Nine hours in London

The trip starts with a stressful layover in Newark, NJ that included waiting for a 3-hour delayed flight, a thunder storm, circling above our destination, landing at the wrong airport in Hartford CT, and then finally getting lucky because my connecting flight in Newark was delayed enough to allow my first flight time to take off again and get there.  After the redeye to London Heathrow, even though it is delayed by several hours, I am excited to exit the airport for some fresh drizzly air, some non-airport food, and a little touring around with my good friend Nabihah.

It is almost too convenient to take the Tube into London, where I first get off at South Kensington to meet Nabihah for lunch at a pub where I consume some local cuisine of fish and chips, a beer, and a coffee.  Following “lunch” (the quotations are there because my body is a little confused what meal I should be eating at the moment, but the clock shows a late lunch), we walk around and find some delectable cookies to take with us on the Tube to our next destination, Big Ben.  We walk all around Big Ben and proceed towards Buckingham Palace, because no trip to England is complete without seeing at least one soldier with a black fuzzy hat.  Finally, before we part this great afternoon together, in true English style, we stop at a fancy afternoon tea spot and enjoy some hot tea and scones (scones is pronounced with a soft “o” in London).



Although only in town for a couple short hours, Nabihah showed me around her hometown of London all the while pointing out spots from her childhood memories.  I am now ready for my second redeye in less than 24 hours as I head onwards to Ethiopia to visit my great college friend, Harya.

Moroccans and their Tea

Tea has become an unplanned theme of my trip, so I might as well continue to weave this theme into my Moroccan experience. Requesting tea in Morocco always means requesting sweet mint tea, and labeling this tea sweet is an understatement. Sugar is easily the primary ingredient, but having the sweet tooth that I do, I never refuse a refill. Staying in the Riad de Amour in the Old Medina of Marrakech, Adam and I are offered tea one evening, and I use the opportunity to learn the intricacies of sweet mint tea preparation.

Predictably, the process begins by boiling water. A small amount of green tea is the steeped in a little tea pot. Meanwhile, mint leaves are crushed and washed. The steeped tea from the small pot is stylistically poured into a cup from an unnecessary height before returning it back to the small pot. The other rational reason I can produce is that a cooling process aids in something. Afterwards, the mint leaves are added into the small pot along with more boiling water to fill the pot to the top. The most critical ingredient ingredient, sugar, is then added by the cube full. In a pot that may have held about 200 to 300 ml, about 10 sizable sugar cubes are added. The small pot is then placed on the stove until the water comes to a simmer and threatens to spill over. After a little more fancy height pouring, some tasting, and adding more sugar, the tea is ready to be served. But just in case the tea is not sweet enough, it is served with more sugar alongside. My question, however, is given that the sugar can no longer stay in solution at the present moment, how is adding sugar going to do anything except to contribute to the bottom sugar collection.

The strong religious, Islamic culture in Morocco results in limited availability of alcohol. After all, one cannot drink alcohol while in eyesight of a mosque, and the country is not short on mosques. One evening, Adam and I try to find a local beer, and everyone we ask in the Marrakech Old Medina points us to Gueliz. The vagueness that is Guilez was a bit frustrating because it only signifies the new area of Marrakech, and we ask the cab to take us there, we end up in front of a McDonald’s. We complain and say we want to go to an area with bars, and we are soon dropped off at a building with the word “Bar” inscribed in bright red lights at the top, where we eventually find a Casablanca brew. More typically, in the evening, instead of seeing a group huddled around a bar, many locals relax at a cafe, sip tea and cafe noir. At the end of meals, tea is served. When negotiating in a rug shop, tea is present. After entering a home, tea is offered. When planning our southern Morocco excursion, we all sip tea. Tea is ubiquitous, delicious, the beverage of choice here in Morocco.

Moroccan Tea

One City, Two Continents

Before leaving Istanbul, it wouldn’t be fair to us or to the city itself not to go explore the Asian side, so Adam and I hopped on a ferry and ventured over to Kadikoy. Here, we enjoyed a much less touristy experience, good food at a restaurant called Ciya Sofrazi, and a fun network of lively, filled streets. From this journey over to Kadikoy, we can now better appreciate the fact that one city is built on two different continents. That said, the area still had a more Turkish than Asian feel, and based on the shear number of Turkish flags (which we have seen all over the city hanging from almost every building), there was no question that we were in Istanbul first and Asia second.

Traditional Turkish Tea
Traditional Turkish Tea from Ciya Sofrazi

Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

In a setting that is cooler in temperature than most of Malaysia, the Cameron Highlands offer many a tourist activity. While there, I stayed at the very nice Father’s Guest House, just a couple minutes away from the center of town, where one night I witnessed a Hindu procession down the middle of the street. This procession was a reminder of Malaysia’s diverse history as I feel most cultures and religions are mutually respected throughout the country. Also during my stay, I toured the BOH Tea Plantation, a butterfly garden, a strawberry farm, a flower nursery, and a Buddhist Temple.

cameron highlands flower
Flower spotted after the rain at BOH Tea Plantation
BOH tea field
Tea Leaves from the BOH Plantation
View from Father's Guest House
View from Father's Guest House, Cameron Highlands
butterfly malaysia
Butterfly Garden in Cameron Highlands
Hindu procession
Hindu Procession through Town

Chinese Tea

After three very full days in Beijing, I was ready for a slight change of pace. I tried to sleep late, although this was not an easy task given the 16 hour time difference. Beijing is eight hours behind and a day ahead of California. I woke up, called home, showered, and reorganized my things in preparation for my upcoming overnight train ride to Shanghai. Then, situated comfortably in the common room of the hostel, I wrote a little and talked with the staff. Soon after, they asked if I’d like to join them tea and lunch, and I immediately agreed.

I’ve always made tea using a tea bag in a mug of hot water. This is so far from what I experienced here that it seems like a completely different drink, and because I want to remember how to make the tea that I had this morning, this will serve as instructions for how to make said tea.

chinese tea

The supplies for this operation include small tea cups that hold less than an ounce of tea, one tea pot to steep the tea, one tea pot to serve the tea, hot water, and obviously, the tea leaves. One person will act as server and all other participants will only drink and enjoy the finished product. The rules to be observed by the non-serving participants are as follows:

  • Hold the tea cup with your thumb and index finger, and place your other three fingers underneath. Note: Men should have their ring and pinkie fingers tucked below their middle finger, while women can have their ring and pinkie fingers more free form.
  • Smell the tea, note its color, and then taste.
  • If you want more tea, place the tea cup back on the serving tray.
  • If you are no longer thirsty, place the tea cup on the table in front of you.
  • If you re-find your thirst, you can move the tea cup from the table in front of you to the serving tray.
  • Gestures indicating “cheers” or “l’chaim” are encouraged but not required.

The instructions for the server are necessarily more sequential and more involved than those for the drinking participants, and I unfortunately I will probably be unable to recap this process perfectly as much was lost in translation while I was being taught.

  1. Warm the water. Note: If working with tap water in a foreign environment, bring to boil for at least one minute.
  2. Pour hot water in the empty steeping pot to both cleanse and warm the pot.
  3. Place strainer on top of serving pot in preparation to catch tea leaves, and transfer hot water to serving pot for same reasons as above.
  4. Transfer hot water once again to tea cups and pour out all remaining water. Note: If working on a tray that drains water, pour out water directly on tray. If not, dispose of water into a separate designated receptacle.
  5. Place tea leaves in steeping pot and pour in hot water. Note: Temperature of water will depend on type of tea leaves used.
  6. Let steep in pot for amount of time determined by type of tea leaves used.
  7. Pour from steeping pot through the strainer to the serving pot while attempting to prevent tea leaves from escaping the steeping pot.
  8. Remove strainer and serve tea into tea cups.
  9. The same tea leaves can be re-used many times, which again is determined by the type of tea leaves used.
  10. Subsequent of steeping will require a different amount of time than the first.
  11. Adhere to the rules governing the drinking participants and serve until all participants are satisfied.

Later this same day after walking through Baihai park, I ventured to a shopping district where I found a great tea shop. I walk in, get approached by several employees, and after showing the faintest bit of interest, get escorted throughout the store as I learn more about tea. After making it clear that I might not purchase anything, they still sit me down at a private table, and I begin tasting a variety of teas including Oolang, Green, and Jasmine. The Jasmine tea is tightly wrapped in handmade small balls, which eventually unravel as they encounter hot water. After tasting these teas and trying new snacks in-between tastings, I realize two things. First that tea could make a very good gift, and second that gift giving is an elegant Chinese tradition for saying thank you and showing respect. In the end, I purchase tea to give to William and the other hostel staff, who have all treated me so warmly.