Friday, March 29, 2013

Potala Palace

The Potala Palace in Tibet sits amidst dramatic skies

It felt a little (OK, a lot) surreal to be climbing the steps to the Potala Palace, the former home of the Dalai Lama and seat of government.  Today the building is a museum, an assembly space for the Buddhist monks and a World Heritage Site (along with one of the "new" Seven Wonders of the World).  The complex has over 1,000 rooms and rises 1,000 feet above the valley floor. 

Construction began on the Potala Palace (more commonly called "Peak Potala" by locals) in 1645, under the fifth Dalai Lama.  He died before construction was complete and his death was kept a secret for 10 years in order to ensure the project was finished.

Reflections of Potala Palace

An interesting tea's thought that the current structure is built upon the grounds of another palace, that of King Songtsen Gampo.  In 637, he had a special building constructed to greet his bride Princess Wencheng of China.  She is sometimes given credit for introducing tea (pu-erh) to Tibet, having brought it in her dowry.  This is most likely untrue.  Scholars believe tea had already made its way from China to Tibet via trade routes centuries earlier.  Moreover, our Tibetan tour guide very strongly believed that tea grows natively in Tibet.  Nonetheless, the presence of tea in the princesses dowry shows the value placed upon it at that time.  (The story reminds me of one that would repeat itself many years later, when Catherine de Braganza brought tea to England.)

That's me on the left in the striped hat

It was a long climb to the top.  The flight of stairs above is one of many we ascended.  Every 20 steps or so I would stop to catch my breath and take in the view.  Given the effects of the high altitude, the intense sunlight and the necessary physical exertion, we felt like champions when we reached the "summit".  We were invited into the "highest restroom in the world," which I will always remember because it makes me chuckle (though I don't think it's true).  Most of us didn't require the facilities as we were having to work hard to stay well hydrated.

One of my favorite photos

As you can see from the images at the top of this post, there are two parts to the complex, the red and the white.  The red portion is devoted to religious pursuits.  We saw beautiful murals, religious art, large gathering spaces and more of the dark narrow hallways I wrote about here.  We were not allowed to take photos inside, and I think that is a respectful policy.  The white portion was home to the Dalai Lama and administrative/governmental offices.  (Since 1959, he no longer lives in Tibet.)  We were allowed to visit only a portion of the complex.

In order to visit the Potala Palace, our tour guide secured tickets for us the day prior.  Only 1,600 visitors are allowed per day and we were given an exact time of entrance.  Once inside the building we had a time limit of one hour. 

Religious devotees

Across the street, Tibetan Buddhists perform various forms of religious practice.  These people are doing what I would call a movement meditation or prayer.  They stand, kneel, then lie prostrate on the ground, and repeat that over and over.  In a plaza nearby, others walked backwards slowly while reciting prayers or meditations.

Our world is so beautiful and rich with variety! 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

These Amazing Faces (Tibetan Women)

Tibetan Women

I have been taken with these women ever since I first met them in Tibet.  Our encounter was brief, but memorable.  I was coming down the path from the Drepung monastery.  These women were waiting along the side, offering slices of fruit to passersby in hopes of a trade or a monetary gift I presume.  I stopped, a little shy to approach them.  Encouraged by our tour leader, I offered them some hard tea candies and they gave me an apple slice.  I watched as the woman on the left tried the candy and removed it from her mouth.  It was not to her taste, too sweet I imagine.  :-)

I know so little about these women.  Their faces fascinate me.  How old are they?  What is their daily life?  What do they eat?  What do they enjoy?  Do they think we look interesting in our unusual clothing and jewelry?  Do they want to study our faces? 

During her recent visit, my mom and I reviewed my photos from Tibet.  This one captured her, too.  She thought these women looked similar to Native Americans and that the jewelry looked like coral and turquoise.  I had similar observations while in Tibet.  It's fascinating how cultures so far apart share such similarities.

I will never see these women again, but I send them my gratitude for our shared moment.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Inside the Drepung Monastery, Tibet

Drepung Monastery, Tibet

Our group became subdued as we entered the dark halls of Drepung monastery.  Most of the people here, as you might expect, were Tibetan Buddhist monks and their followers who made offerings and prayers.  Some of the people were spiritual pilgrims who had come from very far away.  Perhaps it was the majestic scenery outdoors or the altered state I experienced inside the building, but I felt like a spiritual seeker rather than a tourist.

Inside, monks came to collect the excess offerings of yak oil and white scarfs.  They were polite, trading smiles with us.  I wonder if they were as curious about us as we were them.

We were allowed to take photos only in certain locations if we paid a fee.  Given the dark lighting, a few of these images are fuzzy, but they accurately capture my experience in the moment.  I was a little fuzzy, too.  The dark and quiet inside was illuminated primarily by large containers of burning yak oil.  Some of the spaces were open (like below), but much of the space felt like a maze with narrow, one-way-only hallways.  Combine the burning oil, the heavy aroma of incense and the many spiritual pilgrims in the narrow hallways and you have even less oxygen than 'normal', which was already lower due to the altitude.  I found myself dizzy-headed and mildly claustrophobic.  A couple of times, I had to put my head between my knees.  Yet I persevered!

One of the young, stylish pilgrims mentioned in my last post, making a yak oil offering

Yak oil lamp

We saw spaces for prayers and chanting, the Dalai Lama's study room, the kitchen with giant copper teapots for making tea for the monks, and various depictions and busts of important historical figures.

After wandering the dark halls, we exited to the intense sunlight and color, color, color!  The door pull below is one of my favorite photos.  I love the combinations of color, patterns and texture.

Door pull

Building post decorated with the colors of Tibet

Another favorite image, from a doorway

My next post, in a day or so, will be brief but stunning with some of the most amazing faces.

Friday, March 22, 2013


Tibetan landscape just outside the airport in Lhasa

Yesterday was my birthday.  To celebrate, I am (finally!) sharing pictures from my travels in Tibet (see other photos in the Asia Tea Tour category).  I had meant to get this post up yesterday, but I was too busy being distracted by black flowers from my sister.  ;-)  It was the big 4-0.

I hope you enjoy these photos over the next few posts. Coming soon will be the Potala Palace and Tibetan yak butter tea, among other things.

Cans of oxygen were provided in our hotel room because many people suffer from altitude sickness.  I didn't get ill, but I certainly felt the impact of being so high.  "But I've been over the Rockies and I was fine," you might say.  It was explained to me like's one thing to drive up and over a high pass.  You would be at high elevation for a short period, and you're not being very physically active.  It's another thing entirely to stay at high elevation for a few days and exert yourself (e.g., climbing the steps of the Potala Palace).  

We flew directly into Lhasa with no slow acclimation and on the advice of physicians, most of us took anti-altitude sickness pills.  I'm glad I did!  Lhasa is at 11, 450 feet, one of the highest cities in the world, and we only went higher from there.  It was interesting - our tour guide was very insistent that we not shower the first night.  I experienced the altitude like having an extra downward push from gravity.  I felt a little short of breath and heavy. A few in our party had severe headaches and some nausea, but fortunately none required medical intervention.   

The politics of Tibet are complicated.  China governs Tibet as an autonomous region.  Prior to China's annex of Tibet in 1959, the Tibetans had for a long time used a theocratic arrangement, governed both spiritually and administratively by the Dalai Lama.  In 1959, The Dalai Lama fled from China and set up the Central Tibetan Administration, based in India.  It serves as a governmental arm and indicates that it will dissolve once "freedom is restored in Tibet" and allow for a secular government formed by Tibetans inside of the country.   

I don't pretend to understand these politics.  Nonetheless, it felt very much occupied to me.  Chinese police presence was very noticeable (photo above).  Our native Tibetan tour guide stressed that we must always keep our passports with us and not take photos of police.  (Oops,  I got that shot in before I knew better.)  He also requested that we ask questions about politics and government only while we were on the bus, to protect his job security.
The photo above shows the mix of modern technology with traditional culture.  Married women traditionally wear the striped aprons. 

We visited the Dreprung Monastery, the largest in Tibet.  I will share more photos from inside the monastery soon.

On the way up to the monastery, we saw this man drying local herbs and prayer wheels.

We were welcome to say a prayer while turning the wheels.  The turning aids focus and reflection.  It was an intense moment for me.  I remember praying for peace, peace, peace.
The types of people visiting the monastery ranged from these traditionally-dressed women...

To these young men.  The photo below is one of my favorites.  I loved the young men's hair and modern style in the context of ancient traditions.  They brought offerings of yak oil and money.

By the way, a back story to all of this spiritual and cultural learning was our tour group's hedonistic delight in finding chocolate!  Through all of China,  I saw only peanut M&Ms.  We stocked up here!

More soon!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Celebrating at Chariteas

 I had the joy of visiting Chariteas (Sandy, OR) recently, with two special people...

My mom (above)
Marilyn (Delights of the Heart)

It was a day to celebrate!  Spring burst forth in glorious flower, and both Marilyn and I have March birthdays.  We shared stories of Spring and family as we sipped delicious cups of tea.  Our repast included fresh salads, cucumber, chicken salad and salmon sandwiches, scones with whipped cream, and a lovely assortment of desserts including green tea chiffon cake.  Special thanks to the staff of Chariteas for adding the candles, and their big smiles.  ;-)

Chariteas is a sweet spot indeed.  One way that I evaluate a tea room is by the temperature of the water for tea.  This one got it right!  I would have expected nothing less, as the owner Charity has an extensive knowledge of tea.  She has traveled to China to learn about teas and meet tea farmers.  She'll even host a Chinese-style tea tasting for you (please call in advance). It's always nice to meet a tea room's proprietor.  I enjoy hearing stories about the business.  I look forward to learning more about Chariteas.

The sun shone upon us on this lovely March day and I absorbed the warmth of friendship and family.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Bit of Green

A beautiful tea tray and hospitality from a friend

My Mom's been visiting, yay!!  We called upon a friend and she made us feel very welcome with this lovely and festive tea tray. We enjoyed cups of Murchie's Prince Charles blend, and good conversation.

A bit of green brightens the day, don't you think?  Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Guinness with Your Tea

Guinness Soda Bread Scones, and other delectables

It was tea-times-two on Saturday!  A friend joined me for a tea party at my home before heading to our Japanese Tea Ceremony class, where she was the guest instructor on kimono dressing.

With a nod toward St. Pat's, I served the following.  All of these were vegan, except for the salmon and the macarons.  (I've had a nasty respiratory virus and am off dairy.)

  • Blood Orange sandwich - This time, I used vegan cream cheese, blood orange rind, a drop of vanilla and a drop of orange extract
  • Smoked salmon on rosemary butter (vegan spread) 
  • Sprouts (made by the DH) on rosemary butter (vegan spread)
Scones:  Guinness Soda Bread Scones These were a big hit!  To make them vegan:
  • Use 4 Tbsp of vegan margarine
  • Use 1/4 cup of nondairy milk with 2 Tbsp vinegar to curdle it
  • Use agave or sugar instead of honey
  • I started with 1/4 cup of Guinness and added 3 Tbsp.  This kept the dough firm enough that I could cut out shapes.
  • This version is just as good as the won't notice the difference.
  • PS - It just occurred to me, after I'd posted this, to check if Guinness is vegan. Technically, it's not.  If this is a concern for you, read more here.
  • Dates stuffed with pecan
  • French macarons from a local bakery
  • Fresh Strawberries!  I'm so happy because I wait for the CA ones each spring.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Women of Tea (International Women's Day)

Tea Fields in Darjeeling, India

Today is International Women's Day, and I thought I'd share some photos of the Women of Tea that I've had the privilege of meeting in my tea travels.  The tea world is built upon the contributions of strong and skilled womenThese photos make me feel inspired, grateful and humbled.   
Yellow Tea Farm, China

I am so honored because a few of you have asked me to develop a series of notecards related to my photos of women of tea, to offer for sale.  I've given that request lots of thought, and I'm very grateful for the encouragement!  I've decided to approach this in a novel way.  (I'm not comfortable making a personal profit off of the likenesses of these women.)  However, I've got some ideas may take me awhile, but stay tuned! 
The grand dame of the yellow tea factory

Will she grow up and decide to stay in the tea business?  This is a complex question. 

 Making Tibetan Tea

 Sorting Pu-Erh Tea, China

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Meet Buddy, My Tea Pet


Meet Buddy.  He's my tea pet.  He reigns over my tea tray when I'm brewing Gong Fu style.  From time to time, I will anoint him with hot tea, and he loves that.  Buddy is an Ox (my Chinese astrological sign).  He enjoys listening to the laughter of those sipping tea.  If we're sad, he'll quietly bear witness.  He's a faithful friend and doesn't mind what type of tea we drink (or don't drink).  His sweet, happy little face never fails to make me smile.

I found Buddy at New Century Teas in Seattle.  My blogging friend Brett inspired this post.  Check out his blog for a picture of several different types of tea pets.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

A Japanese-Themed Tea Luncheon

Last week, I had the honor of hosting several women colleagues in my home for a tea luncheon.  Given my interest in all things Japanese these days, I decided to provide a Japanese-themed lunch.  New territory for me!

I used a combination of my own disheware with some items borrowed from a very generous tea friend (thank you JE!).  She also provided several Japanese cookbooks and suggestions of menus.  

We started with yuzu spritzers, made from club soda and yuzu syrup.  Then we moved onto lunch.  We enjoyed green beans that had been blanched and dressed with a mixture of soy sauce, sesame oil and agave (I made this one up) and sprinkled with sesame seeds and seaweed.  I purchased a few rolls (California, avocado and cucumber) from the sushi shop down the street. I kept these vegetarian and cooked (the California roll is cooked crab meat) because not everyone loves raw fish. 

I also made Japanese pickles, and I was delighted with these!  We'll definitely be keeping these around in my household. These are better know as "refrigerator pickles" by my Grandmother, meaning they're fresh and not heat-processed.  The pickling solution includes sugar, white vinegar, water and mirin (a cooking sake).

For dessert, I gave my friends a chance to try mochi.  These sweets had a chunk of strawberry in the center, wrapped in red bean paste and covered with a sweet rice flour dough.  They're chewy and sticky and I like them.  My friends were all very good sports!  (We also had Rice Krispy treats.)
I very much enjoyed the planning of the event, and of course spending time with my friends!  Interestingly, much of this menu is vegan and gluten-free.