i did manage to run to people's square in time to find the christmas present store very very closed. a little bummed, i turned to leave and was approached by a chinese 20-something with a camera. expecting to be in the photo i smiled my best foreigner smile and said hello. to my surprise, she asked me to take a picture of her and her friends with the expo mascot and i happily agreed to this refreshing request. after the picture, she asked me where i was from and we got to chatting. turns out they are university students from xian here in shanghai for a week on a school trip. we talked a bit about the sights in shanghai and they asked me if i had ever been to a teahouse, which is actually one thing i hadn't done yet but wanted to try. (note the "hadn't.") they were on their way to visit one and invited me to join them. i decided the groceries could wait and happily agreed.
(side note: it turns out this is commonly a scam. people will befriend you and invite you to a teahouse only to disappear, leaving you with an outrageous bill. lucky for me, my friends were perfectly legit.)
the teahouse was on the second floor of a shopping mall behind a shopping mall. if everything good in houston comes in a strip mall, everything here comes in a giant mall. or a cart on the street. always extremes in china.
it was a fun experience. we tried 6 different kinds of tea and learned a little bit about the culture behind the teas. the cups all have their own significance and you drink different teas in different cups. some of the teas were made especially for the emperor back in the day and they each have their own special properties. one was good for coughing, one for the liver, lungs and heart, one was full of vitamins, etc. we tried
- ginseng (a little bitter with a sweet aftertaste - very good; looks like little rocks),
- jasmine (sweet-smelling; a little bitter; comes with a smelling cup and a drinking cup; rolled into a ball that resembles a dragon's eye),
- pink lady (12 dried fruits and dried roses; very red and very sweet; served in a clear glass cup),
- green tea (i think it is bitter, but it is the most common tea; you can tell how good it is by the color, aroma, flavor and shape of the leaves),
- black tea soaked in lychee juice (sweet with a bitter aftertaste), and
- some kind of flower tea (when you put it in water, the whole thing opens up and there is a big flower with jasmine leaves around it; not a very strong flavor).
at the end, we bought some tea, exchanged email addresses and they walked me to the metro with instructions to call them when i go to xian. i even hugged them goodbye, which is a bit uncooth in chinese culture, but i didn't care.
as i walked myself to the metro, i couldn't help but wonder at what had just happened to me and smile, because it was a great evening and because hanging out with chinese people does wonders for your self-esteem. i am beautiful and it is like music when i talk. so thank you, china, for screwing up my plans, yet again.