Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Drinking Chinese Tea

In my Chinese classes this year,  we were introduced to the ancient Chinese culture of drinking tea. I have always enjoyed many different kinds of tea -- Earl Grey, English Breakfast, Rooibos, Jasmine, Oolong -- and I like that the flavors are all different and unique. Different cultures produce different teas and different methods of drinking them.  First off, tea is regarded differently in Asia than it is in Europe in the sense that Asian tea-drinking focuses more on the quality and taste of the tea itself rather than on additives such as spices, cream and sugar.  The modern Chinese tea ceremony is further different from the Japanese tea ceremony because, as some would say, it "is more about tasting the tea than it is about the ritual."

Since my Chinese classes, I've visited Ten Ren Tea, a tea shop chain  that originated in Taiwan.  Ten Ren owns tea plantations in Taiwan and China, and it is famous for its oolong tea. If you intend to buy their tea, you can ask them to brew some of their top quality teas the traditional way for you to taste. The top quality oolong tea they sell is quite expensive though: over $100 a pound.

The Chinese way of tasting good tea is to brew them in tiny clay teapots. The most famous of the purple clay teapots are made in the town of Yi Xing in China. When making tea, the beautiful clay teapots are approximately half filled with tea and then hot water is poured into them. The tea leaves expand in the water and fills the tea pot. The tea server then pours the very strong tea into tiny tea cups for people to smell, taste and enjoy. Good quality tea will leave a very refreshing taste in your mouth, and supposedly will also clean your system of grease, and is good for you.

Part of what makes the  Chinese tea ceremony so special is the emphasis on using whole leaves.  The best tea leaves are picked whole at the right time, and then dried or roasted. Sometimes the tea are green, and sometimes they are roasted a little darker. When brewed though, they expand into whole, unbroken leaves.  The more the tea leaves are cut up by the time you brew them, the lesser quality the tea is.  Some people like my mom doesn't like us using her teapots for lesser-quality teas because she's afraid we'll ruin the fragrance and quality of the teapots.

Another neat aspect of the Chinese tea ceremony is that of "nurturing teapots" as if they are little children. Apparently, if you pour the leftover tea on the teapot to stain the pot and then you rub the stain into the clay tea pot every time you've finished drinking tea, your pot will become shiny from the tea oil.  It takes many months and years to achieve that beautiful shiny result. It's funny how teapots are suddenly like little people now: you have to treat them with care and "raise" them properly or they could be ruined. The good thing is that while the teapots are like artworks in themselves, they are meant to be used and not just admired.

I've been making tea a lot recently. For those of you who don't have time for the whole tea tasting ceremony, the easiest way to drink Chinese tea is to throw some tea leaves in a mug and just add boiling water, wait for the tea to cool a bit, and sip. It's nice and refreshing.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Obon Festival and a Special Book by Lucy Ozone Hawkinson

Guess what's coming up this weekend? The West LA Obon Festival!

What is an Obon festival, you ask? The Obon festival is a 500 year old Japanese Buddhist custom that is held to honor one's ancestors. At the Obon festival, the Japanese people welcome their ancestors' spirits with food and dance.  They celebrate with games, food booths, raffles, drums, and the Bon Odori dance. In the United States, Obon festivals are held at Japanese Buddhist Temples all over the country. It is also a fundraiser for the temples. The West Los Angeles Buddhist Temple sponsors our basketball league, so every year, all the West Los Angeles team members volunteer to help out at the Obon festival by staffing the various booths.

When we were kids, my team used to volunteer at the game booths at the Obon but now we have been "promoted" to a food booth. The Obon Festival is super fun, so go check it out this Saturday and Sunday!!!  I'll be serving food on Saturday.

On another note, there's a really cute children's book about the Obon festival called Dance, Dance, Amy-Chan by Lucy Ozone Hawkinson, written in 1964. Lucy Ozone Hawkinson is a Japanese American author who wrote and illustrated dozens of books in the 1960s.  She was born in California in 1924, and attended South Pasadena High School. During the war, her entire family was relocated to the infamous Manzanar.  After the war, the family moved to Chicago where she settled and wrote most of her childrens books.

Dance, Dance, Amy-Chan by Lucy Ozone Hawkinson

Lucy Ozone Hawkinson's books are no longer in print. I know about her through my friend Ruby's mom who is the daughter of Ms. Ozone. What's interesting about Ms. Ozone's children's books is that they show kids of all ethnicities, sizes, and other differences which was pretty unusual for that time period. Dance, Dance, Amy-Chan is an especially charming illustrated book about two Japanese American girls getting ready for their local Obon Festival. Amy Chan almost missed the dance because little sister Susie Chan disappeared in the crowd when she got scared of the drums. The drawings in the book are brush paintings in color and in black and white. The colors are very cheerful and friendly, and even the black and white drawings are cute, with a lot of details on the kimonos, hair, accessories, and toy dolls.

Although this book cannot be found in stores anymore, you will be able to find it in local libraries, or a used one online. 


West Los Angeles Buddhist Temple
2003 Corinth Avenue
West Los Angeles, CA 90025 

If you don't live in West LA, many other Buddhist Temples are also holding an Obon festival during the summer.

You can find different Obon festival information here.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Am I a Chloe..or Am I a Chlue?

Near the end of last school year, my school held a Sports Banquet. It was pretty much to celebrate all the kids in 7th and 8th grade who participated in a competitive sport. (People who just did PE were not celebrated). I participated in sports for all three seasons of the school year: I did Cross Country, Basketball, and then Track and Field, so I was invited even though my parents had to pay for it!  :)

Sports Banquet

The school's athletic department provided all the athletes and their families with a pretty good sit down meal. (I checked before accepting the invitation). We had barbecue chicken, or steak, with chili and cookies...and other stuff) While we ate our dinner the athletic department played a slideshow of  the athletes in different sports. They would announce something like, "Fall Sports, Boys and Girls Cross Country!", show the slideshow, and then give out the awards to the outstanding athletes in that sport.

For cross country, they showed a picture of me running, which was not very flattering. Surprisingly, I got a "Most Inspirational" award for Cross Country, which probably means I tried hard, but wasn't very good.

For basketball, I ended up getting an award for Most Outstanding Player. As I walked up there to receive my award my coach whispered "Give it back once you're done taking pictures, because they spelled your name wrong." So I took a picture with the award where my name was spelled wrong. It was spelled Chololoulo, or something like that. (They didn't even spell my last name wrong...which is a surprise). I gave the award back and the Athletic Department apologized.

I swear they cut off the plaque because my name was spelled wrong.

Just before school ended for summer vacation, I went to pick up my corrected award plaque from the Athletic Department. It took the department maybe 10 minutes to find it, but once I got it, I took it home. I looked at my plaque and there it was: MY NAME WAS SPELLED WRONG.  AGAIN! This time it was spelled "Chlue". I don't know why it's so hard to spell Chloe. :) Maybe because I'm Asian, they were expecting a Choe or Chue. Whatever. But I didn't want to trouble them anymore so I just brought the award home and took a picture of it for a sourvenir. It's kind of funny.

I'm the most outstanding Chlue Hsu!

Sadly they took back the first misspelled plaque. Otherwise I would have put up a picture of that one too!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Make Art with Paper from Hiromi Paper

When most most of us need paper, we usually just go to office supplies and stationary stores such as Staples or Office Depot and buy the machine made standard 8 1/2" x 11" letter size papers. However, for doing something special, sometimes you wish you have paper that looks special. Well, Hiromi Paper store, located in the Bergamot Station in Santa Monica, definitely has unique paper. It sells ALL kinds of specialty paper made in different parts of the world.

Paper lanterns at Hiromi Paper

The store is small but very inviting inside. It has colorful paper mache objects around the room as well as tissue paper lanterns strung up across the walls. Hiromi Paper carries the largest selection of Japanese fine-art and conservation papers in the U.S. It also carries paper made from different plant fibers from Brazil, Bhutan, Nepal and the Yucatan. The paper from different parts of the world have their own characteristics. In fact, the paper's origins and designs themselves are so interesting that I believe they probablyshould be considered artwork themselves. There is a paper called seikosen paper made from the Kozo (mulberry) plant made by only one family on an island in Japan. This strong paper is hand made and has limited quantities.

Printed wrapping paper.
What is also eye opening are the paper made of thinly sliced radishes, starfruit, kiwi,and other types of plants. Some of the paper carried by Hiromi Paper are very colorful and some have very intricate designs. Some of them make you question if they're even paper at all!

Paper made of fruits anda vegetables.

At Hiromi Paper, there are also books about paper making, how to make stencils, origami, lanterns, kites, etc. I bought a book about how to make stencils. and also a small stack of different decorative paper. The only problem is that the papers are so pretty that I don't want to use them for paper cutting, or writing, or for anything at all because I don't want to ruin the paper!

Stencils I cut using Hiromi's paper

 Next time I go, I'm going to try buying some of the radish paper and paper made of wood!

Also, if you visit Hiromi Paper, you should also walk around the rest of Bergamot Station and check out the other cool stores and art galleries.

Here is Hiromi Paper's contact information!

Tel: 310.998.0098
Email: washi@hiromipaper.com
Website: www.hiromipaper.com  They have an online store! So you can order online too!
The store is at Bergamot Station unit G9!!! Check it out!!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Rythm of Linda Oh

I was sitting in the car surfing radio stations when I accidentally stumbled upon KPCC and heard this jazz song in Chinese and English come on. It was so unusual and compelling that I listened to the entire program, came home and looked up the musician, Linda Oh, on the internet. 

Here is an interview with her featured on her website. http://lindaohmusic.com/initial-here-video/

Linda Oh is a jazz bass player and composer who was born in Malaysia to Chinese parents.  She lived in Perth, Australia, and now performs with a jazz band in New York City, and tours all over the world. Her second album, Initial Here, was just released this spring. In this album, she collaborates with musicians Rudy Royston and the Cuban-born New York pianist Fabian Almazan. Also, in this album is the song "Thicker Than Water" where jazz singer Jen Shyu performs with Linda Oh's band singing in Chinese and in English.  

It is unusual to hear Asian women playing bass in a jazz band, and even more unusual to hear jazz sung in  Chinese. Very creative and innovative for sure, and Oh she is good. 

Even though the interview and music I heard today is from Linda Oh's second album, her debut album called Entry, with the Linda Oh Trio, has an awesome cover. Here it is. Apparently it's designed by someone who draws for Marvel Comics!

Here is clip of Linda Oh playing "To Not Be Broken", a tune inspired by Ishmael Beah's A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, a book I've had to read in English class last year!

Check out some of the recent reviews of Linda Oh:
New York Times at New Music

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Summer and the Beach

One of the nicest things about living in Southern California is the awesome weather.  Sure, it isn't always warm and sunny over here, but the temperature pretty much stays between 50 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.  Maybe I'm a wuss and don't know what it's like to experience a snow storm, but I can't stand days under 65 degrees.  Lucky for me, summer in SoCal always means warm and comfortable weather.

Sometimes, we take living close to the beach for granted and don't go there enough.  However, each summer, we do manage to drop the computers, the cell phones, and movie theatres and head for the beach to enjoy some laid back music and camaraderie for at least a few times.

Our favorite standby is always Venice Beach or Santa Monica Beach because they're close. There is the Annenberg Beach House in Santa Monica where it's open to the public, but you have to make a reservation to get in.  It's $24 for a family of four. Once there, you can swim in this pool that once belonged to William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davis of the Hearst Castle fame.

The heated pool has inlaid mosaics, life guards and a lounge area where you can bring your own picnic, or you can eat at the Back On the Beach Cafe next door.

If you want to actually swim in the ocean, you can just head on to the powdery sandy beach and swim there. This is definitely the luxury beach going experience.

Other beaches  may be less luxurious, but great nonetheless. On Venice Beach, you can walk on the crowded  board walk and go look at the shops and beach performers. There are lots of restaurants and souvenir stores, as well as wacky and entertaining street performer.

Venice Board Walk

Another favorite is the El Matador Beach in Malibu, 32215 Pacific Coast Highway where you have to walk down a steep trail to get there. Once there, you will be enchanted by the strange rock formations, powdery sand, and no one else present. There is absolute peace and tranquility, but no amenities whatsoever.

Because I'm older this year, to kick off the summer, my high school classmates and I had a night time beach party. After it was dark, a group of us built a bonfire at Dockweiler Beach in Playa del Rey where there are pits for people to do just that.  We made sure to bring a lot of food, a boom box, and lots of firewood. After the sun went down, we built a bonfire. 

Beach Bonfire

As the fire crackled, we sang songs, toasted marshmallows, and played a few games.  My favorite part?  Burning a worn out copy of the much-abhorred novel, Frankensteinby Mary Shelley which we'd been assigned to read for English class this year. Yay, school's over.