“This is quite a good teahouse.” Wang said, his willowy girlfriend holding his hand and smiling.
“Tea?” I said, surprised. Tea is what you drink before and after socializing, not during. I shrugged, and we headed in, leaving the dark streets rumbling with traffic. The room we entered was light, with dark wooden furnishings, and different coloured stones set in to the floor.
Channels had been cut in to the floor, and were filled with water and surprisingly large goldfish. Water fountains gurgled besides pillars, the water falling gently down in to the channels below. Beijing is an arid city, in water, and also nature. It was refreshing to enter a room full of water, and, um, large goldfish. We sat there with the sound of water flowing around us, and goldfish swimming by our feet. Our waitress arrived, carrying the famously small Chinese teacups and teapot on what appeared to be an unnecessarily deep wooden tray.
Being unversed in all things oriental, I watched with interest as boiling water was poured over the cups and teapot, then sniffed at the jar of tea held against my nose. Beijing suffers from an extreme water shortage, though that news seemed not to have reached this tea house.
Tea was brewed, the water drained away, and new water added. The drinking of each cup was followed by further porcelain ablutions. This ceremony was accompanied by what to my novice ears sounded like arcane incantations. Wang translated some of it modern Chinese for my benefit.
If the tea was good, I had no idea, but it was calming in a way that black tea in the west is not. We sat there and chatted, the tea calming my belly and the gurgling water in the background calming my senses, our waitress fading in to the background as she tended to our needs. When we left, we were engulfed in a sandstorm. With my left hand cupping over my mouth and nostrils, I glanced back at the oasis we had just left. The mellow light within contrasting with the swirling sandy wind around us.