The Jammatologist has a few things close to the heart: jam, coffee, tea, dressing stupid things up to sound clever… Today is a tea day, for where does tea come from? China. Where am I? Taiwan.
Specifically, I am at one of Taipei’s tea plantation communities, MaoKong. Mao means cat; Kong means empty, and indeed I have been meaning to visit an empty cat for a while. A friend told me that MaoKong was worth visiting, to escape the city and it’s noise and fumes. I ventured out towards Taipei Zoo alone, this morning, after failing to recruit any compatriots. From Taipei Zoo you get a gondola up the mountain to MaoKong, which was closed. After much ignorant ambling, I managed to get a shuttle bus up instead.
The little pink shuttle bus was straight from Scooby Doo, and we zipped upwards, passing descending cars and more and more tea rooms. I had no idea that this was a tea community and each tea shop was greeted with another stulted yelp of excitement. Upon exiting the bus I saw a map showing dozens of tea shops nearby, and the penny finally dropped. The tea god has sent me here to sample MaoKong’s tea.
The first place has a name of indecipherable Chinese characters. I got a cold pork and garlic sauce dish with rice, which is plentiful and tasty. I haven’t been inside the actual place, instead opting for the large sheltered balcony. From here I can see half the city, but the clouds are descending making the distant buildings look like ghosts. Before long, it’s raining tropical style. The sounds of the rain bashing on the roof, the three or so fans, and the crickets make the ‘peaceful mountainside’ into one hell of a racket. As I munch on my pork I peer outwards at the scenery, and dip into Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim from time to time. Of course, all travelling men should read Conrad.
Then, tea time. I go to a neighbouring restaurant for an expensive Yuan Tea (High Altitude). This place is only a little down the road but includes Taipei 101 in it’s panoramic view. This time I sit inside, alone amongst dozens of people chatting amongst one another. It rains, stops, rains, stops. My tea arrives in a floral pot complete with cup, also floral. It’s not a Chinese delivery like you might expect with the dinky cups and whatnot; instead it’s rather English. The tea is also floral, completing the floral tri-pattern.
The soupy smell makes me pause a moment – should I expect the odd noodle floating within? Thankfully no. The odour is slightly misleading, and while the tea is strong it is not as thick as the smell would suggest. Within moments I am awake once more. As I get further down, the tea becomes more akin to eating daffodils.
I dip into the internet, and with despair I read about anti-Muslim sentiments back in the UK. Taiwan, I think, also has it’s prejudices, although I have yet to experience any of them. Rather, I have yet to meet an unkind Taiwanese person. I sit here and observe my national hosts doing what they do – laughing, telling anecdotes, drinking tea, and taking photo after photo after photo.