Archive for BEIJING
Coffee falls into the stomach … ideas begin to move, things remembered arrive at full gallop … the shafts of wit start up like sharp-shooters, similes arise, the paper is covered with ink …
– Honoré de Balzac
As Balzac so wisely eludes, coffee sharpens the mind and hones one’s senses for the day ahead. So, like an addiction, I cannot imagine a morning without the ritual of grinding, brewing and drinking a fine coffee.
This is all fine & good, but there are times when you may experience a period of coffee interruptus. Such a time would be when you travel to China. China is thought to be one of the most tea-saturated countries on earth. China is indeed the world’s largest tea consumption and production country in 2010, according to a U.N. report. And I can believe it.
Go into any home, restaurant, hotel, and business in China, and you will see a collection of tall Thermos bottles corralled on the floor filled with hot water – for tea. A drive along Beijing’s ritzy Wangfujing Street is not without observing a driver in his Mercedes, cigarette & cell phone in one hand and a clear flask of tea in the other! In the countryside, everyone has tea with them in those glass or plastic tea flasks. Some even have what look like big pickle jars filled with tea leaves and water. It’s everywhere!
Okay, I’ll put it out there… Nothing in my life raises such a nervous sweat than going through immigration at an airport. And that goes for driving across international boarders too. I am the obvious victim of watching too many cheesy TV shows and Hollywood movies! I can’t help it, when I approach an immigration kiosk or gate, my skin becomes clammy and I begin to rehearse what I will say if questioned, hauled over and stripped searched!
So, you may ask, what does this have to do with your entry into China? Good question. I have entered China from two locations, Beijing and Hong Kong/Shenzhen Customs. Both are the same in their very quaint and ridiculously cute way.
This is more a video post than anything. With Jessica, my Beijing guide, we meet up with my friend and colleague, Bill Schiller in a hutong. It is in this area that we will get our hair cut! Uncle Jing, as he is known, is 92 years old and has steady hands and stories to tell with the point of view of a philosopher and historian. Bill and I will be only the third Westerners ever to have their hair cut by this gentle man.
LAOWAI (Pinyin: l?owài) is one of several Chinese words for foreigner. Laowai literally translates as “old” (lao) “foreigner” (wai).
Hey! I’m not that old!
But as I stroll along this shop & stall-lined street within the fifth ring-road of Beijing, I am conscious of one fact… I am tall! Its not like I go around measuring myself beside every passer-by. But when you are surrounded at close quarters, it becomes obvious. I am 193 cm tall (that translates to about 6′ 3″ in Church of England!).
Once, when I was in Xinjiang, I was accused of being too tall for my hotel bed and that there would be an extra charge! Totally preposterous! My sharp-eared guide stepped in to “gently correct” the over zealous hotel entrepreneur! I must admit though, I’ve heard a lot, but that was a first!
Ahhh! And I have found it, my stroll in the sun bleached 5th ring-road area has brought me to my destination, a small massage studio. I have been told by a local it is one of the best around and completely staffed by blind massage attendants. The proprietor is a petit woman who greets me and pulls me inside out of the sun. It is clear I am probably the first Laowai to darken their door. The attendants, a young man who will do my body, and a young woman, who will work on my tired feet, both touch me and size me up with their hands and shut eyes. After a few giggles it was down to business. And what a business it was.
I have visited China several times now. I have traveled throughout the country and experienced its many landscapes, weather and rich & diverse culture.
But one thing I have never done is to have my hair cut in China!
I have a good friend and work colleague, Bill Schiller, who is our Asia foreign correspondent at the paper. He told me about “Uncle” Jing, an elderly Chinese man in his early 90’s who is a barber. He cuts hair in his tiny one-room home in a Beijing hutong. Bill wrote a charming story for the Toronto Star about this man who had never cut a westerner’s hair. Bill, always looking for a story and an experience, made an appointment to return to Uncle Jing and have his hair cut.
It was on my fourth trip to Beijing that I was going to meet up with Bill and we would both get a haircut! I met Bill and his assistant, Lilly on the street at 2 p.m. I came with Jessica, my Chinese friend and translator. On the street just outside the entrance to the hutong where Uncle Jing lives, we met a few men who, through Jessica and Lilly, told us they knew our barber and he was a man of great age, experience and spirit. I saw him round a corner, walking slowly, slightly bent-over at the shoulders, and wearing a silk jacket of deep red and luxurious embroidery.
Like most children with fertile imaginations, I spent most of grade school daydreaming. One such topic that occupied precious daydreaming time was mythic, mysterious, distant and larger than life itself – The Great Wall of China. Often the subject of wondrous things, the Wall stretched wide over the pages of the National Geographic magazines, picture books and maps. Mr. Evens, my grade five teacher illuminated the Wall and elevated it to an even greater height when he pulled down the retracted map of the world. With his finger he traced the length of this ancient structure and told us it was as wide as our classroom and that horses could gallop abreast along its length and not touch each other.
That did it!