Report from Puer, China… I almost caused an international incident.
[caption id="attachment_142" align="alignleft" width="300"] Me in the meeting place (very fancy)[/caption]
About 2 hours after arriving in the city of Puer the leader of the U.S. trade delegation asked if I would participate in a meeting with Chinese trade representatives about selling more China tea, particularly puer, overseas.
I went to this meeting with three other Americans and two Canadians. It turned out the meeting was not with Chinese trade representatives. It was with the very recently retired Vice-Chairman of the People’s Republic of China National Congress, Xu Jialu. Mr. Xu has also been the national congressman from Beijing for the last thirty years. To give you some perspective, his counterpart in the U.S. would be Nancy Pelosi or Tip O’Neil. So the meeting was with this one man, and his retinue which included translators, advisors, gophers, and what looked like bodyguards. There was no mistaking, this was HIS meeting.
He was very gracious and explained that since his retirement he had devoted himself to helping educate the rest of the world about China, Chinese tea culture and puer tea culture, which was his great love.
Since we westerners had come all the way to Yunnan, for puer, he wanted to talk to us and, in particular, pick our brains. He spoke a bit about puer and puer culture and its importance in all aspects of Chinese life. He mentioned that they were planning to do a puer tea culture demonstration in NYC with Yunnan tea masters within the next 12-18 months. He then said he would like to hear from each of us some ideas to educate our countries about puer and the beauty and benefits of Chinese tea culture (something I am an advocate of).
Throughout his remarks I’m thinking, “No pressure, no pressure. Remember this guy is only Nancy Pelosi/Tip O’Neil.”
[caption id="attachment_146" align="alignright" width="300"] Me, second to left, and Mr. Xu, in the foreground/right[/caption]
Thank goodness I was the third person, so I had a few minutes to think about (and even jot down some notes) about what I would say. I would compliment them on the idea of a puer tea and culture demonstration in NYC. But, I would suggest strongly that this should just be a first step. They should also think about taking that puer tea and culture demonstration on a road show thru the U.S. After all, most of the expense was getting to North America. Don’t just do NYC. Do the west coast. Do some interior cities. I was going to ensure them that even in the interior of the U.S. there could be great interest and success in offering this demonstration.
As evidence I was going to recount how just 3 weeks earlier I had brought into Minneapolis, not a large city, an international tea master to do a series of workshops, tea tastings, and demonstrations. We had reached literally hundreds of very enthusiastic and receptive attendees. (For those of you who don’t remember, in May I brought Thomas Shu to Minneapolis from Taiwan to teach).
And, of course, I was going to say “international tea master”, not Taiwanese tea master. Mainland China considers Taiwan a runaway/rebellious province (illegally supported by the U.S.A. This is a very touchy subject).
I even wrote down the phrase “international tea master.”
I think you can see where this is going.
My turn came. I thanked Mr. Xu for his kind words and welcome and for sharing his thoughts. I then mentioned I loved the idea of a demonstration in NYC, but they should think about doing this throughout America. Even in mid-sized cities, like my own Minneapolis, tea education can be very successful. Why just last month I brought to Minneapolis to teach some workshops, “an international tea master…from Taiwan…”
When I heard the word “Taiwan” leave my lips my first reaction was utter shock and I thought, “Who the heck said, ‘Taiwan?”
My next reaction was to reach out and try to snatch the word out of the air, like an old time cartoon character snatching a word bubble off the page.
Next I tried to look at the translator to try to gesture to him to not translate “Taiwan.”
But then I noticed Mr. Xu had definitely come to attention upon hearing “Taiwan.”
“Oh crap.” I thought. I could also see the leader of the U.S. trade delegation turning a lighter shade of pale.
Mr. Xu listened to the entire translation of my comments. Then, rather than making vague nice receptive noises, he turned, looked me squarely in the eye, and directed his comments to me personally.
He thanked me for my comments, particularly for my frankness. (I’m starting to sweat bullets at this point.) He said he appreciated that I liked the idea of a tea culture demonstration and he liked the idea of doing multiple presentations throughout North America. Perhaps when they do this, if I thought it was a good idea, they could bring a tea master from Puer, Hong Kong, ….. and Taiwan to do the demonstrations. His eyes were slightly twinkling at this point, and he had a soft smile on his face. He thanked me again for my comments and gave me a slight nod.
[caption id="attachment_148" align="alignleft" width="300"] Mr. Xu in the white shirt in the center, with the leader of the U.S. trade delegation firmly planted between me and Mr. Xu[/caption]
I felt like a lake trout that had been cleanly hooked, netted, and dumped into the bottom of the boat, gasping for breath; at which point the kindly, old, Chinese fisherman picked me up and gently and graciously placed me back in the water and allowed me to swim away with dignity.
After the meeting I wanted to say hello and thank Mr. Xu for his time, kindness, and graciousness, but the leader of the U.S. trade delegation was going out of his way to make sure that I, and the foot protruding from my mouth, got nowhere near Mr. Xu.
An interesting way to spend an afternoon when you’re exhausted, jet-lagged, and startled in a pressure situation.
The good news is Mr. Xu knows who I am and might even remember me. Who knows, Minneapolis may be hosting a Chinese / puer tea culture demonstration sometime in the near future.