From the airport in Guangzhou, the taxi takes me to a large hotel in Foshan City where I am met
by Alan Feng and his Master CHEN Zhi Jiu. Here's a link to Alan's own business, marketing specialty glass, FuldaTECH. Master CHEN gives me a perfectly amazing ceramic sculpture of a robed man laughing, his bearded chin poking out. They show me the artisan's chop on the inside. Possibly a national treasure. I give him a bottle of Jose Cuervo gold tequila I've been carrying in my bag for this occasion.
After getting to know each other over supper at the hotel, they drive
me to another hotel in the downtown district. It must have been grand in its day, a little shabby now but royally gorgeous. I can imagine great leaders staying here in the day. The lobby is loaded with gigantic stone penjing and carved wood pieces in glass cases. In the elevator area on my floor a huge glass etagere displays countless small ceramic treasures without as much as a cover. My room features a
huge bed and baroque trappings, the bath is all sculpted ceramic tile and stone with fancy appointments to hold water glass and such. Marvelous glass encased shower with lots of hot water.
Dim sum breakfast
CHEN and Alan pick me up in the morning and drive me to a local restaurant for breakfast, zao fan. The dining room is large. They tuck us into a round table in a corner where we can talk.
Tea-- pu li hong cha
Every table is set with tea service. A metal teapot heats water over a brazier. The fuwuyuanwarms the small cups with hot water and discards it in a large bowl with a tray fitted into the top with decorative slits. She pours more hot water into a smaller pot the size of our western coffee cup with a handle, spout and lid which contains the tea leaves.
Next she pours the brewed tea through a strainer into a serving pot like a creamer—handle and spout but no lid—from there she fills the small drinking cups which hold 1-2 ounces tea. The small cups set on square wooden saucers to catch the drips from frequent refilling.
Delicious morsels-- tai chi le
CHEN orders from a long list of choices, and the small plates with three pieces each begin to arrive. Turnip cake 萝卜糕 luóbogāo, jiasuo with broth filling 小籠包xiǎo lóng bāo, a dumpling that bursts in your mouth, rice noodle cannelloni’s with two kinds of filling Limì báihèchāng and xiang xijiao, jiasuo with greens qing cai served with a pink, watery dipping sauce dong bei jiao zhi chu.
Breakfast goes on for at least two and a half hours in this pleasant fashion of nibbling on the next offering and slurping tea as CHEN hosts the tea service. Alan is kept busy, scribbling translations of all the delicious food terms for me in my notebook.
Master CHEN-- man of many talents
CHEN Zhi Jiu is 57 with a PLA (Peoples Liberation Army) background from 1974 to 1984. He fought in the Chinese war with Vietnam (1979-1989) rising to Commander of 100 men of a cannon brigade 高射炮 gāoshèpào. He describes this conflict for me, something I really knew nothing about. He says that when the Americans pulled out, the Viet Cong turned on their Chinese advisers and attacked, massacring all Chinese or part-Chinese living within Vietnam. I went to Wikipedia to get some more background and found a really poor article that didn't seem to jibe with the facts presented by my first-person, original eye-witness.
Over another pot of tea and another plate of dim sum, Master Chen describes his anti-war philosophy: Young people need to live to take care of their old parents, not be sent to war to die or be mangled. He says all that is in the past, and now China and Vietnam enjoy an excellent relationship based on mutual benefit and cooperation.
When Master Chen was young, thirty years ago, were very violent times, hunger and famine. He says Deng Xiao Peng made the right decision to open to the West and correct the course of China. "Now is a happy time for the Chinese people who are prosperous and not afraid of violence in their culture."
World’s largest furniture, electronics, glass, ceramics and steel producing center
- Household electrical appliance and tool manufacturing
- Non-metal ore and manufacturing
- Electronics and communications
- Stainless steel products
- Plastic products
Although founded in the Jin Dynasty, Foshan City gained its name in 628CE. The industries here are mainly run by private entrepreneurs such as Master CHEN. In 2002 private enterprise amounted to 56% of the local economy with 63% of exports going to Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan and Singapore.
Fast facts: population 7.1 million, 3.6 million of which live within the city limits which comprise 3,840 square kilometers or 1,480 square miles.
Many people have emigrated here from all over mainland China seeking work in the several industries and speak Mandarin, although the locals speak a variant of Cantonese.
Red blooming oleander, bibiscus, canna lilies run down the center of the expressway. Smog
pollution here in Foshan City is from concrete dust from rapid building development combined with natural humidity, add to that some automobile exhaust. The color is white, smells like concrete and is mainly concentrated in the urban center. They get their electricity primarily from huge hydro generators in the west. There are few smokestacks. Once we get away from the city, the air is fresh and clean from ocean breezes.
In the country with Master CHEN
After touring Master CHEN’s exhibition garden in the city, we drive into the countryside where he has his production nursery and farmhouse. He has a 25 year lease on a 10,000 2m plot for which he pays RMB 12,000 annually. He is into his 6th year and hopes China will see land reform by the end of his lease contract, enabling him to purchase the land he has developed.
We drive past rows and rows of mainly podocarpus in various stages of growth before arriving at the farmhouse set back from a large fish pond. His workers are busy pole and net fishing from a small boat, catching a few small and one huge fish destined for our lunch. Another man is busy scraping feathers from a freshly caught chicken, running free in the podocarpus rows.
Lunch is a hot pot, da bian lu, home or peasant style, administered by Ying, CHEN's female assistant. First the chicken is dressed and chopped into pieces. What flavorings? None, just the incredible flavor of fresh chicken fed on bugs and dirt and foliage it can find. Next into the pot goes the fish, wan yu, cleaned, scraped and cut into pieces. Mi fan rice and fresh greens from the garden. The quintessential farm to table experience.
Small bowls with a generous dollop of chopped green Chinese onions and peanut oil are set in front of each person, a little chopped fresh hot chilies on the side. With home style eating it is OK to use your fingers and leave a small pile of bones on the table next to your plate.
Next into the bubbling pot goes mu guo, papaya, peeled and sliced, cooking in the flavorful broth for five minutes or more. Tai chi le! Delicious!
The Master produces Méijiǔ梅酒 plum wine made in China and exported to Japan. And lastly more hong cha. Over the meal and two bottles of wine, we develop an idea to offer a penjing tour next year at the BCI exhibition. That would be Bonsai Clubs International. More about the various penjing/bonsai organizations in China and how the exhibition process works in the next blog.
Hou tou jian