For those you back home in the US, Cyber Monday has yet to come. But in China, November 11 marked a day of online deals.
My list this year was not particularly expensive compared to years past. Granted, in the US I would have gone straight for electronics, which tend to be pricy. While I had considered getting a smartphone, I decided that there was no need. Albeit slow, my cell phones both work (my usual phone turned out to be locked into the T-Mobile network, so I’m using a cheap one I got in Taiwan a few years back for mobile data and calls).
Instead, I went on Taobao (essentially the Chinese version of Amazon), and filled my shopping cart with goods.
I went shopping in-person as well, opting to spend my Monday at the tea mall I had visited before. When the day was done, I had purchased—either online or in-person:
Three books on tea
Two books on calligraphy
Two kilograms of tea leaves
Two table runners
And quite unexpectedly, four and half tatami mats.
While I hadn’t intended to purchase the tatami mats, the price went lower, and lower, and lower. And to seal the deal, the store also threw in two free cushions.
I don’t think my room actually has enough area to lay out all of the mats unless I remove some furniture, but it was a very good deal. At the very least, I can ship them to the US and it’d still be considered cheap.
Research has picked up recently, and as more books come in, I’m getting a better idea of how different authors are contributing to and building a contemporary tea culture. In addition to tea research though, I’ve dabbled a bit in guqin research—both in deciphering old qin tablature and in reading scholarly articles on guqin history. I’m honestly surprised to see that barely anything has been done on the intricacies of guqin music theory or the role of music in Chinese philosophical discourse.
In terms of my main research project, guqin as a culture serves as a particularly interesting foil to tea culture. It’s diverse, separated into regional schools; it’s writings are intensely theoretical, unlike tea’s more practical writings; and it has a very explicit connection to self-refinement.
In some ways, guqin reminds me of martial arts. It’s regionally defined, and there’s an explicit master-disciple relationship (which isn’t necessarily true with tea).
As I near the 1/3 mark of my ten months in China, I feel increasingly confident that I’ll return with worthwhile experiences. If anything, I’ve learned more than I had expected to learn with guqin, and I’ve had the fortune of meeting more tea experts than I had ever dreamed of prior to arriving in Fuzhou.
Edit: I wrote this on November 11. Since then, I’ve gotten more tea, a stove, some incense, and all sorts of other stuff.