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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Tea Houses in Sichuan

This I found particularly exciting to hear about. Teahouse culture. I guess whilst the after-work nightlife type pub culture exists in many parts of the world, this is quite a different story. Definitely on my list of to-dos when I eventually get over to China for my great quest to traverse the Great Wall. Now why's this different - always thought the Chinese to be absolutely hardworking industrious people. But reading this shed some light - they're quite professional at slacking and taking a chill pill too. Love 'em ear-pickin'.

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Teahouse culture

Drinking tea is not the exclusive pleasure of going to the teahouse. Other leisure activities include reading newspapers and playing Chinese chess or majiang (mahjong). Sichuanese people flock to teahouses to chat and exchange news and gossip. Before the era of television, teahouses were the first places where one could gather some information on the latest events.

Some people earn their meagre income in teahouse: blind people offering massages, shoe-polishers, fortune-tellers, musicians, singers, portrait painters and a variety of peddlers selling snacks or bric-a-brac. But the undisputed most original characters are the ear-pickers, the 'first character' in many scenes of local life. Wandering around the teahouses with ten kinds of ear-picking tools and making noise with his clips, the car-picker picks scrapes and scratches. Chengdu people are fond of ear-picking not because they want to have their ears cleaned but because it gives them a lethargic feeling which leads into a little nap. It suits very well the ideal of a quiet and nonchalant life many Sichuanese seek.

In traditional Chinese culture, tea-sipping was considered as a refined activity and tea-culture was synonymous with elegance. Nowadays, Sichuan teahouses display many elements of this earlier tea-culture, but they also have a 'vulgar' side to them. They are pleasant environments where people relax and chit-chat but, at the same time, they also gather many petty criminals. They are the reflection of society at any given time, and have always followed the evolution of local life. Despite a break of 15 years during the Cultural Revolution and the appearance of new leisure activities stemmed by consumer trends such as gambling and video projections, they are still standing in the whole province. Sichuan teahouses are definitely worth a visit!

Source - Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (1999)

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Also overheard in a short doco on China's preparation for the Olympics, apparently some ear pickers even carry a tuning fork that's struck on the earpicker in an up-down swinging action that apparently stimulates the ear drums. Nice.

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The Significant Figure of this blog entry is - - -
9.6 million square km. The land size of China. Compare that with Singapore and our humble 640sq km. Hmm.

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