Today is a big day. By the grace of my wife’s thoughtful and generous gift, I am taking my first solo trip in a long time. No companions to share an in flight movie; no kids to herd through the terminal; no friends to greet on the other end of the world. Back to basics, a backpack full of questions and my passport.
It all started with my wife’s relentless obsession to find bargain airfare. I guess it’s her way to cope with the fact that she can’t no longer travel anywhere without a young child spilling milk and another one readying to double the trouble. So instead, she hunts for the cheapest airfares to exotic locales and enjoy her virtual moments on the beach, at the night markets and atop grand mountain tops. Her latest find was a $680 roundtrip ticket to Hong Kong from SFO. Knowing how much I would love to make it back to Hong Kong, she booked me the trip without warning. Then came the planning.
There’s never been a trip in my life where I booked it without forming concrete plans on what to do before booking. Staring at air Canada’s email itinerary to Hong Kong, all the travel destinations that’s been swimming in my mind the last few years starts to bubble. 7 days, including travel days. I quickly rule out destinations that would require more than a couple hours of flight from Hong Kong. That still leaves a lot of destinations like Taiwan, southern China, or Hong Kong itself. While Hong Kong itself has plenty of appeals, I was looking for something to anchor my search. Is it gorgeous scenery, a cultural or historical pilgrimage a la Silk Road or tea horse trail? Tea!
Growing up in Canton, China, tea was always an integral part of how we lived. A invitation to chat in Cantonese almost always involve a cup tea. We invite friends and family over by asking guests to come drink tea. The first thing we offer a guest when they arrive is a cup of tea. The symbol of Cantonese cuisine, dim sum, was never really about the food, but rather a chance to brew a pot of tea to chat and read newspapers. That’s why Cantonese call it Yum Cha, literally to drink tea. The dim sum restaurants are called Cha Lou, or tea house. My parents always order a pot of puerh or a blend of chrysanthemums and puerh. But the dizzying tea options at dim sum tea houses, especially oolongs such as Shui Xian, tieguanyin, and to a lesser extend Jasmine, are etched in the crevices of my brain. There’s of course another whole category of herbal tea used by millions of Cantonese households to defend against colds, sore throats and all kinds of other ailments. Despite the prevelence of tea around me, there was never a urge to discuss the liquid we were consuming, perhaps because tea was just a vehicle to more pressing issues such as the price of pork or that new thing called a stock market.
My tea memories stay dormant in me until I came upon a recent SeriousEats write-up, non-judgmental guide to seriously get into tea by Max Falkowitz. Mr. Falkowitz’s description of different tea types and its nuances tickle the skin deep tea interests. I started to scour the internet to look for tea bloggers such as tea urchin and tea addict’s journal to scratch that itch of tea memories so more. What I found were vivid details of the tea treks, including his interaction with rural tea farmers and seriously rustic accommodations that brought back memories of my rural travel in China oh so long ago. Then I found tea trekker’s blog, and steepster forums, and tea chat bulletin boards. I remember thinking about all I had read about then, and wonder if I have lost my chance for rural travel for good. Then came the good news.