Wednesday, September 7, 2011


After our visit to the Suni Yi village, we load back in the bus headed for Guilin (guay-leen). Our guide finds a pit stop for us at a tea factory and a  tea tasting.

Tea has been the drink of choice for China before Christ and it has recently found renewed popularity in the U.S. as well. At this tea factory it was theater. The tea mistress gave us a tiny little cup.  We tasted about eight to ten different teas out of about sixty choices. The interesting wooden hot plate with a happy Buddha, and a burner was central to the event. Now, the tea tasting rules:
First, you smell the cup.
Then you sniff the tea and chew a bit of the leaves to make sure it is good and strong.
Hot water is poured in the cup to warm it. Then while the tea is brewing, (not boiling) you hold the cup in your hands to warm them. You dump the water (or drink it) before the tea is poured.
The tea is poured and you sip once and swirl it around your mouth and savor its smell and tongue feel.
Then you slurp it noisily, considered  polite and the best way to enjoy your tea.

We are paraded by open containers of loose tea to smell. Also on parade are beautiful tea pots  that  filter out leaves. Most Chinese don’t know what a tea bag is. We are given samples of our choice and sent home with a bright pink bag.  And we are entertained by two tea pots. One is a fat baby. When the hot water goes into the pot, the baby pisses into your cup. The other is a green dragon pot that turns red when the hot water fills it up.

Big and small rounds of compressed tea leaves, some beribboned, is the way tea is presented in tea shops. And, suddenly the light dawns. We had seen big wheels of tea, larger than these, at a shop in Jiliang and wondered what they were?  Now, we know.  Almond, and citrus smells and other earthy fragrances pleasantly invade our senses. Some teas in China are aged, like fine wines.  The twenty-eight year old Puer tea (not to be mixed up with Pu’erh tea) is  said to reduce blood pressure, cure diabetes and clean your liver. Does it work? It is expensive to buy but our tea mistress explains that  you can use the same leaves nine times before the leaves are depleted of flavor. I bought some to bring home.

From our bus window, we see the city surrounded by rice paddies. They are so beautiful and at one point in our journey we wanted to see a rice paddy up close. Vicki had our driver stop by the side of the road so we could see rice growing, but it was disappointing.  It  looks like grass. The paddies are in several stages of growth which give that patchwork look. Vicki gives us background on Guilin and its minorities as we ride on the bus.
The town was destroyed during WWII and  rebuilt. University students go to coffee shops like western students do. She warns us to watch out for pick-pockets when walking around town. None of the buildings are allowed to be over twenty floors so that no one’s view to the mountains is blocked.  The hills around have 3,000 caves made of limestone,  many of them open to tourists. Some have colorful names like Waiting Husband Rock Cave,  Crown Cave, Elephant Rock Cave to name three.
Guilin has 13 different nationalities. The Yau and Dow are the major nationalities in this small city of 640,000 people.
We look aghast at Vicki’s definition of a small city. Every year they hold a folk song festival in Guilin. The Dau people sing a beautiful courtship ritual. A woman throws a bouquet at the man she wants and if he catches it, that is his acceptance and they are one.
The Dong people are known for their bamboo houses and other wood work. They make bamboo and  reed flutes.
In the Miao minority families, six and seven-year olds begin to learn the crafts of their parents. They make silver hats and hairpins, combs and hair decorations. They wear very heavy head dresses.
Yau people practice the Oman Religion, a form of Islam. Notable about them is their practice to cut long hair only once when they reach 16 years of age, and then the second time when a daughter marries.  The mother cuts her hair with her daughter. Thus the women are separated by who is single from who is married by the length of their hair. Vicki told us she knew a woman who was 101 years old and had hair to her ankles.  They use oil to wash hair, not water. The Yau are known for their longevity. They also use reflexology, and are very educated herbalists.

We unload at our hotel and walk around the city to see what we can see.  We find a place for our “own”  lunch. The city is very Westernized and busy. We happen upon a pharmacy. We wouldn’t have known if it hadn’t had a second sign in English.

Unlike any pharmacy we’ve ever seen, the pharmacist here is lighting the burner on a huge infusers.

The medicines look more like dried fish, because they are.

Unable to identify the various herbs and plants that go into Chinese medicines we hear and read about, makes this picture more compelling. Professionally laid out in a modern pharmacy we now understand the seriousness of herbal medicine in the Chinese culture.  They have but few “pills”.  Syrups, bottled infusions, and ointments make up the better part of the medical menu. At this point, I decide to take the Puer tea I bought seriously.

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