Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Tea Picking that Wasn’t

After Korea my parents came to stay with us in Suzhou before returning to the States.  It was a great visit and they got to visit both of the girls’ schools and even see LBean perform in a dance recital. 

Because my parents had already visited Suzhou, I was looking for a new activity for us to try.  I had read an advertisement in our local “What’s On” calendar for tea picking.  Most tea picking is done in April and May, so I was very excited to see an opportunity to see the tea fields in June.  The ad proclaimed that for a small fee we could see the tea fields, pick some tea leaves and then enjoy what we had learned by drinking tea.  The best part was the address and phone number was in Chinese so I could easily show my driver where to go.

One day while Jamie was at work, my parents and the rest of my family piled into the van and we took off.  We drove towards Taihu Lake, which is at least 40 minutes away, and then we kept driving.  Over bridges to islands, down long lanes, over more bridges and islands and we finally arrive at the “ticket office”.  I kid you not, the place looks like a deserted movie set, possibly a Western.  No people are milling around, dust blowing around, and of course my mind automatically asks, “And what are the bathrooms going to look like?”  (and secretly hoping not to find out).

The point of no return.  Our driver couldn't take our van
past this point and we thought we had to start walking.
My poor driver was probably panicking at this point (and maybe me too, but just a bit).  He is trying to do his job and his crazy employer has made him drive out into the middle of nowhere and we can’t quite figure out what is going on.  He finally tracks down someone to buy tickets from and then he drives to the “entrance” and turns around and shrugs his shoulders.  It looked like we were going to have to hike up to the “tea picking”.  We got out, put on sunscreen, pulled out the stroller and were prepared to move.  At that moment, an extended golf cart goes whizzing by taking other people up the side of the mountain.  My first reaction is “Oh good, we’re not the only crazy people up here today” and “hey, where do we get one of those?”

This picture pretty much sums
it all for EBean!
My driver caught my eye and said, I’m assuming, in Chinese, “I’ll be right back!” He came back in a few minutes with a driver and a golf cart.  I tell you what, if he hadn’t gotten us a golf cart we would still be marching up that ridiculous mountain.  We went for miles!  At the near top, there was a small grouping of buildings and I was still holding out hope for a tea picking experience.  But, we got out and the man pointed to the steps and we started hiking to the very, very top of the mountain.  The air was thin, but the view was spectacular.  When we reached the top there was a tea picking, but there was a temple, with two monks selling incense sticks.  We left a “donation” for our incense, enjoyed the view while trying not to be blown off the side of the mountain and started our trek back down to the golf cart.

The rows and rows of short bushes are indeed tea bushes,
but that is as close as we got to them.
On the golf cart and headed up.
Climbing higher and getting a bit breezy.

The pagoda is what we eventually hiked up to.
Looking back to make sure we
had indeed made progress.
Going up, up, up! 
Stopping to take a break.  No comment as
to which one needed the break! 
What a view!
EBean inspecting some
part of nature that she had discovered.
There wasn't tea picking at the top, but
there was a temple where we could make
a "donation" after we lit some incense.
Attempting to not blow off the side of the mountain.
Before we could leave the top of the mountain, one of the girls decided she needed to use the bathroom RIGHT NOW!  There was a sign for a public restroom, but the sign looked like it was telling you to walk off the side of the mountain (no lie!) and hang a right.  The bathrooms were literally hanging off the side of the mountain.  I sent my parents to scope it out and they reported that the bathrooms were actually clean. Still, though, taking care of “business” hanging off the side of the mountain. We quickly finished and got out of there.

Our ride to the bottom of the mountain was absolutely breathtaking.  It was green and the wind felt great.  We could see (just not touch) thousands of tea bushes.  At the bottom there was a bit of confusion with my driver as to where we had ended up.  While he and I were texting back and forth (thank goodness for my translating app on my phone), we stopped to enjoy an ice cream and Coke break.  It gave us enough time to have a conversation with the store owner.  Between my minimal Chinese skills and her limited English, we pieced together a nice conversation.  I love it when people are patient enough to keep talking with me and keep trying! 

We made it home before Jamie returned from work and even though the experience wasn’t what I had planned, it was still a good one.  And...a good workout, my muscles were sore the next day!

Here is what I posted on Facebook about the event:

Oh today was a classic China moment. I thought we were going to go tea picking & tea tasting (in my mind I envisioned a quaint little tea house on the side of the mountain where I would lean out the window "pick a few leaves" and then drink some green tea, while only a few steps from the parking lot). But, instead I climbed the highest peak overlooking Taihu Lake, looked at the temple at the top and walked down again...with kids in tow of course. It was a great adventure, but something got lost in translation!

Here is the advertisement for the tea picking from a local monthly publication:


  1. A coworker recently told me "I hate temples, they're always at the top of a long stair case."

    1. I laughed out loud Clif! It's so funny, but sadly oh so true!