I cannot recall how or when the idea came to me, but several years ago a strong conviction welled up within me, a conviction that I must set foot on every continent on earth—all except Antarctica—that virtually uninhabited, ice-covered landmass. After all, I’m a hot-blooded, sun-loving, kind-of-a-gal. While no doubt many will find Antarctica fascinating, I’m unable to justify the expense to explore such a cold place, hence the decision to leave it alone.
My goal then, was to visit all the continents while still strong and healthy. Unlike Phileas Fogg in the Jules Verne novel, I had no plans to accomplish my quest in eighty days! In fact, I planned to work at achieving it for as long as it took, while savouring every journey, and learning as much as I could about each country that I visited.
Although I continue to travel each year, my main mission has been accomplished. In this blog I’ll share an anecdote about a tea ceremony I attended in China. On this visit I spent my time in Beijing and toured with a group. An amazing city with over fifteen million people then, Beijing has many historical places.
Our tour guide was Emma, a beautiful university student, educated and obviously well instructed in how to talk to tourists about her country. She reeled off information about the history and geography of China like an encyclopedia, and shared several stories with us which gave us good insight into the culture and politics of China. Emma did not shy away from talking about the “One-child-policy” existing at the time, and I was quite surprised to learn that it did not apply to everyone (a good thing!). For example, people with doctoral degrees could have more than one child, and so could farmers.
We toured most of the regular tourists spots—the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, The Summer Palace, and climbed the Badaling Great Wall—to name a few. Emma also made sure we experienced “real” Chinese culture. And what better way to do this than with tea? After all, tea originated in Southern China and South East Asia some 2000 years ago. With such a lengthy tea history, I needed no convincing that the Chinese people are pretty good at brewing tea, but I wanted to witness the process. Emma took us to a tea shop so that we could not only see, but participate in a tea ceremony.
Sitting in the tea shop surrounded by exquisite containers of tea in every colour, shape, and size, inhaling the varied aromas of tea, and listening and watching a Chinese woman perform the ritual of the ceremony is something I have never forgotten.
The water used to brew the tea had to be at a perfect temperature. To test the water the woman used a pee-pee boy! So what is a pee-pee boy you ask? It’s a tiny plastic (or some other material) figurine of a nude man/boy with an oversize penis! The woman poured hot water over “him” and when the temperature was right, water squirted out of the penis—he pee-peed! Our group roared with laughter when the boy pee-peed. After all the shenanigans took place, we sat back, relaxed and enjoyed two different types of teas that day—a green tea and a rose-bud tea.
It was fascinating to watch the minute rose-buds—no bigger than thumb-tacks—expand until they became the size of a small rose. As the buds expanded they exuded an incredible aroma which enveloped the room.
When we left the tea shop most of us were loaded down with boxes and cans of teas and dozens of pee-pee boys to give our friends as souvenirs of China.