The China Tea Book by Luo Jialin

Looking for an informative, yet beautiful picture book to show off your obsession with tea? Look no further.

Looking for an informative, yet beautiful picture book to show off your obsession with tea? Look no further.

3/5 stars.
Hardcover, 220 pages.
Read from May 26 to June 01, 2016.

This is another book I picked up to try and learn a bit more about about the culture that I’m currently living in. I also have an obsession with tea so it was a good pairing.

The book is full of beautiful pictures of tea farms and ceremonies as well as anything you’ve ever wanted to know about tea. From the different types, how it’s farmed and processed, to how long to steep it, tasting etiquette as well as any cultural and historical connections with the tea in relation to China. It also briefly goes over the difference between a Chinese tea ceremony versus a Japanese ceremony.

Here are some cool tea facts that I learned:

– The Japanese tea ceremony is more about the ceremony and the actions performed, whereas the Chinese one focuses very much on the tea itself rather than meticulous actions. It may seem less extravagant than the Japanese version but it is just as important to Chinese culture.

– Black and green tea can be made from the same leaves. The difference is that black tea is fermented, whereas green tea is not.

– Green tea is often compared to youth, as it is not fermented and the leaves are still pretty fresh in some types, whereas black or oolong tea is compared to middle age as it is moderately fermented, and pureh tea to older age as this tea is extremely fermented and usually appeals to people with an older palate.

– Different types of tea are classified and named based on the location that it’s grown and farmed in, as well as the way that they are rolled, or not rolled, or fermented or not fermented.

– Proper loose tea leaves can be brewed numerous times. In fact, the first brew is often considered the worst and many will dump out the first batch.

– “During the Sui Dynasty (581-618), tea was used for its medicinal qualities. In the fourth and fifth centuries, rice, salt, spices, ginger and orange peel, among other ingredients, were added to tea. In the Tang Dynasty (618-907), tea drinking became an art form and a drink enjoyed by all social classes“. –

– “Tea became a popular drink in Buddhist monasteries after the caffeine proved to keep the monks awake during long hours of meditation. For this reason, many monasteries cultivated vast tea fields. Lu Yu (Chinese: 陆羽), author of “The Book of Tea”, was an orphan brought up and educated in a monastery. It is likely that his experience growing up surrounded by tea inspired his book written during the Tang Dynasty. In “The Book of Tea”, Lu Yu recorded a detailed account of ways to cultivate and prepare tea, tea drinking customs, the best water for tea brewing and different classifications of tea.” –

– While tea can be brewed in any tea pot, some types of pots favor different types of teas better. The most popular and also the most expensive is the purple yixing clay tea pots. They can go for hundreds to thousands of dollars.

– Tea is still a prominent part of Chinese culture. While there aren’t as many tea houses around as there was, groups of Chinese people will meet at these beautiful locations to drink tea and socialize.

– Tea and gardens go hand and hand. Many tea houses are set in beautiful gardens.

– Tea became a major currency for trade outside of China. The old tea routes are some of the oldest in the world and still exist today.

This book was surprisingly easy to read and really interesting. I am very interested in learning more! Overall this is the perfect coffee table book for any tea lover.

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

Set in Post-Revolution China and Pulitzer Prize winner

4/5 stars.
Paperback, 379 pages.
Read from May 09 to 18, 2016.

I picked up this gem at a second-hand bookstore in Hong Kong. It’s a book that I’ve always wanted to read and it seemed fitting to read it now that I am living in Asia. While the book itself is fiction, Pearl Buck drew on the experiences of growing up in pre-revolution China to help create the setting in this book. I feel the book is a small reflection of that piece of history but having not read any non-fiction on this area in time, I will not make historical or cultural conclusions off it.

Wang Lung is the son of a poor farmer in post-revolution, north China. He is dedicated to the land and his family. When is comes of age he is sent to marry a slave from the House of Hwang, a woman he has never met before, and begins to start farming his own land. His new wife is O-lan, and while she is comely,  she is hard-working, loyal and obedient and gives Wang Lung many sons. Wang Lung is passionate and about the land and invests and takes calculated risk to get more land and feed his family. However his community is hit with a massive drought in which they face starvation and death. Wang Lung reluctantly decides to leave his home and find work in the South of China to save his starving family. After a few years of demoralizing hard work, Wang Lung cannot take being away from the land any longer and takes his growing family home, a move that Wang Lung will find to be very prosperous. When Wang Lung shows mercy to one noble and is rewarded, he begins to rise in the world, even as the House of Hwang falls.

O-lan is the reason I loved this book. While I initially enjoyed Wang Lung, I came to despise him as he became rich for how he treated O-lan. O-lan is unbelievably strong, honest and underappreciated. I can’t imagine the life that she led and how she managed to do it without complaint. She was doing hard labour and cooking for her family the day she gave birth and hours after giving birth! What?!  And I bitch about making dinner… It’s horrible to think of how poorly society treated women and the limited choices that they had. I mean, you only have to look up foot-binding on the internet to get an idea of the horrid beauty standards that were expected of women during this time. Sadly, I know it still exists in many places. Even in present day, the focus and importance of having a boy over a girl is still prevalent in Asia. That was the hardest part about reading this book. I was torn on giving it 3 or 4 stars but decided with the later as the book is attempting to be a reflection of the time frame it was written in.

For the short time that Wang Lung was in the South part of China, it hinted to what Hong Kong might have been like during this time as Wang Lung mentioned that the locals spoke a different dialect, presumably Cantonese. Wang Lung also worked a rickshaw and encountered white tourists. I love reading about old school Hong Kong/South China as it’s interesting to see what these areas are like presently now that I’m living here.

The book creates great visuals and provides interesting character development. Watching how Wang Lung grows, adapts, thrives and fails is the highlight of this book, despite him not making the greatest decisions with his wife O-lan. Pearl Buck’s writing is simplistic, elegant and clear. I can see why this novel would have won such a prestigious award in its day. Overall I would recommend that anyone interested in the historical-fiction genre read this book.