Sunday, September 14, 2014

Green Tea, Ying-Yang, Poetry in Hangzhou

Hangzhou Train Station
If there is ever an urban transformation, it is Hangzhou. Twenty years ago it was a fairly small (small in China is still lumbering huge in US) town in misty thick forests with mud roads around West Lake with its carpet of tall water lily pads, near which what is considered today the best green tea in the world. (China claims 30 West Lakes). The train station alone, just opened and recipient of bullet train stops, is the biggest structure I have ever walked through - probably 3 soccer fields wide and 12 football fields long, if not more. It was and is sort of a green retreat squeezed in between mountains and the end of the Grand Canal (which the astronauts could see from space), and is called "romantic" though romance was not a good thing, apparently, during the Revolution. But back in the day of the Reds, families might jump on their bicycles and come here if they were allowed a break away from their daily labor and apparently it drew the epitome of the "literari", scholars who excelled in Chinese ink paintings, tea ceremonies (considered an art), poetry, bonzai (or Pengzai - planting a pot) and zen. Now it is home to 8 million, is filled with tea houses and is an UNESCO protected site and about as close to Heaven a Chinaman can get. The Emperor of the Southern Song dynasty offered sacrifices to heaven here, since he was dubbed "The Son of Heaven" and he masterminded the discovery and production of celedon porcelain pots. Remnants of the unique Kiln still remains, well-restored.
Tea plantation.

Best green tea in the world
Hangzhou rollicks in the modern world because of its production of the finest, hand picked, organic green tea - Dragonwell Tea. I learned a lot about green tea visiting the Meijiawu plantation. It isn't supposed to have a sharp taste, it doesn't need boiling water, and it is the best cleanser for the digestive system there is. Green tea leaves are picked leaf by leaf, the worker making sure there are 3 tiny leaves on the stem, and the best season for green tea is the spring - that's when the Emperor quality tea is picked. There are 3 levels - B is the cheapest, A is still affordable, but the Emperor's quality is about $600 a half pound. But, back in the day, the Emperor sought 18 Virgins to pick the leaves with their lips.

Dragonwell Tea Center
The leaves are dried in the air and put in a wok heated to about 120 celsius. A man (it's a man's job) must spend hours tenderly moving the green tea leaves around with his bare hands (it's a hot job), and check that the shape of each leaf is perfect. It takes 8 hours to process one half pound. If the leaf breaks, then it becomes tea for tea bags. It then goes into a bamboo sieve (like a huge scoop) and the heat is lowered for a haIf hour, the final color still the same (clear) as when it was fresh picked and the leaf must be "flat as a sparrows tongue." If the leaves ferment, then toss them into the black tea pile, and this has been the favorite of the British, who caused the tea industry to soar because of its demand for tea in exchange for opium in the 19th century. If the tea ferments, it loses all the benefits.

Broken Celadon pots
The best green tea has very mild flavor, picked in the spring, , and the summer picked tea is always strong, there being actually 16 grades of it according to season. (the bigger the leaf, the darker it is, the less tannins in the tea - black tea has lost all its tannins, the things that claim to assist the immune system, cancer prevention, and digestion, etc.) The tea lady explained that green tea has four times more polyphenos than other teas - and this gives it these powers: antioxygen against cancer, clears up uric acids, is a good detox for the bladder, and lowers blood pressure and, I was told, the higher quality the tea, it has almost no caffeine . Some people take a bottle green tea (made at home) and sip on it all day. It's good to get rid of salt after a meal. (Fresh tea can be put in the freezer up to one year.) When the highest grade tea sits in hot (not boiling) water it will have no color. That is proper. The ideal is to throw a two-finger pinch of tea leaves into the warm water and let it re-hydrate (it's been dried, remember) and when it is poured from the tea pot, raise and lower the pot three times - sort of a wave as you pour. While waiting for it to cool, lean over and let the steam heat go into your eyes. There are now green tea pills, green tea oil, green tea candy, mints and mochi)(which the overkill saleslady called marshmallow) and you can dazzle tea a bit with some ginger. Luyu, a poet from the late Tang Dynasty, drank all kinds of teas and wrote a bible for green tea experts.

Ancient kiln
In a lush green garden (everything is lush green in this area), the celadon museum explains the story of Emperor Song Gao Zong (200 bc) who was also an artist who created the special Guan kiln, to create the pale green porcelains that are somewhat transparent and very delicate. On entering the well-laid out museum, you stand over piles of broken pots, all tossed over the years because they were not perfect. The kiln is in a huge barn (its original place) emphasizing the love the emperor had for making these bowls, pots and ornaments. (Most emperors don't bother with these kinds of things.)

Chinese pharmacy
One of my favorite adventures was to a traditional Chinese apothecary and the world of Chinese traditional medicine, which had helped me through my trial with breast cancer in 2008. We walked into the busy store where dark wood drawers lined the walls and pharmacists, I guess you'd say, were gathering up herbs, flowers, roots on metal trays. A meeting with a young doctor had been arranged and he tried to explain the system in relation to the Western ways of medicine. It's all based on "Qi" (chee or energy), and keeping the body warm and balancing Ying and Yang (hot and cold, light and dark, i.e. opposites), which can be facilitated by doing Tai Chi. Ginseng is good - ornate boxes of it hung on the wall - ginseng is a root with a lot of personality in its form - and there are three types that affect the immune system and circulation - American ginseng cools the body, China ginseng warms it, and Korean ginseng makes it HOT. The doctor explained they don't "cure", they try to reorder the body so it is balanced. No system is perfect. CTM doesn't consider the brain as being in control. Even organs are re-thought as to their importance. Acupuncture, massage, cupping (glass or bamboo) and a list of herbs, blossoms, berries, dried, mushrooms (some terrible tasting ones) and roots are the resolutions for complaints. And diseases like cancer, are not "cured" but the five elements are brought put in sync with each other. The heart is the "king" organ, governing all other. I sure believe in that.

Preparing herbs and roots
The elements are wood (affects the liver), fire (heart), earth (spleen), metal (lungs), and water (kidney.) Each element has a relation with the other: wood to earth, earth to water, water to fire and fire to metal, then metal to wood. The doctor lit a white stick called a moxi bastion made of dried moxi leaf and told me to breathe in, I did. He showed a mix of herbs, blossoms and roots - and I saw dried rose buds - he explained drink rose tea for anger. Then I went through a quick diagnosis. He says the ear, eye, tongue and pulse are red. The tongue speaks through its shape, color and coating. It should be pink, moist and clear. If it is yellow or white, pay attention to the food you eat. It reports on the stomach. If the coating is not clear, there is a digestive problem. I loved this doctor - he had a easy sense of humor and was quite modest about the CTM field.

CTM doctor balancing me
So he looked at me (tired as I am) and saw depression and said I need American ginseng tea to cool down my hot heart (not the Korean which is so fascinating with its long curving roots). And my ying was a little off, but my yang was normal. We went into the "massage" room where about 8 massage beds with pink sheets were available. In the foyer young and old patients waited their diagnosis so they could be prescribed a herbal-root assistance in getting balanced. The doctor gave a deep massage to my neck and shoulders, which he said were very tight (yep!) and before I knew what he was doing, he turned my head one way and then the other with a great pop. Wow. The pain had gone. I went down to the room of goodies to have my prescription filled and to get balanced. You can choose the dried or fresh herbs etc., or nowadays, pills.

Finding the long low Four Seasons Hotel through the masses of forests wasn't easy. It is on the lake but you can't see the lake from the outside decks of the room. Here I was to meet with a poet as I am curious about the characters and how to interpret them, having taken a seminar once with a Chinese poet at a poetry workshop. The young lady is a university teacher and didn't speak English, so we had to work through a translator which was awkward. She was interested in expression form, I was more interested in the pictographs and idiographs (which have a combined inference.) Then I found out she was a staunch member and leader of the Communist party of the government. I asked her why she hadn't published her poems, as she accepted a copy of my poetry book, and she said because she cannot do that and serve her government and students at the same time. It would draw attention to her, I think, and that's not appropriate. I asked her who her favorite poets were, and they were ancient one, where there is order and pattern: Dufu, from the 2nd part of the 8th century Tang dynasty (a realist), and Li Bai, the first part of the 8th century, who traveled and wrote about landscapes and was an idealist. I will look them up.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dearest Audrey,
You have convinced us that we need to move to Hangzhou and live on Green Tea. Our bodies are definitely out of order.
We believe Dr. Ly, Gerri's Acupuncturist, keeps Green Tea in his waiting room for his patients.
Hangzhou must be an amazing place. Did you find out why they built such an enormous train station?
We thought China was a poor country, but apparently that isn't the case.
This Judge is now in his sixteenth day of retirement and can't find anything to do. Hopefully, this will change! It is difficult to stop everything after 48 years of public service. Maybe Green Tea will help!
We miss you and pray God will keep you safe.
Lots of love,
Geraldean and Judge