By this time, most everybody had gotten used
to the usual morning routine on days that we traveled from place
to place. The wake up call was scheduled around 6:30, luggage
had to be outside the door at 7:00 (for the bellhop), and we usually
left around 8:00. Today was no different; aside from a slight
luggage mishap, we got out on time and were on the highway headed
towards Hanzhou by 8:30. This morning I had some coffee so I did
not sleep on the bus and got an ice cream bar at the rest stop
to help me last through the back half of the 3 hour ride. We stopped
to pick up our new female guide named Lancie who would be with
us until we left China.
After lunch, Lancie took us to the Ling Ying Temple. She asked
if we wanted a tour or free time for pictures and we all picked
free time so she let us walk around for about half an hour. The
feature of this temple was the giant stone carving of Buddha and
the specialty of this temple was that many Chinese believed that
worshipping inside the Ling Ying temple brought more blessings
than worshipping in other temples. Therefore, I saw much more
people worshipping and burning incense here than I normally saw
at other temples.
The next stop was the tea plantation. Since I'm fond of tea,
I really looked forward to having a great experience here and
I certainly was not let down. On the way there, Lancie gave a
short presentation about different tea plantations and the cool
things you could do with tea like washing your eyes - placing
a cup of hot tea under your eyes and letting the vapors refresh
them after a long period of reading or being in front of the computer.
When we got there, a guide led us to a small shack to watch workers
preparing leaves to be dried and processed. Then he took us over
to a field and let us practice picking leaves. Next, we went on
a tour of the plantation and gathered together in a small room.
The head guide walked in and introduced himself as Shining. He
spent four years in college mastering in tea and everything that
comes with it. First, he taught us how to determine quality leaves
from bad leaves: the stronger the smell and the lighter the color,
the better. Next, he told us about the history of the word tea
and showed off his Spanish and French skills. Then, assistants
came in with cups, leaves, and hot water. We learned to use just
a pinch of leaves and not to use boiling water, but rather boiled
water that has cooled a bit. The first cup is just leaves and
a small amount of water. This cup is meant to be swirled around
(to open up the flavor of the leaves) and smelled to fully appreciate
the aroma and taste of the leaves. After more water is added,
we could drink the tea and even eat the leaves since that specific
tea plantation does not use pesticides. Assistants then brought
in different grades of leaves that varied in price and we could
buy cans for family or friends. I bought a can of grade "A"
(the best) and had him sign it for me. He wrote down his Chinese
name, his English name, and his nickname: Dr. Tea. After a most
educational presentation on tea, I had no question as to why he
is nicknamed so.
Tonight's dinner was another culinary highlight that was held
at a fancy restaurant. We started off with the usual dishes such
as tofu and beef and then the feature, beggar's chicken, was brought
out. It was presented first as a whole chicken and then the waitress
took it away to have it cut and served.
origin of beggar's chicken came from Hanzou so it is not only
a culinary highlight but a regional specialty. Back in the ages
of the dynasties, the government imposed heavy taxes on civilians.
Families were not common and most everyone strayed around as beggars.
One day, a beggar in Changsu (Jiangsu Province) walked around
cold and hungry and found it was hard for him to stand up. Soon
after, he fainted while his beggar companions tried to help him.
Everyone collected firewood and tried to warm him up. One benevolent
beggar offered the single remaining chicken but did not know how
to cook it. Another beggar suggested that they slather mud around
the chicken and place it in the fire to cook. They did so and
when the chicken was done, they knocked off the mud piece by piece.
They were extremely happy to find that the feathers were coming
off along with the mud and that the chicken smelled very good.
Today's beggar's chicken is prepared almost the same way but
with a modern twist. First, a chicken is killed, cleaned, and
prepared with spices and stuffing. Then, a dough substance consisting
of wine, salt, flour, and water is wrapped around the chicken
and the whole thing is then wrapped again with a lotus leaf or
foil. After baking, the dough is broken open and the chicken is
served whole or cut into pieces. Since the chicken is wrapped
before cooking, the original taste is kept while the flavor and
aroma of the wine is allowed to soak into the chicken. Unfortunately,
I was not able to see the dough shell being broken but the chicken
tasted wonderful and it was amazing to know that it was made almost
the same way as it was 300 years ago.
After dinner everyone got free time and Jason and I went to the
mall adjacent to our hotel to shop around. On the way back I stopped
at a Starbuck's to get a mocha frappucino. I usually get one before
work here in the States and it was very cool and somewhat amazing
that I could walk into a Starbuck's in China and say "one
tall mocha frap, please" and five minutes later be enjoying
the same treat that I do at home.