FOREIGN FRIENDS FOR TEA
The distinguished guests that attended this SIFA-sponsored special activity included i) Mr. Ma Kaiming, Vice Chairman of Sichuan Provincial Peoples’ Congress ii) Mr. Liu Yu, Deputy Secretary General of CPPCC Sichuan Committee iii) Mrs. Qin Lin, President of Sichuan Provincial Peoples’ Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries iv) Mr. Tan Xianghong, Vice Mayor of Ya’an Municipal People’s Government v) Mrs. Ji Zhiying, Director of Ya’an Municipal Foreign Affairs Office vi) Mr. Lim Meng Hui, Consul of Consulate of the Republic of Singapore to Chengdu, and vii) Mr. Hee Jun Lee, Consul of Consulate General of the Republic of Korea to Chengdu. Experts, scholars, representatives of commercial organizations and other friends hailed from Australia, Canada, mainland China, France, Germany, Holland, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the USA. Reporters from Sichuan, Chengdu, Ya’an and Hong Kong were also present to record this momentous gesture of cross-culture camaraderie.
Resplendent with graceful views, Mengding Mountain is historically acknowledged as the first place where tea trees were planted by mankind. The first words ever recorded about the extraordinary tea culture that flows from ancient times to the present, boasts that “the famous Mengding Tea is well known under heaven”. In the third year of Dew Year, the Western Han Dynasty (538 BC), Wu Lizhen, the founder of Mengding Tea, began to plant the wild trees on Mengding Mountain. Because of the elaborate manufacture and first-rate quality, Mengding Tea was classified as the tribute from the Tianbao Year when the emperor was Tang Xuanzong (742 AD), to the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911). This uninterrupted period spans more than one thousand years. In 840 AD, Mengding Tea was introduced into Japan by Japanese monks. Literary men of every dynasty have recited, “The waters of the Yangtze River and the tea of Mengding Mountain”. Tea is refined by culture, and culture spreads with tea.
One of the major tasks of Sichuan Provincial People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (SIFA for short) is to undertake international cultural exchange programs. This often involves organizing artistic performances and exhibitions in Sichuan or abroad. SIFA is also duty-bound to receive foreign delegations or specialized groups visiting the province; Organize Chinese delegations or specialized groups visiting abroad; Promote economic, science and technology, trade, social, educational, and personnel exchanges; Conduct international seminars, symposiums, and trade exhibitions; Assist in the establishment of friendly cooperative or sisterly relationships between Sichuan Province (as well as its cities and prefectures) and their international counterparts; Organize activities in commemoration of the world's renowned figures and maintain world peace in joint effort with CPAFFC; as well as establish and manage contacts with foreign organizations, institutions, and individuals.
Three mini-buses were commissioned to transport the delegation in March 2007 from the five-star Jinjiang Hotel in downtown Chengdu, along the Chengya Expressway, to the entrance of the Museum of World Tea Culture at Mending Mountain in Mingshan County of Ya’an district. Guests were greeted with the following embossed words on a pillar of dark grey concrete blocks, “We shall work to popularize tea culture and develop the tea industry. We shall work to engage in the academic research on tea and pursue health, well-being and peace. We shall grasp the golden opportunities in the 21st century to develop tea culture. We shall study and utilize the historical resources of tea culture. We shall increase our exchange and cooperation.” After a tour of the museum and formal welcome speeches by the Vice Chairman of Sichuan Provincial People’s Congress, the President of SIFA, and the Vice Mayor of Ya’an Municipal City, guests dined upstairs in the Shanglinyuan Dining Hall, overlooking an ecological paradise blanketed with mist.
Television and other cameras subsequently captured footage of a mountain couple whole-heartedly singing words of love to each other while they and the visitors picked tea leaves in a hillside tea garden. The air was damp, the soil slippery; making the descent slightly faster and less comfortable for those who lost their own footing when trying to reach the solid road surface from whence they came. However, there was ample chance to relax any weary legs on the cableway as it ferried seated passengers up to Tiangai Temple. Once the Ancient Meng Spring, Royal Tea Garden, and the Ancient Ganlu Stone House had been inspected, delicious tea was served. Thus, allowing an appreciative audience to watch tea cultural performances. The local traditional amusement called “Show of Tea Trick” featured young beauties skillfully pouring from long stemmed pots in a variety of what could be best described as contortionist positions. Gong Fu style prowess was demonstrated by young men on top of staggered wooden stumps about a metre in height.
A mass of smiling Caucasian and oriental faces bid farewell to the abundant natural landscapes as a police car lead the vehicular convoy down the road away from Mengding Mountain. Leaving behind the Sea of Clouds, the yin – yang grotesque stones, and the one thousand year old gingko trees, Sichuan Provincial People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries presented privileged guests with gifts and memorabilia including samples from the cradle of tea culture. A Chinese culture considered a pearl of human civilization, tea is a big part of culture around the world, and there are so many beautiful ceremonies and rituals involved. Many a famous person has had something to say about tea. William Gladstone, four times British Prime Minister in the nineteenth century expressed that “If you are cold, tea will warm you. If you are too heated, it will cool you. If you are depressed, it will cheer you, and if you are excited, it will calm you.” Tea-lovers, the world can be forever grateful to Mengding Mountain, Sichuan, China.
Expatriate writer Warren Rodwell has been in China since 2002, & teaches university postgraduates in Chengdu. Many of his feature stories, reviews and photographs have been published online or in hardcopy media form. Warren also narrates documentaries & administers various websites as part of his efforts to promote Chengdu and Sichuan culture more globally.
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