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All The Tea in China

March 19, 2009

Of the two guys I’d asked to contribute in the past week, one is sick as a dog and out of state (Jason), and the other is seven thousand miles away (Jeff). I think I’d best postpone letting the Zero Energy team and Design studio participants introduce themselves until after Spring Break. Hopefully the downtime will give them all a fresh perspective on the trip.

I also thought it was about time to spotlight one of my favorite parts of this trip… tea!

This is Xin here on the left over a pot of freshly picked green tea, and…

Shanon’s hands down here below, cradling a warm cup outside on a cold day.

Tea is a huge part of everyone’s life in Beijing. It is dried and fresh-picked. It is flavored and plain, and herbal and medicinal. It is Dragonwell and Oolong. It is omnipresent. From the very first meal to the very last, we were served tea. At the Karaoke club, we were served tea. It is grown in little gardens in little homes, and canned and sold in shops all over the city, and bottled and sold at supermarkets. When you are healthy in Beijing, you are drinking tea. When you are sick in Beijing (like I was last Friday) you drink even more tea. There is even a special flower tea made for women to drink after giving birth that supposedly helps them regain their strength quickly.

Tea is one of the many things that makes life different there from here at home. Beijing was a living city when Marco Polo was running around, and its people had been drinking the same concoctions five thousand years before he visited the city in the 1260’s.

Part of what the Design Studio trip was about was learning about who the local people of Beijing are and what they aspire to in order to better design ‘green’ housing alternatives to the old hutongs. I’m not an architecture grad, but one of the things I learned was this: If a ‘green’ alternative to the hutong is going to become a reality, it needs to be something built to last as long as the people’s history, and it had better have a place to grow, brew and serve tea.

Next time, we’ll go inside the hutong, the beating heart of Beijing culture.

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