all, the only place you can get ancient Pu-Erh, all kinds of Wuyi, Shou Mei, along with British milk tea but made with condensed milk!