A summary of the highlights of my trip last week, with pictures!
Last week, my wife and I took a trip to the mountains of central Taiwan. We met her parents there, and spent a few days together.
We rented a two story cabin. The house was orange with blue shutters, which was a strange but lively color combination. The interior was well furnished, and it had pine paneling that smelled wonderful.
I think this is the first time I’ve posted a photo of myself here. So I’m sure readers will be interested to see what I look like. I used to lift weights when I was younger, but I ruptured my lower back in 2014 (while working out) and the resultant pain was so intense that it required an endoscopic discectomy about three months later. Since then, I’ve had to mind my posture and I haven’t had a regular lifting routine. Now, cycling is my main physical activity, and occasionally, I play tennis.
This was the view from our bedroom window.
This was the same view at night.
On Wednesday, we visited a local pottery manufacturer. My father-in-law and I tried our hand at the potter’s wheel. Professional potters make it look fun and easy. But it’s a lot more difficult than it seems. The clay is pretty stiff, so you need to apply firm pressure to change its shape, but you also need to have a very steady hand. Getting the right balance between force and steadiness is quite challenging.
This video clip shows me trying to form something that resembles a pot. My wife is narrating.
When my hands were cupped around the base of the pot, I’m trying to pull it towards the center, but I was unsuccessful at that. The teacher (shown in the yellow shirt) told me not to be too concerned about this, but to work the clay anyway. In the earlier demonstration, he was able to make a perfectly round bowl, even though it was a little off-center. As you can see in the video, if you apply too much pressure at once, the clay gets thrown out of center, and the centripetal force quickly magnifies this imbalance. This gets more tricky when you try to draw the side of the pot higher and thinner. I imagine it takes years of practice to become very good at this.
While I was there, I remembered the analogy of the potter in Isaiah 29:16; Isaiah 64:8; Jeremiah 18:1-9; and Romans 9:14-24 (read here). As I was working on the wheel, I thought, God’s job is difficult!
They had a large number of finished pieces that people had made over the years. Some looked like a little kid had made them, which had a charm of its own, while others were very ornate and beautiful. All for sale.
My wife and I picked out these small earthenwares to use as courtesy gifts in the future.
Wednesday evening, we had dinner at a Hakka restaurant. I always hate to see people post ubiquitous photos of food on Farcebook, but since this food is very unique, I’m willing to post a couple photos. This was sooo delicious!
I learned that there are (only!!!) two varieties of tea, which are named (very creatively) small-leaf and large-leaf teas. The following photo shows the small-leaf tea plant. If you look closely, you can see the bud at the end of the stem. When the tea leaves are picked, they only pluck off the last two leaves and the bud together in one piece. During tea competitions, tea judges and aficionados examine the leaves after infusion to verify that there are indeed two leaves and a bud on each piece.
The tea plants are trimmed back periodically, to allow fresh shoots to grow.
The following photo shows the fruit of the small-leaf tea plant. (Average diameter ~ 2 cm.) I was very interested to see this, because although I have drank a lot of fruit tea in my life, I had never before seen tea fruit. The fruit was very hard, and I can’t imagine it would be edible. Like the coffee bean, the tea fruit is mainly a large seed with a thin fleshy skin around it.
The next photo shows the large-leaf tea plant. When harvesting this variety, planters are not as picky as they are about the small-leaf tea (i.e. only selecting the twin leaves and bud). This kind of tea is used to make Assam tea and various black teas.
Now, I’m sure readers are wondering, If there are only two varieties of tea plants, then where do all those hundreds of different kinds of tea come from? These differences arise because of the way the tea leaves are processed after picking. The processing includes things like steaming, drying, sun curing, crushing, fermentation, oxidation, and aging. The oxidation techniques, and the length and conditions of fermentation, especially, result in a vast majority of different flavors.
What do they do with all the tea leaves that have no buds, or have not been processed quite so perfectly? These leaves are used to make a lower quality (i.e. cheaper) tea. The worst leaves of the harvest are overoxidized to hide the poor flavor (it tastes bitter, not smooth and fresh), and broken into pieces so that no one can see that they are not first rate buds. Then they pack this bottom quality tea dust into cute little paper bags and sell it to the Americans and British for the top dollar market price.
And the Americans aren’t any the wiser. They think Lipton is really good tea. But in Asia, no one other than cheap restaurant owners will buy that kind of tea.
In sum, I’m enjoying my time in Taiwan. No regrets about coming here.
- Pique (Jessica Ederer): The Ultimate Guide to Different Types of Tea and Their Benefits (2019 September 28)