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May 2013 Tea Endeavours and Outdoor Research Update

Enjoying a mature 'raw' puer tea cake given to me as a gift by Prof Mu Jihong. The tea pot is a contraption of my own making. The tea glass is a 'shot' glass which I find works very well (thick and robust glass).

Enjoying a mature ‘raw’ puer tea cake given to me as a gift by Prof Mu Jihong (one of the gentlemen who put the ‘Ancient Tea Horse Road’ on the map so to speak). The tea pot is a contraption of my own making (large Nescafe jar with steel piping clamps and ‘kung fu’ handle). The tea glass is a ‘shot’ glass which I find works very well (thick and robust).

My last post in this blog was in early February (2013). It has thus been a few months since I’ve had the time or inclination to give any significant updates. Some people have asked me the cause of the recent silence. All I can say is that the last few months have gone by very fast as a new teaching year has unfolded and I’ve also been dealing with numerous other responsibilities and writing deadlines. But my mind is ever fixed on our old friend the camellia sinensis (the tea plant!) and every day I refresh mind and body with nature’s most invigorating brew (although occasionally I have the odd ‘tea free’ day just ensure my self that the cravings are genuine). I’m also quite active on the Facebook Group titled ‘Friends of the Ancient Tea Horse Road’. So if you’re keen for regular news updates about tea and tea road related issues your welcome to join us.

In the next few weeks I will complete my report on a February field trip to Sipsongpanna (Xishuangbanna 西双版纳). I’m often drawn back to the places Ed and I visited on that trip, to the people, the vistas, the stories and of course to the tea. Incidentally my reading in recent months has included some excellent books and articles on Sipsongpanna and Puer and these will inform my blog writeup no doubt. All I can say that is the deeper you dig the more you discover. This tea business is more than it appears on the surface. It is one of the few cultural phenomena to change the course of history on numerous occasions and to shape the relations of different peoples and nations over time, even into our humble present. Time to get beyond the mere ‘surface of things’. In the meantime you can enjoy Ed’s writeup on this trip at Red Rock Treks. You can also see some of the images I took on my Flickr site here.

My office tea station and close companion. If you're ever in the vicinity please drop by for some 'slow tea'.

My office tea station and close companion. If you’re ever in the vicinity please drop by for some ‘slow tea’. In the moment it takes to make a brew we can forget to take the world too seriously.

I also continue my more recent interest in lifestyle migration from the eastern seaboard of China to the mountains of the southwest, Yunnan in particular. There will be a chapter in my book (tentatively titled ‘The New Ancient Tea Horse Road’) devoted to these people, the ‘mountain changers’ I call them. I plan to go back to Lijiang, Heshun, Dali and Shangrila in June/July to do more in-depth interviews. Given the toxic state of the air in cities such as Beijing there has been some recent Western media interest in this phenomenon and I supported some China-based American journalists with their research. I was also interviewed. You can see the final news reports on National Public Radio and in Business Week. China, where 1.3 billion stories are waiting to be told.

On another related research front my interests in the Ancient Tea Horse Road and China’s emerging outdoor/adventure tourism and lifestyle culture has finally crystallised in a proposal to hold a workshop in Perth (September, 2013). The workshop will gather experts and community/media activists from far and wide  to compare experiences in Australia and China. This will hopefully be the source of a much bigger and longer term project exploring the development of community-based ecotourism in Yunnan with a view to establishing China’s first long distance branded hiking trail (The Ancient Tea Horse Road of course). I hope that Australian expertise and enthusiasm will be a major contributor. This will keep me busy no doubt. I want to thank Ed Jocelyn and Warwick Powell for their strong support and enthusiasm for this project. It’s a timely reminder that in all the things we do, even in the moments of doubt and frustration, genuine passion and friendship are the fuels that drive us forward. You can see a copy of the draft workshop proposal and call for sponsorship on a public dropbox folder here. All depends of course on getting enough funding and I’m working actively on this at the moment. As the Chinese saying goes ‘the hardest of all things is getting something started’ (万事开头难). Ed also has a few inspirational words on this project and some of the motivations behind it on his Red Rock Trek blog. ‘From little things big things grow’ (Kev Carmody).

I’ll endeavour to keep you updated over the next few months as various projects begin to further materialise. But excuse me for now as I have to boil the kettle …

During the hot weather of Feb/March I made a concoction of iced tea using 'Yunnan Black' (滇红) and fresh lime. Brilliant!

During the hot weather of Feb/March I made a concoction of iced tea using ‘Yunnan Black’ (滇红) and fresh lime. Brilliant!