|Home | Issues | The Daily Star Home | Volume 7, Issue 27, Tuesday, July 03, 2012|
In a tea garden, the day begins before the first light of dawn. As the mist rolls over the low tea bushes, only the tender's shoots (two leaves and bud) are delicately hand plucked solely by tribal ladies and tossed expertly into deep wicker baskets called 'dokos' slung onto their backs. These leaves produce the champagne of all teas -- Darjeeling tea. The rolling high rain fall in the eastern Himalayas produces some of the finest tea in the world.
Tea has long featured in the national scenes of painting and literature. We are familiar with many famous paintings of the eighteenth-century that represented elite families gathered around a tea table. The porcelain crockeries and tea caddies displayed their heritage and culture.
The calm, clean energy of tea has also inspired writers. Europeans and Asians writers, artists, and philosophers also adore tea. The Japanese haiku master, Issa, even choose to become the 'cup-of-tea' poet, symbolising how he found beauty in daily life.
Tea was first consumed for its beneficial properties, which science has since proved. As well as containing minerals and vitamins, tea has a good dose of polyphenols, which act antioxidants mopping up free radicals that damage the body. These polyphenols are particularly potent in green tea, which is why it is promoted as a healthy drink. Tea is also thought to act against such problems as heart disease, cancer and tooth decay.
Today our focus is on tea pots. The first tea pots in the world were made in Yixing in China, at a time when tea-making evolved from whipping powdered tea to infusing whole leaves in water. These beautiful pots of unglazed stoneware are still made today and over time, the porous material becomes infused with the flavour of tea.
Tea leaves, milk, salt and bicarbonate of soda are churned to a soupy consistency in a cylindrical container called 'dongma'. This is often made of wood and copper, studded with turquoise, coral and inlaid in ornate silver. The tea is poured out of a 'khu-ti' (copper teapot) into small wooden silver-lined cups called 'phor-bha'.
A plain white china cup is best for showing off the colours that distinguish different teas. To brew a single mug of tea you can also use an infuser mug with a removable mesh basket or an infuser ball. Teapots are now available with infuser baskets for the leaves, which you can remove after the tea has been brewed for the right length of time to prevent it stewing. You can also brew the tea Chinese-style in a tea bowl, refreshing the leaves with new water for successive brew.
Many other European countries today enjoy the porcelain sets that were inspired by Robert Adams, but some countries still will have a cupboard filled with handle-less cups. These are sleek, simple, streamlined and serve the purpose of drinking tea.
Other countries vary in the style and type of tea cup. While tea was said to have originated in China, the Chinese will manufacture and sell many ceramic tea cups usually very colourful and has a ceramic lid. But the Chinese prefer to drink their tea in pottery ware. They are very proud of what is known as their “purple clay”. The most famous purple clay can be found in the regions of Yixing, Jinqdezhen, and Jianqsu. These tea cups are handle-less and require the user to completely wrap hand around tea cup. The pottery-type tea cup is thicker thus, protecting the hand from a burn.
The Japanese do have 7 oz. tea cups with handles, and some with lids and strainers built into the cup (very innovative), but they also prefer the handle-less pottery-type ceramics in some cases. These are small in size, usually between 3.5”-5” tall. They usually have hand painted designs of flowers, poems, or courtesans drawn onto them.
Now we are mostly concerned about our dinner or lunch tables but we can also put a little effort into our tea or coffee arrangements. Sometimes early in the morning, we can arrange a small family tea party or just a special sitting with your loved ones. Use traditional Chinese or Japanese or traditional rose printed tea cups, elegant cookie jars, handmade wooden trays and cotton napkins instead of you regular tea cups, cutlery, and table settings. You will be surprised how rejuvenating these little changes can be.
Nazneen Haque Mimi
G is for GPS
I wonder if any anthropologist has studied taxi drivers and tried to decipher what that says about the place. They carry their own baggage; summarised in the identity card prominently displayed for your view; their cultural heritage lined up in a row: a Ganesh here, an Allahu there, a smiling girl in a pretty pink dress. They help you load your luggage and off you go.
My first taxi driver of the trip met me at the airport with a tentative smile. He had a tried-and-tested route from which he obviously didn't like to deviate. I asked him if we could stop to pick up a local SIM card and he hemmed and hawed.
Sensing his hesitation, I said it was okay…I would get to it later. He smiled, unable to hide his relief. It's not that he didn't want to help me, he said, but the plane had arrived late and he had already been waiting 2 hours and we still had 90 minutes of road to cover.
After a few minutes of silent driving, he asked me where I was from. The second I said, “Bangladesh,” he gleefully broke into Sylheti dialect. I let him speak for a while, surfing around his wave of homesickness. But in his vociferous enthusiasm, he missed his turn off the highway and he abruptly fell into a panicky silence. Dark paths loomed before us and I wondered when it would be politically correct to stop the car and scream, “Help! I'm lost.”
By Divine Intervention, my second taxi driver had not one but two GPSes. The post-code I gave him didn't match the post-code he had Googled so he decided not to take any chances. Both the mechanical voices gave identical instructions within seconds of each other.
Strange echoing in my head. I wondered at what point they would differentiate; and when they did, what my trusted operator would do. That's the thing about relying too much on technology, isn't it? You forget how to listen to your instincts and then when something doesn't compute the way it's supposed to, you get muddled up.
My third taxi driver hailed me, rather than the other way around. I was thoroughly lost in one of the busiest cities of the world. How does one get lost in a crowd? That is an art in itself!
He honked from the other side of the road and gestured that he would come around to get me. After I got into his cab, he apologised in case I was offended by his honking but I had looked so lost he didn't have the heart to simply drive away.
This one was a chatty middle-aged man. In the 10-12 minutes it took for us to reach my appointed destination, he told me all about his wife who left him after 20 years of marriage and had married another man in a month; about an only son who lived in America and how he was thrown into a loop by the sudden vortex of free time. “But,” he said, “You know what? I'm actually enjoying it. See, love? It's never too late.”
Wise words, which translated into a whole new meaning for the next driver who came to pick me up from my second destination airport. Dressed in shorts and a crumpled T-shirt, with a beard that defined his worry-free youth, he had all the time in the world to spare. When he opened the car trunk, there was a cassette amongst all the junk and I felt vaguely surprised.
Why, in heaven's name, did he have a cassette? He wasn't even born when these things were used. Turns out, his car had a tape deck and so we listened to that one cassette of Bob Marley. Over and over again, we listened to “Lively Up Yourself” and “Could You Be Loved” curving up mountain roads.
The window was down, my hair was a mess, I was hungry and a bit anxious about the week that I had signed up for. “Sitta back and relax,” he said in a deliciously Italian spiced English. “You musta enjoy the ride.”
THE CREATIVE MUMMY
By Nazia Farzin Shafiq
Have you ever wondered about making gifts and cards even more special? Paper flowers! Not only are paper flowers adorable, they also add a lovely personal touch. As you can see from the pictures, you can really let your creativity run wild.
Let's make two different types of paper flowers.
Paper flowers: Type 1
Napkin/tissue flower: Type 2
Grab about 4 large napkins. Unfold them and lay them on top of each other in a pile. If you'd like to add a contrasting centre to your flower, place a different-coloured napkin on top. It works better if the centre napkin is slightly smaller. Or just take a large napkin and trim it down. Also, I realised this after the fact but you may want to scallop the edges of your centre napkin right now (but that will make more sense in a bit).
Now start folding your stack of napkins up like a fan, or accordion. Then pinch the centre of your flower together. Then use string, pipe cleaners, staples, whatever you want to hold the flower together in the centre. The best thing to use is wire twist ties. Cut a small semi-circle at each end of your fan so that the napkins become “scalloped”. Then very carefully (so you don't rip the napkin), start to peel each layer of the flower up. You may need to carefully pull the petals out a bit at the centre of the flower so that they come together better in the middle. If you didn't scallop your centre napkin, you can do it now. Shape your petals the way you like it, and you're done! You have a gorgeous over-sized flower to decorate a table, hang on your wall for birthdays or you may even downsize it and make a corsage.
Do let me know how your flowers turned out. You can email me at email@example.com
LOVING AND LIVING WITH PLANTS
By Laila Karim
Soon after last week's wall garden piece got published, I received several requests for some more ideas on simple decorative gardening styles to be tried at home. This week's issue is dedicated especially to those requests.
Let's think about what more we can do by using everyday household items for urban gardening. I always try to use whatever comes to mind and whatever is handy: something nice but also interesting. It may be the fast food containers like soft drink glasses or small yoghurt cups; or the unique decoration pieces, which we usually love to keep inside glass cabinets in our living areas. I think we can give life to some of those pieces by planting easy-to-grow plants and place those around the house.
Nowadays, we are concerned with bringing quality to our everyday lives by making use of every inch of the precious space available to us. A few days ago one of my readers asked me for ideas on plants that can be kept in bathrooms, which is a wonderful idea. I, myself, have always kept indoor plants in my bathrooms as they bring freshness to the space.
Keeping bathrooms or any usable place pleasantly fresh is increasingly becoming a part of our burgeoning urban life. We can see the proof of this new attitude in often-visited cities like Bangkok or Singapore, where people are very keen on making everything beautiful, green and clean. We are slowly learning those good practices.
For bathroom or such spaces, we can place small pieces of pots -- particularly glass or ceramic wares (old tea mugs for examples) on the bathroom wash top, window racks or on shelves in an aesthetic manner. Everything depends on the size and shape of the room and positioning these pots at appropriate places. I recommend only water-grown plants (different varieties of money plants or similar types are the easiest option) for bathroom decoration, to keep the place clean and lively.
In our offices, though organising plants is usually the responsibility of the administration, nowadays many of us love to make our own desks beautiful and personalised with our own innovations.
First, think about what would be suitable and what type of pots and plants could be the best fit for that space. These days, indoor table plants are available in nicely decorated or shaped pots in all the renowned departmental shops and also at BRAC's Kaanon in Mohakhali.
It is true that sometimes we need to buy or spend some money nurturing our hobbies but I always prefer to create my own. Recently I took out an unused (since 1994!) small teapot from my kitchen cabinet and used that to decorate my workstation. I put an easy-to-grow plant which is suited to a closed office environment. In another old large rice bowl, I made a mixed plant garden which has elements of miniature landscaping in it.
My neighbouring colleagues requested me to do the same for them but I gave ideas instead. It is much more rewarding when they started creating their own mini-gardens. We spend some time on our plants in between our work and lunch time.
Please feel free to send me email to share your thoughts, feedback, and photos of your garden, or to tell your story; or ask a question on the garden issue. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
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