July 28th, 2008

birds nest

Monday, July 28, 2008 — Class at the hotel

Originally published at Andy Does Beijing. You can comment here or there.

Breakfast of Champions Heroes

Today’s breakfast was practically a smorgasborg. The hotel laid out a little more food than usual, especially some typical Chinese breakfast: rice porridge with grains, small steamed rice dumplings with a honey sauce, and the usual bread and eggs. On top of that, everyone brought down food from Walmart: peanut butter, bananas. Dr. Goodwin also handed out pieces of white dragonfruit, which has the feel of a watermelon and the taste of a delicious.

I tried my Trix. Tasted good! Three things: it’s only 150g, maybe about a 9oz box; the inside wrapper was silvery, not wax paper like in the US; and they were the RIGHT SHAPE! I was sad when I tried Trix in the U.S. last year and found out they had changed the shape to Kix puff balls, instead of the fruit shapes, so this is pretty awesome.

Formal Study

More class. I told you, I might tell you about it later!

I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date!

Formal tea preparation A tea party came to our hotel today. Our hotel manager has some connections with a tea company, so he brought them to our dining hall to show us the traditional Chinese tea ceremony. We were told that people will fly across the world to see this tea ceremony put on. Well, we already flew across the world, and we get to see the ceremony — close enough!

Before the ceremony proper started, the group laid out a whole variety of fancy tea sets, many traditional kinds; also, a set of Olympic ring tea cups, which had the rings painted on the inside lip of the cup. Quite precious! (Also, slightly expensive. They didn’t actually expect to sell anything to us, but they did, and gave us a discount for being a group of students. How nice!)

Tea gong fu master!
The tea was prepared by a group of three girls, wearing silk kimono-style tops and fancy black silk pants; one girl described the ceremony, one sat and prepared the tea, and one assisted. The girls presented as very traditionally Chinese servants: demure, humble, efficient, skilled. The girl sitting first displayed each piece of the tea set: tea cups, tea sniffers, cup (like a carafe), filter, hot water pot, tea tongs, and several other implements. Next, she went through a process of warming each piece of the tea set with hot water, then pouring brewed tea over them (for the scent of it), then pouring that tea out and pouring in the tea again, this time to drink. The tea cup and the tea sniffer went on a little oval saucer, which the assistant took over to our honored professors (and wife, Mrs. Goodwin). Drinking tea is much like drinking wine: first, you sniff the tea sniffer cup; then, swish your cup and smell it; finally, drink the tea in three sips. After the girls formally presented the tea, we lined up and they quickly made cups of tea for everyone to drink. (Incidentally, it was jasmine tea.)

A variety of tea sets
The girl who was making the tea did so in a very stylized manner; flowing, yet measured and somewhat stilted. To display the pieces of the tea set, she picked it up, flourished it, displayed it to the crowd and glided it through the air, breast-high, from right to left, back to right, and to the left again, then replaced it in its home. To pour the tea, she carefully held back the hanging sleeve of her pouring hand and poured rapidly and precisely over the cups or tea pot.

Following the tea-brewing ceremony, the tables were cleared and re-set in a flurry of activity so that a ???? (gong fu cha ?, martial arts master of tea) might present his abilities: kung fu tea-pouring! He looked about twenty, maybe a little older, and wore a white mao(?) shirt (with a high, circular collar) with his title embroidered on the left half and a dragon on the right. They were some hella abilities. His weapon of choice was a bronze teapot with a long, thin spout — about 3′ long, I’d judge — which he would twirl and spin about like a saber, then catch in various positions to pour tea spectacularly (and quite accurately) into tea cups. I’m sure my colorguard director would love to see the several videos I took of him spinning and jumping about. Marvellous!

On the Town

Utopia's bar
After dinner, a large group of us went out to Hou Hai ??, Bar Street, to party it up with Amy’s cousin’s boyfriend, Sam. Sam’s in Beijing all summer on an internship / language program: Monday class, Tuesday-Thursday internship, Friday class, weekends off. He also works Sunday nights (the big night out) as a bartender at a little beergarden called Utopia.

We rented out our tour bus so that we didn’t have to worry about cabs or getting lost coming home. When we got there, we called up Sam on my cell phone and he came out to the street to meet us and bring us back to his bar, Utopia. It was pretty chill, just a little lounge with a back room; they had a shelf-full of German and British imports for 40-45 kuai (USD $8) or Chinese beers for 10-15 kuai (USD $1-2). We hung out there for a bit, wandered up the street to some other bars, generally enjoyed the atmosphere and avoided getting run over by taxis.

The well-graffitied wall of Utopia
In addition to bars on Bar Street, you could find restaurants, boutiques, and little convenience stores selling popsicles. Delicious, delicious popsicles, but slightly overpriced boutiques.

After touring Bar Street for a bit, we tried to take our group of thirty and change up to Honey, a karaoke bar, around 11pm, but they didn’t want us and I couldn’t speak enough Chinese to ask why not. Shucks. So we went back to Bar Street, while a smaller group split off and checked out some other, flashier bars going the other way.

We all met up around midnight to count off and ride the bus home to the hotel. Fun night, relaxed, nice bonding time with friends. Good times in Beijing, good times.