My parents flew back to the U.S. about a week ago and my second quarter at Shida started on Monday, so life is back to normal. Before my parents left, however, they took Ron and me on a two-hour bus ride Miaoli to see more of my relatives. My mom’s family is Hakka (客家, kè jiā in Mandarin) and Miaoli (苗栗) County is a traditionally Hakka area. 客家 literally means guest house, or family, in Chinese, but I like to think that it’s just another word for “our Han Chinese subgroup is more awesome than your Han Chinese subgroup”:

More relatives from my mom's side

First, we had lunch with my relatives. Hakka cuisine is heavier in flavor, and oilier and saltier than most Chinese food. My teacher at Shida (who is also Hakka) explained to my class that Hakka people traditionally lived and worked in rural areas and needed the calories for manual labor. The dishes included fried river shrimp, which are eaten with their deliciously crunchy shells still on, wild boar and a dish made of many different types of mushrooms sauteed together. I didn’t take any photos of the food, but Ron is reviewing a Hakka restaurant near Shida for an upcoming issue of the Taipei Times, so I’ll post a link when it is published.

After lunch, we went to the studio of one of my uncle’s friends, who is a sculptor and specializes in Shiwan glazed ceramic figures of monks and characters from traditional Chinese folktales:

Sculpture with child Workspace

He served us Hakka grain tea, which is more like a light cereal than a beverage. It was peanut-flavored and had many different types of grain floating around in it:

Hakka grain tea

The sculptor had a small collection of bottles showing off the different types of ingredients used in the teas he serves at his studio, which is also a teahouse. As you can see, there are various seeds, herbs and some chalk-like looking substance, which I’m sure would be awesome for pregnant women experiencing raging pica:

Tea ingredients

My Aunt Helen, who studies traditional Chinese tea preparation, then took us to another teahouse, where the chá shī (茶師,literally tea teacher) served us different types of tea from this huge sculpted slab of marble:

At the teahouse

The tea was first poured into a tall, narrow cup, which we placed the smaller cup on top of to form a sort of mushroom shape, and flipped over.

Adorable tea cup

After the tea had been emptied into the smaller cup, we sniffed the narrower vessel to appreciate the tea’s delicate aroma.

One of the teas we drank was lǎo chá (老茶, old tea), or tea leaves that have been aged for 28 years. The flavor was, as you can expect, quite rich. Also, it was incredibly weird drinking something that’s been sitting around for longer than I’ve been alive. I felt like my insides were in a time warp. My parents bought us a bag of 老茶, so I can continue to enjoy the surrealness in the comfort of my own home. I might add, however, that the tea is younger than Ron is. Three years younger in fact! Cradle robber! We are celebrating our third anniversary in a few days. I have no idea what we are going to do, but it will probably involve food.