Nothing Replaces My Cup of Hangzhou Green Tea – Pub’d on China Daily

China Daily recently published my latest column, inspired by a blog post. It’s titled Nothing replaces my cup of Hangzhou green tea — here’s an excerpt:

The arrival of March inevitably turns my thoughts to this tea, as this month sees the first harvest of the spring longjing. The leaves, plucked off the bushes before the coming of Qingming Festival in April, are considered the most tender of the year, and command the highest prices. I’ve sampled it a handful of times, luxuriating in its delicately sweet fragrance and flavor.

Nearly two years ago, I traveled back to Hangzhou for a video shoot that included a visit to the restaurant Charen Cun, nestled within the city’s longjing tea fields. I walked through the terraces of jade-green bushes along with the owner of the restaurant, who had inherited the fields and tradition of tending and appreciating longjing tea from his own father. Hovering over one of the bushes, he pulled a small bunch of leaves off with a gentle tug and placed them in my hands. They were a light and exuberant green, a shade recalling the uplifting joy of warmer spring days and the return of more sunshine. I tucked into my pocket those leaves, which were the most precious souvenir of my trip, a real physical reminder that I had stepped among the fields of my most favorite tea.

Read the full column here — and if you like it, share it!

Despite Tough Year, Guesthouse Still in Business – Pub’d on China Daily

China Daily published a column of mine detailing the story of a guesthouse in Zhejiang province that managed to open and thrive in a tough year. Here’s an excerpt:

“In 2020, the most important thing is not what you’ve already lost, nor what you’ve yet to achieve, but rather what you have now. Let go of the past, and laugh for the rest of your life.”

Yu Jianping, who wrote these words in a post on his WeChat page, might just have been imagining his recent entrepreneurial venture. He and his wife, Huang Li, opened a guesthouse and restaurant in Tonglu county, Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, during the star-crossed year of 2020, but still survived and thrived.

You can read the full piece here — and if you like it, share it!

Nothing But Dragonwell Tea for Me, Please – Pub’d on WWAM BAM

The group blog WWAM BAM just published my post titled Nothing But Dragonwell Tea for Me, Please. Here’s an excerpt:

Among the rituals I observe every morning when I arrive bleary-eyed to work, nothing perks up my senses more than the moment I open the little light-blue canister in my desk drawer and take that first whiff of West Lake Longjing, or Dragonwell, tea leaves. The aroma of those lightly roasted leaves recalls memories of fresh tea on the bushes while walking through high mountain fields. Even just wandering through those fields in my mind, prompted by the sight and scent of Dragonwell tea leaves, delights me on the most dreary of days.

No other tea will do. My allegiance to the stuff runs so deep that I always prepare a stash of it whenever I travel.

You can read the full post at WWAM BAM. And if you like it, share it!

 

Celebrating 10 Years of Blogging With 10 Photos

Ten years of blogging. I can’t believe that, as of this Saturday, I will have been at this for a decade, ever since May 18, 2009.

To mark this special 10-year “blog-iversary” I’m running 10 photos of me and my husband from the past decade, along with a popular post from the end of each of these past 10 years.

Thank you so much to all the readers out there, no matter how long you’ve followed Speaking of China. You’ve continually inspired me and also helped make this a better blog. I’m also deeply grateful to have made so many wonderful friends in the process too. Know that I’m raising my glass to everyone in appreciation!

2009

IMG_6056

When Jun and I went to China for the summer of 2009, we indulged in a month-long trip across the country to take in all of the sights we never visited years before — from Xi’an and Chengdu to Changsha and Kaifeng.

Post: On the Rarity of Foreign Women and Chinese Boyfriends/Chinese Husbands

2010

IMG_5743-1

Jun and I welcomed the year of the tiger in 2010 as the emcees of a Chinese New Year celebration. What a night!

Post: China Blogs by Western Women who Love Chinese Men

2011

IMG_0537

Here we are in 2011 celebrating Jun’s birthday over Thai curries.

Post: Dating Advice for Chinese Men from J.T. Tran, the Asian Playboy

2012

IMG_1272

To commemorate our wedding anniversary in 2012, we enjoyed a relaxing evening of classical music performed by the Cleveland Orchestra. But before heading out, we posed before the flower garden to remember the evening.

Post: 2012 Blogs By Western Women Who Love Chinese Men

2013

102_2242

For Chinese New Year in 2013, Jun and I whipped up a traditional Chinese feast for the family — from roast goose and ribs to ginger-garlic green beans and stir-fried matchstick potatoes. We’re smiling, but there’s exhaustion behind those eyes because we spent the entire morning in the kitchen! Still, it was worth the effort.

Post: Why Aren’t We Talking More About The Rarity of AMWF?

2014

IMG_2145

There’s nothing like finally spending Chinese New Year at the family home in China for the first time in years. In 2014, Jun and I reunited with his family and the country we love.

Post: 6 Stunning Celebrity Couples of Asian Men & Non-Asian Women

2015

On my birthday in 2015, Jun and I visited the West Lake, snapping this photo by our beloved corner of the lake near Qu Yuan Feng He (曲院风荷).

Post: 4 Habits I’ve Learned from my Chinese Husband

2016

Jun and I felt fortunate to have the opportunity to visit Washington DC with family in the summer of 2016, where we had the chance to look upon all the iconic landmarks.

Post: 5 Unhappy Things I’ve Struggled with as an Expat Married to a Foreigner

2017

Jun and I took this shot just after moving from Hangzhou to Beijing.

Post: 2017 Blogs by Western Women Who Love Chinese Men

2018

As spring arrived in the park near our home in Beijing, Jun and I took the time to take a walk and appreciate the flowers.

Post: Olympic Speedskater Shaolin Sandor Liu Has a Cool China Connection Beyond His Chinese Father

Thank you so much for reading!

Photo Essay: Hangzhou Video Shoot – From West Lake to Wondrous Food

I just returned from my trip to Hangzhou to shoot video footage for China Daily Website as well as the Asian Cuisine Festival set to take place in the city from May 15 to 22. While we followed a very demanding schedule that meant being out of our hotel around 12 hours a day for shoots, the experience was unforgettable and worth the effort.

As I’m still catching up on pretty much everything (please bear with me!), in lieu of a written post I thought I’d share some behind-the-scenes shots from the experience, giving you a look at where we went as well as what things looked like before the cameras.

On our first day, we arrived in the afternoon at Hangzhou and the headed to the West Lake, where the production team scoped out the area for shooting.

The following day, we went to Hangzhou’s legendary restaurant Lou Wai Lou on Baidi. Part of the shoot took us to the top floor, where I sat at an al fresco table with views of the West Lake. It probably ranks as the most breathtaking seating I’ve ever experienced in a restaurant — if only I could have enjoyed it with my husband!

And of course, as you can probably tell, most of the dishes aren’t even food that I could eat, as a vegan. We had to get really creative in the shooting process, so it appeared as if I was sampling everything. Am really grateful the production team was so accommodating on this.

But make no mistake, as beautiful as the setting looked, we had work to accomplish. And that kept me quite occupied!

But still had enough time to grab this selfie with one of the team members!

Still, we did manage to enjoy a delightful lunch at Lou Wai Lou — and our director gave the food a hearty thumbs-up.

In the afternoon, we went to Zhiweiguan, another time-honored restaurant in Hangzhou, to do a shoot. It was delightful to meet several of their chefs, including these very talented young women.

Zhiweiguan really impressed me with their snacks and desserts, including the dish at the very bottom of the photo — longjing wencha — where dough is fashioned to look like the leaves of Dragonwell tea, steamed, and then served in a clear broth with shrimp. If you didn’t pay close attention, you might think they were just cups of green tea!

On Thursday, we visited a food street and found ourselves in a restaurant overlooking a stream leading into the Grand Canal, which links Hangzhou and Beijing. It meant more food, and of course more shooting too.

Here’s another angle during a shot in the restaurant.

In the afternoon, we shot scenes by the West Lake in my favorite corner — Qu Yuan Feng He (曲院风荷) — as well as one critical shot on Su Causeway, with a view of Lou Wai Lou on Bai Causeway.

We returned that evening to the food street to revel in the evening atmosphere, perfect for the video, and dined at one of the restaurants on the strip. Yes, even during the meal we were working!

On Friday, we did shooting at Hangzhou Restaurant, which took us to its sixth floor, where we could dine beside stunning views of the West Lake while shooting video footage. Oh, how I wish I could have been there with my husband too!

On the sixth floor of Hangzhou Restaurant, the windows are like screens — and pulled back they reveal a glorious scene of the West Lake. (Sorry, it was a bit rainy and cloudy, but during clear weather it would certainly look enchanting.)

In the afternoon, we arrived at our last location — Charen Cun, nestled in the most prized tea fields in the city, where Lion’s Peak Dragonwell tea grows. This restaurant had the most dazzling traditional decor, hands down!

Immediately, the restaurant served up a hot cup of fine Dragonwell tea. As this is the one and only tea I drink to start my day, it was a welcome sight on the table.

Upstairs, I changed into my qipao to interview the restaurant owner about Dragonwell tea as well as the story behind his restaurant, Charen Cun. It was my favorite interview of all because of how much I adore Dragonwell tea.

Then the owner took me into the tea fields to show me how to pick Dragonwell tea. What a delight and honor! I wished I could have stayed much longer…too bad the weather turned cold, otherwise I could have kept my qipao on! 😉

That evening, we dined with the owner and it proved the finest meal of our trip, with a delicious sampling of dishes that emphasized freshness and rural, home-style flavor. Some even reminded me of my mother-in-law’s cooking.

Again, how I wish I could have shared this dinner with my husband, who would have really appreciated the food and company. The owner was very warm and hospitable, inviting us all to return again in the future.

But even the finest meals come to an end. I had a plane to catch later that evening, so we all headed home to the hotel, where I packed my things and then got a taxi to the airport.

I smiled upon finding my seat on the plane, knowing I would be reunited soon with my husband, with tales of my fascinating experiences in Hangzhou, the city that first brought us together so many years ago.

Overall, I gained some valuable experience and at the same time discovered another side to Hangzhou and its culinary heritage. I’m looking forward to seeing how the videos turn out — and once they go live, I’ll definitely share them with all of you!

Heading to Hangzhou to Shoot Videos for China Daily Website

I’ve lived in Hangzhou for years, and it’s the home region of my husband. So what a thrill to have the opportunity to return there to shoot videos about one of the greatest attractions of the city — its distinctive cuisine.

We’ll be in Hangzhou through the rest of the week, and possibly into the weekend.

And we aim to sample more than just the flavors at the table, with plans to visit the West Lake as well.

Because of the intense schedule for this trip, I’m taking a break from blogging this week. I’ll be back next week — and will let you know when the videos finally get published on China Daily.

Chinese Man Seeks Lost American Wife, Son Who Disappeared in Hangzhou

I first learned of this story on WeChat when people began sharing news of a lost mixed-race 2-year-old boy who went missing in Hangzhou. Later reports revealed the boy had actually disappeared with his mother, an American woman. I’ve translated a news story on the incident initially published in Chinese.
—–

“All-powerful circle of friends, please ask everyone if they have seen this child. He is lost. I already alerted the police, but still haven’t received any information about him. Yesterday this information was heavily reposted on social media, saying this 2-year-old boy went missing at Xin Qingnian Guangchang. His name is Chenchen, also known as Milan. Accompanying the information is a picture of the little boy. He has really big eyes, just like a foreign child.”

The person who sent this information is the boy’s father Xiao Xue, a 27-year-old fitness coach in Hangzhou. Yesterday, when someone was trying to get in touch with him, he was a little embarrassed to say, “The boy probably left with his mother.”

The boy’s mother is an American. Her Chinese name is Bai Xue, and she’s two years older than Xiao Xue.

The two of them got together in a romantic way on April 4, 2015, when they both met at the Drum Tower, where it was love at first sight.

At the time, Xiao Xue had been in Hangzhou for about a year or so, while Bai Xue was a foreign student at Zhejiang University. “She was a very bright student and did well in her studies. She could speak many languages, at least eight,” Xiao Xue said, his voice showing pride as he spoke of his wife.

Bai Xue was beautiful, while Xiao Xue was handsome. The two young people had no language barrier to deal with, so they quickly moved from meeting each other to love, and, hand-in-hand, entered marriage together.

“Our relationship was very good, and there was no doubt she loved me,” Xiao Xue said. After they married, his wife Bai Xue’s living habits gave him a bit of a “breakdown”. “She loved to do as she wished, and she would leave things all over the house, and didn’t like to put them back in their place.”

Xiao Xue however prefers things to be neat and tidy, and he would remind Bai Xue about this many times. When Bai Xue became angry over his words, Xiao Xue would soothe her and the situation would pass.

After one year of marriage, their son was born – fair-skinned, chubby, and a mixed-race child. He was very cute. The young couple took care of him themselves and found an Ayi to help them out.

With the birth of their child, the differences in living habits between the two turned into a more acute conflict. During the day, Xiao Xue would work, and Bai Xue would take care of the child.

They were both young and had no experience caring for children. But Xiao Xue said, there were times when he would come home and see the child in the middle of winter with one bare foot, or wearing mismatched shoes, etc. He would say something to Bai Xue, but she felt Xiao Xue was nagging.

Later on, Bai Xue found a job at an early childhood education center, and she could take her son with her to work, so they got rid of their Ayi.

On May 20, also known as young people’s “520” online Valentine’s day holiday, Xiao Xue had to work that day. When he got off work and came home, he was very upset to see an entire box of children’s clothes lying on the ground. All of his desire to enjoy the holiday disappeared. He tidied up the clothing on the ground and then waited for Bai Xue and the boy to return.

After 9 pm that evening, Bai Xue and the child came back, and Xiao Xue asked Bai Xue to put away the clothes on the sofa. But Bai Xue said she wanted to go to sleep. On that day, Xiao Xue was in a bad mood, so he spoke in anger. “That day I was a bit harsh to her, I said the house is such a mess, you must put your clothes away!”

In anger, Bai Xue placed the child in bed, and organized the clothing. Xiao Xue grabbed his notebook to write a journal entry. It wasn’t until after 1 am that he returned to the room and found that Bai Xue and the boy were gone.

Xiao Xue ran outside the building to look, and couldn’t find a trace of the mother and son in the gardens there. Bai Xue’s usual electric scooter wasn’t there either.

Xiao Xue said, Bai Xue had stayed in Hangzhou for over 10 years, she had classmates and friends there. So he sought them out, but they didn’t know where she had gone.

Xiao Xue then reached out to his mother-in-law in the US. She said she didn’t know were Bai Xue was, but she received a Skype message from Bai Xue, asking her to send some living expenses.

In early June, Xiao Xue went to the police station to make a report, and the police searched for information. They discovered that, on the second day that Bai Xue had run away from home, she had gone to Xinchang, then two days later returned to Hangzhou, where she stayed at an inn near Zhejiang University. “I was too slow, she had checked out of the room.”

In early June, Xiao Xue heard friends say they had seen on social media that Bai Xue was carrying her son in Ledigang in Gongshu district.

Xiao Xue has been unable to contact Bai Xue. After she ran away from home, she canceled her WeChat account. Xiao Xue sent her emails but she hasn’t replied.

Bai Xue hails from a scholarly family. Her mother is a university professor, and her father is an expert in nuclear physics. She also has two younger sisters, and one of them is a Chinese girl born in Hubei who was adopted by her parents. “I saw that it said on her Skype that in early June she went to the place where her younger sister was born,” Xiao Xue said. He guessed that she had possibly gone to Hubei. “She is a very innocent person, and I fear that she has been conned by someone.”

When all is said and done, in fact these two young people just didn’t know how to get along after marriage.

“When we were first married,we often went out for fun in the evenings and enjoyed holidays together. After our child was born, there were fewer holidays,” Xiao Xue said, noting he may have neglected Bai Xue’s emotional needs.

Xiao Xue said that, concerning their marriage, while Bai Xue’s father supported his daughter, her mother had some dissatisfaction. At the end of last year, Bai Xue’s father passed away and she returned home. Xiao Xue, because he had to work and also perhaps feared seeing Bai Xue’s mother, didn’t go with her, staying at home to care for their son.

As for Xiao Xue, perhaps he harbored some macho ideas. He thought that he should go out to earn money, while his wife should take care of things at home. Now, Xiao Xue said he really regrets his behavior: “That day I shouldn’t have been so angry at her.” Xiao Xue said that, previously, because Bai Xue had made the home so untidy, he threatened to break up with her and such. “Those were angry words, but she probably thought I was being serious.”

What do you think?

On Winter Dress Strategy in North China Vs. South China

This sweater served me well during the winter months in Hangzhou — but in Beijing, it’s another story.

The temperature that morning in Beijing had dipped below zero degrees Celsius. Yet there I was sitting in a restaurant that afternoon, feeling sweat moisten my brow. I seriously contemplated taking off my heavy blue-and-gold knit sweater — once indispensible for surviving the winter in Hangzhou — which I had layered over an equally warm long-sleeved thermal shirt. I even wondered if it was overkill to have on long underwear beneath my jeans.

Clearly, I had forgotten about the indoor heating in Beijing, and how it might mean rethinking how I dress for the winter. That I might actually need to wear lighter, more layered clothing under my jacket than in Hangzhou, despite the huge difference in latitude.

This is one of the ironies of the North China versus South China divide.

Down in Hangzhou, it’s not uncommon to see people completely bundled up indoors with their coats on. In South China, you wear your coat so much in the winter that it’s almost more important than your sweater. My mother-in-law once urged me to buy more jackets, concerned that people kept seeing me wearing the same one every day. (After all, they’re less likely to get a glimpse of those nice sweaters I bought, given how cold the indoors can be at times.)

You would think the same winter dress strategy would apply up in more northerly Beijing, with people donning even warmer, heavier layers to survive those bitter winds from Siberia and the Arctic. And while I’m sure this would be true for anyone forced to spend much of the winter toiling outdoors for work, it’s not for your average person who spends most of the day indoors.

I commute between my apartment and the office buildings, each a snug oasis of warmth thanks to the plentiful heating provided here in Beijing. Of course would I never need to keep my parka on indoors in either place. But sometimes, even your average sweater feels like a little too much – just like in that restaurant. This is a world where you might need to peel off that sweater every now and then, or hug it a little closer if a cold breeze happens to sneak through that window or door.

The problem is, I’ve spent years building up a wardrobe to survive winters in more southern Hangzhou. I jettisoned many of my light cardigans in favor of more substantial sweaters I’d wear over thermal underwear. Before we moved to Beijing, I remember feeling grateful I had these sweaters to see me through the season. But that was before I realized Beijing’s heating can be so abundant that, occasionally, the word “sauna” comes to mind.

Oh, how I wish I hadn’t tossed those cardigans. Especially since it is so darned difficult to find things in my size in China. (But that’s another story…)

Eventually, I’ll adapt my clothing to Beijing winters, heating and all. I’m already halfway there with an extra-warm parka to protect me from the frigid winds.

Still, I can’t help but recall another irony of the situation — that I, a woman who grew up in northerly Cleveland, Ohio, a city with a reputation for blustery winters, am having to re-learn how to dress for winter in the North.

What’s your winter dress strategy? Have you noticed a difference between dressing for winter in North China versus South China?

3 Delicious Fall Treasures in Hangzhou, China

If Hangzhou truly is one of the heavens in China, it might just be because of these three delicious treasures you can enjoy there in the fall. While visiting with this family this fall in rural Hangzhou, I rediscovered these treasures – and want to share them with you:

#1: Pomegranates

As much as I’ve loved pomegranate juice, I didn’t have the same affection for the fruit. It’s a bunch of pulpy little seeds. How could anyone love eating that?

My anti-pomegranate bias was challenged, however, when my mother-in-law gifted us with a heaping bag of the fruit, freshly harvested from the tree in her yard. Not long after that, my husband broke one open and started sharing the seeds with me. So I popped a handful in mouth – and was stunned. They were bursting with that same rich, sweet-tart flavor I’ve come to love about pomegranate juice. But better! These weren’t a bunch of pulpy seeds – these were ambrosial fruit jewels.

Just like that, I became a pomegranate fan.

Here’s the best part – the pomegranates also healed me. I’ve faced a lot of exhaustion and stress recently from moving around, which usually leaves me with an uncomfortable, nervous stomach. Well, pomegranate is actually good for your digestion and pretty soon I found I no longer needed my usual peppermint tea after dinner. Now that’s a superfood!

#2: Roast Chestnuts

As a kid, I used to sing the praises of roast chestnuts every holiday season in the form of Christmas carols. But I never once tried a roast chestnut until I came to the Hangzhou region – and especially, until I stayed with my husband’s family in the countryside.

Here the hillsides become a land of plenty as the chestnut trees shower their delicious fruit everywhere. People like my mother-in-law scour the natural areas for chestnuts, and then take them home to roast. There’s nothing quite like the aroma of roasted chestnuts, especially on a chilly fall evening. I also love the subtle flavor reminiscent of sweet potatoes, and the fact that they can be a terrific after-dinner snack. Open fire optional. 😉

#3: Osmanthus Flowers

In China, people call October the “golden month.” But I believe the real gold of the season is when the air is redolent with the intoxicating aroma of sweet osmanthus flowers.

Osmanthus trees produce some of the smallest blooms. But if heaven was a fragrance, it would probably smell something like this. Even better, these flowers are a delightful addition to a number of fall treats, including roast chestnuts and mooncakes. You can even make a tea out of the flowers.

But the best way to enjoy them is to take a fall stroll in a garden filled with blooming osmanthus trees, inhaling a scent so luscious it must have been reserved for the gods. This experience should be on everyone’s bucket list.

What are your favorite fall “treasures”?

Photo Essay: Celebrating Our Anniversary By Hangzhou’s West Lake

So August has turned out to be one of the busiest months of this year for me. Who’d have thought the traditional “vacation month” could be so hectic?

While I’m catching up on things, I thought I would share a few pictures from our anniversary celebration by Hangzhou’s West Lake a few weeks ago. Sure, Hangzhou summers can be ferociously hot. But take a stroll by the West Lake when the lotus flowers are in full bloom, and you could almost forgive the weather.

Almost. 😉

Anyhow, here are the photos — enjoy!