It's always exciting to meet the person with who you are going to travel with. At least some months and 100 emails further, I am on the right spot, on the right time, standing at the other side of the world.
so big, yet so small
Taiwan has a wide range of teas that I am curious about so my guide has made a lovely schedule and I stuffed in all of my requests. Armed with my brand-new camera and gifts (naturally all tiny and light. KLM is kind to me but they don’t allow boxes full of gifts ), I walk downstairs. It is always nerve wracking to meet the person with whom you will travel for a week. You have had months of contact via email, perhaps 100 emails have been sent but now you are at the agreed place and agreed time on the other side of the world. Right on time a small, sweet woman comes up: “Hi, I am your guide for this week.” Yes! This remains weird and I will never get used to it. The world is o-so big and yet also so very small.
My guide is a few years younger than I am and is therefore also very flexible, which is wonderful for a guide. The Driver (mother of the guide but we call her Driver) is relatively small and drives like crazy, which is a must here in Taiwan. Before she drives, she puts on a kind of oven mitt and pulls the seat all the way up until her nose rests against the windshield and her glasses are on the tip of her nose. And she floors it…because Driver likes to speed. Maneuvering at a very high speed through the roads of Taipei. In the meantime I get maps, schedules and an apple. I notice during the day that Driver has also taken charge of catering. I am sitting in a car with two ladies on the way to my first tea farmer in Taiwan. Yes! In addition to being mother, chauffeur and caterer, Driver is also a learned tea master. On top of the snacks I will surely receive lots of tea knowledge!
school and factory in one
After a crazy ride through the mountains we arrive in Pinglin. I will learn how they process tea in the factory in this area, which is known for Pouchong Oolong, a green Oolong that I don’t know well so I’m eager to learn more. I do this from a teacher who works for the government and is very knowledgeable. My guide is the interpreter so I can ask all the questions that I want all day. The school is also a factory where Taiwanese can learn how to process tea and how you can improve the process. It is meant for the local people but through my contact I am honored to have him tell his story to this enthusiastic eager-to-learn tea purchasing agent from The Netherlands;).
As I tell the teacher my story he is touched and tells me that he finds it special that I travel alone to track down real stories, delicious tea and tea farmers while I learn how to prepare tea to make always make the best tea possible. Together we drink in a badly lit office, sipping tea that is so sweet and soft that I start to daydream. In the meantime this magical moment is broken by the largest grasshopper that I’ve ever seen. On my purse…um, I mean IN my purse! As large as my hand! Naturally I want to make many photographs of the amazingly delicious tea that was in front of me so I asked if I could brush the insect away. The men said “NO! it is the dangerous sort. You have to wait otherwise he will prick you and you will need to go to the hospital.” Okay. No photographs of my first delicious Oolong tea in Taiwan.
We gather again around the tea table and my teacher for today begins to prepare and smokes a pipe. Lots of pipe smoking. Yes, there we go again. I receive some tea and have to describe it. Later it was apparent that he was testing me, but at the time I wasn’t aware because I was so surprised by the flavors of that tea. There were tones in the black tea that I had never tasted before, so sweet and round with a delicious cinnamon-like aroma and a tingly peppery aftertaste. I allowed myself to be completely carried away by this fantastic tea. When I am done I look up and see that my teacher is bowing to me. Uh. I also stand up. Make a bow and ask my guide why we are bowing? ‘He is impressed by the discernment of my taste’, she says. The teacher wants to give me an intensified training in tea. Ha ha, I passed the first test without even knowing. And also drank delicious tea . Next challenge please!
This blog is about No.092 - Dong Ding