Early morning and Vincent came running across the road with his usual enthusiasm to greet me. He has called me Michael ever since we first met in Qimen town last year [see picture below] and even though he has since discovered I am in fact Michelle the name has stuck - to Vincent I am forever Michael and every time I get a voice message from him it makes me smile. Vincent has a beautiful energy one that only comes from working in a job you love - one you have chosen [or that has chosen you] rather than one you have taken on to meet other peoples expectations.
In his day job Vincent educates people about Qimen tea from history to the present day at a museum in Qimen town. Outside of his work he has a zest for life and for nature. As we drove towards his home village of Huangsiwu in Fuliang County, JiangXi Province he told me how he heads out on trips to see the Spring flowers that bloom across certain provinces in China. His friends don't get it so he travels alone & the joy he gets from nature is evident.
We were travelling to see his parents in the house he grew up in and to see the lands that they owned which includes a small patch of wild tea trees which he had told me about on our last visit. On arriving we met his mother and father and had a short tour of their rural home before settling at the table to drink tea.
Vincents' mother poured the hot water into the glass containing tea leaves and reached over to remove a cloth from the top of a round wooden tub. As the cloth was taken off steam rose out and a bowl of peanuts were produced, their skins softened by the steam made them easy to peel - a delicious accompaniment to the tea [which must ALWAYS be taken with food I was told. I did as I was told!]
As usual family members came and went - intrigued to see this lone female stranger in their house, welcoming, smiling and friendly - just as I have experienced all across China. Tea finished we were ready to set off to see the tea fields. As we walked Vincents father called after us - 'Don't forget the Machete' [!] so with Machete in hand Vincent and I headed down the path and across the fields. Faces appeared as we walked the path, his grandmother, an Aunt all living here in the same small community....but what was apparent was the number of empty houses in this beautiful area including these beautiful places over looking the paddy fields - what a view!!
We walked through the fields at the back of Vincent's house up to the wild tea bushes. 'My father planted these 50 or so years ago' he explained as we walked and climbed. 'All of this land used to be rice paddies & above in the forest planted with tea. People have moved away now to the cities perhaps or elsewhere where more money can be earned. The rice paddies are grown over & the tea grows wild'
I wanted to start doing something with my fathers tea last Spring but I did not know how to tell the story of these forgotten places. Then I remembered a poem by Tao Yaonming 归去来兮 & I remembered the sentiments 'The lands will be wasted. Why don't the people come back'? I decided that this sentiment would be at the centre of the work I will do with my fathers tea'
Vincent & I walked and machete-d our way through the forest. We passed multiple areas of abandoned tea growing wild and naturally on his way to his fathers land and saw some beautiful sights along the way including the incredible woven tree above. As we approached his tea bushes we discussed how making quality tea from these wild bushes could show people a different direction - one more in tune with the roots of community and away from many of modern life's trappings.
'I don't feel that it is a better direction' Vincent explained 'just a different direction, another way to look at the land that lies idle and the way of life surrounding it'.
Back at the house Vincent shared the translation of the poem he mentioned with me as we drank the tea he made with his father last year. Travelling in China, in fact all around the tea world is such a privileged education for me - and the moments that stay with me come at the most unexpected times. This was one of those moments.
Tao Yaonming 归去来兮
O Come back home! Why not go home,
Since my fields with weeds are overgrown?
My soul has become a slave of the body;
Why regret over the bygones and grieve alone?
The past errors of mine were beyond repair,
But it’s not late to check the future wrong.
I have not gone astray too far yet,
I realize today I’m right but yesterday I was wrong.
Lightly, lightly the boat drifts along,
Gently, gently the wind flaps my gown.
I try to ask the directions of a traveler,
How I hate to see the dimness before dawn!
When I catch sight of my poor cottage,
With great joy I have quickened my steps.
Bidding me welcome there is my boy-servant,
Greeting me by the gate my darling son.
Now my garden path is thick with weeds,
Standing there are still the mums and pines.
I lead the kid in by the hand,
How nice to see a pot on the table full of wine!
With the wine I help myself with a hearty drink,
Smiling, I cast a glance around the courtyard trees,
I lean on the southern window to air my pride,
This small room is cosy enough to settle down.
It’s a real joy to make my daily round in the garden,
What if no one ever knocks at my closed door?
Carrying a stick to rest and while around,
I raise my eyes and gaze into the far-off ground.
The carefree clouds idle away from the hazy peaks,
And birds, tired of flights, think of their nests,
I try to fondle the lonely pines and loiter around.
O Come back home! Let me remain alone,
To keep away from the madding crowd.
Since I can’t see things eye to eye with the world,
What’s more to seek after and drive around?
What a real joy to chat with my kinsfolk!
And while away my sorrow in music and books.
When the farmers inform me of the coming of spring,
In the western fields we will start busy ploughing.
Driving a covered cart, rowing a lonely boat;
I explore the vales through cosy paths,
I climb over the steep and rugged hills.
Trees are glowing vivid green under the sun,
Spring water’s trickling with a gurgling sound;
I see everything is fine with the cycle of seasons,
But I feel this life of mine will end its round!
Alas, enough of all this!
How long may I keep this mortal shape in this world?
Why not just let everything take its own course,
Then for what all the bustle and bustle around?
Wealth and honor are not my real ambitions,
The fairyland is beyond my expectations.
Whenever there’s a fine morning, I’ll walk alone,
Without a stick I pluck the weeds and till the ground.
Heaving a deep sigh on top of the eastern hill,
I chant my poems before a clear-flowing stream.
Let me end my life journey with nature,
What’s more to doubt about the will of Heaven?
Vincents' vision for his fathers land and the words that inspired it have really stuck with me. They give his already flavourful tea, the perfect green tea to sustain you through a working day, a meaning, a purpose. The leaves from this land, not too light but not too strong, have fuelled generations of people working the land here.
We settled down to a beautiful home country lunch with Vincent's younger sister [who was very keen to practice her excellent English] uncles, cousins and of course grandma who at 90 years old had made the way up from her house around the corner.
Oh....and as it turned out that those tubs were not for warming food but for warming people. In the base you place coal and then you simply sit in them - a portable sauna and wow were they FAB! Anyone who knows me knows how I love to be warm - Im already planning how to build one at home!
And so back to the tea. The tea is picked from the wild tea bushes behind Vincents' house and pan fired in Vincents' home - you can't get more local than that. The pictures below show the tea being processed just this week and we look forward to bringing a small amount to Comins this year.