Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Guilin Lunch, Tea and Silk

We had one more afternoon in Guilin before heading back to Hong Kong and the Crystal Serenity. A really superb lunch was shared, once again, around the spinning table

This is spinach and chicken soup, such a beautiful presentation, and quite tasty, too.

I was fascinated by the garnishes.

A quick look around the park, with the "Elephant's Trunk Rock"

Trees were hung with paper lanterns to honor ancestors

We then took off for one of the most fascinating tours I've ever been on--a visit to the Tea Research Institute.

Properly attired in sunhats (which can double as tea leaf holders), we learned all about tea

This, for example, is green tea

but if only the single needle leaf is used, white tea is made

There are no differences in tea plants, the way there are varieties of grapes. Types of tea are based on the "newness" of the leaf, the method of drying, if it is fermented, and if it is mixed with additional elements.

This size leaf makes slightly inferior tea to the younger shoots.

Suzanne was stunning in her hat

and Diane, my "Singing Room" partner ** was equally fetching.

The hand-picked tea is then washed and brought to this 400°f wok.

This tiny lady kneads the tea leaves IN THE WOK, and by some technique manages to toast the leaves without burning her fingers. She continues to knead the leaves as they cool, eventually forming pea-sized balls. This prevents oxidation and fermentation, and produces white tea.

Other leaves are left to dry slightly, then set aside to oxidize. This is called fermentation, and the degree of fermentation decides the color of the tea. Green teas are lightly fermented- a matter of hours- whilst black teas can be fermented, or oxidized, 100%.

At a tea tasting, we learned all about the different types-white, green, oolong, mixed, compressed- sampling each.

After making purchases (and becoming something of a green tea snob!!!), it was off to the silk comforter factory (remember the state store visit rule???).

Now, I have always been a down comforter fan. But learning about silk comforters, and feeling the lightness and warmth of them, I may have been converted!

First we were told about silkworms and how silk is made

and learned the difference in silk for thread, and silk for comforters. This is an unraveled cocoon for thread...

Cocoons for comforters are soaked to remove the silkworm

and, instead of unraveled, they are stretched over an arched form. Several cocoons are stretched one over the last.

After a few minutes, the stretched silk is stretched over a larger form.

This is left to dry. Once dry, it is almost lighter than air.

The most amazing thing happens next. Four very talented workers take the stretched silk cocoons and stretch them to specification-from twin size to king size.

They made it look so easy, but then let us try it...

And we found out how hard it actually is- just to stretch it out, much less do it evenly. We were a catastrophe, but they assured us we did well...and promptly placed our mess into a bin for pillows.

These talented workers stretch as many cocoons as necessary for the warmth desired. The silk batt is encased in lightweight cotton or silk cloth, resulting in an incredibly feather-light bed covering.

We couldn't believe all we had seen that day, but were very glad to arrive in Hong Kong and be delivered straight away to Serenity. Time to cruise!

** Oh, "Singing Rooms"..singing rooms. A very polite, very Chinese way of referring to "the facilities"--call 'em bathrooms, restrooms, toilettes, WCs, powder rooms, loos- whatever. Now my family will tell you I have a bladder the size of a grain of rice--and that I NEVER pass up a restroom. I have met my match in Diane. We have visited some of the "Singing Rooms" in rural China--on both land and water. China is a land where one can develop extremely strong thigh muscles--and is no place for anyone with weak knees......all I'm gonna say.....

Guilin Day 2- The Caves

After visiting YueYue, we visited an amazing series of caverns. The tour was breathtaking in its lighting design.

The half-mile hike into the center of the cave was worth it...we turned a corner in the path and came upon a beautiful subterranean pool!

Once outside, we walked through some lovely gardens

with a wonderful set of foo dogs...

It just so happened this was Qing Ming Je, of the Day of the Sacred Dead. On this festival day, families take to the countryside to clean the tombs of their ancestors, to offer tributes of food and libation, to burn replicas of paper money and to set of firecrackers by the score.

All day long, the sound of firecrackers echoed through the mountains. If you look through the smoke from the firecrackers, you can make out people tending graves all the way up the mountainside.

As if this weren't enough, we had MORE adventures in store!