Monday, March 9, 2009

The Man from Sichuan

During my first winter as a tea seller, back in 2001, I had a curious encounter with an old man from China. It was a slow afternoon at the Teacup and I was the only person in the shop when the man came in to poke around. I greeted him casually by saying, "Hi. Let me know if you have any questions." He nodded at me while browsing our selection of teaware and then he gravitated to our small selection of Chinese tea pots and gaiwans. As he examined a pretty white gaiwan (蓋碗) with nine peaches on it he turned and asked me in heavily accented English, "Do you know how to use this?"

I picked up another gaiwan and provided a quick explanation of gaiwan tea brewing while pretending to pour tea into another cup. The man then said, "Yes... I know... but do you really know how to use this?"

That one threw me... so I replied, "I'm sorry sir, what do you mean?"

"I will come back tomorrow and show you." He answered and then said, "good bye" and headed for the door.

As I tidied the teaware on the display shelves, I was left to wonder what he was talking about and if he really would come back tomorrow.

The following day I had nearly forgotten about him until he approached me at the counter.

"I'm sorry I have to leave today," he began. "That is my wife outside," he said, and pointed to an older woman standing outside the front door under an umbrella. She smiled at us and gave a quick, casual wave. Then the man said, "I wanted to give you these," and he handed me three photographs.

I said, "Thank you, sir," and took the three mysterious photos from his hands. I looked at them briefly but I still wasn't sure what any of this meant.

Then the man said goodbye and headed to the door.

"Goodbye" I called back to him... but the door was already closing behind him.

I then examined the three photos. On their backs, they were numbered 1 through 3 in the top right corner and they each had carefully written English text describing the pictures on the front. It was also noted that they were taken in May of 2001. This morning, I went to Kinkos to scan the photos so that I could share them on my blog. After each picture, I will provide the text exactly as written.

Photo #1

Enjoying mid-morning tea and "symphony" of bird music in the Poet DuFu Museum, Chengdu, China. Sign says: Bamboo Forest Tea Garden. Well patronised by locals.

Photo #2

In the Poet DuFu Museum's Bamboo Forest Tea Garden. Teacup language between patron and server, from top left clockwise:
-Cover leaning on cup = Too hot, Wait.
-Cover sitting upside down = Needs water
-Cover sitting upside up = Don't remove, will be back.

Photo #3

More teacup language, left to right:
-Lid, saucer, cup lined up as shown = Tea is no good
-Inverted lid on cup = bring bill
Patrons enjoying mid-morning tea and "symphony" of bird music in the Bamboo Forest Tea Garden in the Poet DuFu Museum, Chengdu, China. DuFu was/is a very revered poet to the Chinese people and the Chinese scholars worldwide. Thermos replaces traditional tea pot in this instance. Note bamboo furniture and chess board on table top.

I'm not sure if the man was from Sichuan 四川 (the province in which these photos were taken), but I am sure he was Chinese (I just thought that would be a cool title for this post, plus I'm pretty sure that woman on the far right in photo 2 was the mans's wife). I often wonder if the old man went around giving these educational tea photos to everybody he met... or if I was the only one?

In my very first blog post I said I would only post photographs that I or a close friend or family member had taken, but I thought I could make an exception to share these photos, because they were given to me directly by this man, whom I presume was the photographer.

Of course I was honored to be given these three precious photos and I keep them safe with all of my other "treasured tea artifacts." I hope you liked this true story and that this information comes in handy if you ever need to communicate with your tea server in Sichuan!

Also, in the one in six billion chance that you are "The Man from Sichuan," or if you think you know this man... then please email me, I'd love to thank him again for the gift!


Cecil Hill said...

Off charts impressive! Since I live at the foot of Emei Mountain in Sichuan, I will be looking carefully and doing research on what this blogs and those pictures represents.

This is another direction I will take in my tea travels. You opened up a whole different concept and maybe a whole different world. Thanks a million.

Anonymous said...

Website on this garden museum