I wrote this article sometime before Christmas - Blogger has a convenient function by which one can "queue" items for publications in advance. However, the subject of this piece is quite relevant to the season: it is on the topic of gift-giving.
After my graduation this year, I took a short (business) trip to Beijing. While I was there, Lei's "biaojie" [elder female cousin] very kindly sent a huge package of snacks and tea from her home, in Shanghai, to my hotel in Beijing, the Cuigong Fandian (highly recommended if you're in the university district, Zhongguancun).
The porters gave me an alarm call by telephone, which came as quite a surprise, as I had only got to bed perhaps five hours before. This was to ensure that when they knocked on my door, I was at least conscious.
Opening the enormous box, which had been express-delivered in under 24 hours, I was struck by the generosity of Lei's cousin. Particularly aimed at me, two cakes pu'ercha were included: shengpu and shupu. Both came in large ceremonial-style gift-boxes, as shown above.
The cake's name is "Jiulong" [literally "nine dragons", but probably referring to the Kowloon area of Hong Kong] "Tianxiang" [literally "heaven hometown"].
Fengqing is a properly old tea company, who made the first dianhong [delicious Yunnan red tea], and who subsequently diversified into pu'ercha. Their skills with tea are amply demonstrated by the charming, slightly loose, cake pictured above, which gives rise to a selection of pretty-looking leaves, as shown below.
It is at this stage that the alarm bells start to ring. The cake smells unmistakeably of rubber - specifically, bicycle tyres.
Sadly, this continues into the wenxiangbei [aroma cup], where I can tell that there is thick, active scent, but it is completely obscured by the scent of tyres.
Then, in the pinmingbei [drinking cup], there is only a sharp, acrid, chemical tang, and the ubiquitous scent of tyres in the nose.
My dear wife takes a sip to confirm my findings. Before one tiny cup is finished, the bing is sitting in the compost bin in the garden. The entire bing, its wrapper, and even the glossy box, have the same deep-seated chemical scent.
Unfortunately, the shupubing, pictured above (also "tianxiang") suffers the same fate.
Such are the dangers of gift-giving, and of gift-receiving. Someone, somewhere, has stored this pair of cakes in an unsuitable environment. It is a great pity that their fate is now to be taken away by the local council and turned into biomass.
I won't tell Biaojie if you don't.