30 March 2009

Yan Jiu Cha

Han Mulu engaged in smoking and drinking.
When I met him at a reception in the year wuwu 戊午
of Kangxi (1678), the cup and the pipe would not leave his hands.
I joked, What if you were to make the choice, like Mencius,
and choose only one of the two delicacies?
Han Mulu bowed his head and thought for a while.
"I would let the drink go," he then said.
This made everyone laugh.*

January 2009

Yan Jiu Cha

While I have never been inclined towards the enjoyment of tobacco, I have on occasion given in to the flavor of village smoke. Namely, locally grown, harvested, dried, and ground tobacco rolled in whatever avails itself of such a utility - be it scrap of paper or husk of corn. I cannot describe it as particularly fine tasting, but I do find the practice to be quite enjoyable. Having this year visited the Bulang village of Zhanglang, I also engaged in the chewing of betel, combined with other local plants, with the older women - a mixture they refer to as 'bing-lang'. Much to my remorse, the renowned effect of this habit did not impart itself upon my person, a problem of technique perhaps.

There is a relationship between tea and tobacco among the Bulang people. While most of the men now smoke manufactured cigarettes, there are yet to be found in the villages a number of older men and, even more commonly, older women smoking hand-rolled cigarettes or a pipe filled with the homegrown tobacco. This is found growing along the sides of houses or adjacent to arbor tea gardens. Furthermore, within the marriage customs of the Bulang the families of a couple who intend to marry may exchange tea and tobacco. According to Ai Wennan, "One bag of tea leaves and one bag of tobacco represents a boy and girl's desire to engage. Ahh . . then the two sides can be acknowledged as husband and wife, their love can be known." **

Upon my return from the tea mountains of Xishuangbanna and the vagaries of travel in remote climes, yet another discovery awaited me in Kunming, formerly known as Yunnanfu. A recently made acquaintance and fellow tea aficionado had graciously shipped a small package half way around the world. Within, a book-sized humidor which, opened, released a most pleasant aroma. Atop a thin veneer of yellow wood lay a single gingko leaf, botanical token of friendship spanning the time and distance since our introduction. Peeling back the thin protective layer revealed a number of fine, hand-rolled cigars.

That evening, Chen Jian, Zhang Qinmin, and I arrived one after the other to the teashop. We spent some time in visual and olfactory delight of these finely crafted specimens of tobacco culture as we brewed our first pot of tea. Zhang Qinmin, always prepared, retrieved a bottle from his car. We cracked the bottle, lit our cigars, and wiled away the next few hours langouring in the pleasures of fine scotch, smoke, and tea.

While in Menghai this past December a sign caught my eye, one that I had no doubt seen numerous times before but which meaning had this time stood out in quite a different way. The sign read as follows: 烟酒茶 - Tobacco Liquor Tea. As I read these three words to myself, they brought to mind my reason for being in Yunnan, to research tea (研究茶). (In the Chinese language, these two phrases are tonally dissimilar but phonetically alike - yan jiu cha). As previously stated, I have never been given to the pleasure of tobacco, having recently made exception in these parts. My fondness for the consumption of liquor has likewise diminished, though a day may not pass in the villages without imbibing ones modest share of spirits. And there is, of course, the tea! 烟酒茶 - Tobacco Liquor Tea . . . three substances that form a cross-cultural continuum of consumption and connoisseurship.

* taken from an essay by Lucie Olivova titled Tobacco Smoking in Qing China

** "这个茶叶一包抽烟一包那就代表一男一女要订婚。 哎那么就是才能两方才能承认这个夫妻,才能承认恋爱的结果." - 岩温南 (2006)

05 August 2008

Horizontal and Vertical Perspectives
: An Anthropomorphic View of Sheep and Goats

(coming soon)

25 July 2008

Goats / Tea / etc.
: comparative musings on tea, goats, and other 
passions, attaining to unification of the dialectical
underpinnings of this one 美国的布朗族

The above image was captured by myself in the Bulang Mountains of southwestern Yunnan Province, Spring 2006.  It portrays what I consider as fundamental to my work with Living Systems Land Management (LSLM) - a critical engagement at the intersection of tradition and modernity.  We often refer to our vocation as modern-day pastoral nomads; grazing specialists; resource managers; hi-tech-lo-tech.  Each of these descriptors contains both a rudimentary and an advanced component; I will leave it to the reader to decide which is which, as it is the intention of neither your author nor of LSLM to advance one perspective over the other.  Rather, we hope to contribute towards the resolution of such artificial binaries.

While not in the field tending herds for LSLM throughout the state of California, I conduct on-going research into landscape transformations - biological, cultural, conceptual - taking place within the domain of pu'er tea.  Said domain extends from the centuries-old tea gardens of Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan Province, People's Republic of China and into teashops and homes of connoisseurs throughout the world via routes of transnational market exchange.  This tea exists not only as a material expression of the environs from which it is sourced, but as a conceptual vehicle for engaging in discourses of ecology; ethnicity; indigenous/scientific knowledge; market exchange; hygiene; spiritual cultivation.

Thus, it aptly demonstrate the way in which Nature, as global discourse, can extend itself into a multiplicity of realms, serving as a paradigm through which to construct a comprehensive epistemology.  However, let us not forget about nature with a small 'n', lest we subvert the immanence of lived experience - the full body and pleasing fragrance of Bulang Mountain savored from a celadon cup.


29 November 2005

Great Wall ~ Spring 2004

19 August 2005

Sunset at Star Creek

Sunset at Star Creek

4 sheep, 150 goats, 3 dogs
all female goats, mixed dogs with Anatolian blood
and I, also a dog, according to Chinese astronomy
4 sheep, 150 goats, and 4 dogs

mists that roll up and over the hills
filling the surrounding valleys
a sunset eternally recurring
though infrequently seen from this vantage point

bathed in setting sun, amidst fertility of goats
and spirit of dogs, who dance and bay
throughout the night, thoughts turn to her
who has awakened my desire

sacrificial goat for the feast,
a wandering band of gypsy musicians
'03 primitivo straight from the barrel,
more intoxicating than night-blooming dhatura
the fragrance of nocturnal passion

blanketed beneath a sky of shooting stars,
these Santa Cruz Mountains become timeless . . .

18 August 2005


you2-mu4-min2 : (Chin.) nomad, wanderer

no-mad (no'mad') n. 1. A member of a group of people who have no fixed home and move from place to place in search of food, water, and grazing land. 2. A person who roams about; wanderer. [Lat. nomas, nomad- Gk. nomas, wandering around for pasture nemein, to pasture.] -no'mad'-ism (no'mad'iz'm) n.