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Greetings from the only foreigner for miles

TIANTAI, Zhejiang — On a Tongbai Mountain hiking trail on Wednesday, three Chinese teenagers were headed in my direction. One smiled with what appeared to be relief when he saw me. He held up a camera and walked toward me.

“Sure,” I thought. “I’ll help them out. I’ll take a picture of the three of them together.”

I took the camera from his hand and motioned for the three of them to stand side by side. But the boy took the camera back, handed it to his friend, and stood next to me with his hand rested on my shoulder. This photo was going to be of us. I should have known.

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07.23.2004, 1:07 PM · The Trip, Zhejiang · Comments (4)

My green tea is better than your green tea

“It is such a nice place, with green mountains, clean water, wonderful tea, kindly people and beautiful view.” — Li Peng on Mei Family Village

HANGZHOU, Zhejiang — Hangzhou is one of the top tourist destinations in China, so on Tuesday Arthur and I played the role of tourists. We took a short bus ride to Mei Jia Wu, or Mei Family Village, a peaceful place full of white buildings, rolling green hills and tea plants — lots of tea plants. Mei Village’s sole reason of existence is the production of Longjin, or Dragon Well, tea, which the people of Mei Village not surprisingly say is the best green tea in all of China. And most tourists who visit Mei Village come for two reasons: to drink tea and buy tea. You see them arrive on their tour buses … and then you see them leave on their tour buses. No one seems to stay long: drink, buy, leave.

Well, Arthur and I didn’t arrive on a tour bus. We took public transportation, for a grand total of RMB 6, or around 75 cents. And instead of drinking tea immediately, we went directly to the source — the tea leaves themselves. We spotted a dirt path that meandered off from the main road and into the neatly planted rows of tea bushes that lined the hillside. We hiked to the top of a hill and were rewarded with a nice view of the village. You’ve got to work up a thirst before it’s tea-drinking time.

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07.21.2004, 5:39 PM · The Trip, Zhejiang · Comments (6)

And on the first day … he sat on a soft seat

HANGZHOU, Zhejiang — I hesitated shutting the door to my apartment today, because I knew I wouldn’t be opening it again until October — at the earliest. All the constants, all the comforts of my less-foreign-every-day existence in Shanghai were locked inside. I couldn’t hesitate for long, however. I was already behind schedule. With the months of build up — and delays — this trip had, you would think if anything I would be too prepared. No, not me. I was running around at the last minute looking for bottles of hand sanitizer and spools of dental floss, things not easily found in the wilds of China, or some neighborhoods in Shanghai for that matter.

But I’m not roughing it … yet. Far from it, actually. Sure, I broke a sweat walking from my apartment to the metro station, past the gourmet food shop, past the Starbucks. But when it’s mid-July in Shanghai, you break a sweat walking anywhere — even if you don’t have all of your belongings for the next four months strapped to your back.

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07.20.2004, 1:34 AM · The Trip, Zhejiang · Comments (2)