Drinking this 2000 Sheng Puer that was the $1 sample of the month from Gingko of Life in Teacup reminds me of the memorable several few days last fall I spent couchsurfing with my instant-friends Dutch hosts in Taichung.  Max, one half of that couple, was a young guy I had loads in common with, and perhaps one of the only people I’ve met more precocious than me.  We’re both tea nuts, and hit it off right away about The Leaf, as well as a mutual interest in all things Eastern philosophy and playing guitar.  I am used to spending the majority of my time with people 10-15 years older than me (or more), yet it still surprises me when I encounter someone who’s in the same mindset..because, well, it’s unusual.  I was high on Taiwanese high mountain oolongs that were swimming all around me, yet Max was, amazingly, pretty much passing them all up for the Sheng Puer cakes he’d picked up while in Yunnan with his traveling-life partner, Celeste.

So, we spent late nights drinking his limitless, ethereal puers, surrounded by conversation and jam sessions.  It’s funny, because when I first drank puer, I’m sure I wasn’t drinking great quality stuff, and I think my idea of puer was probably mainly of the “ripe” variety (熟); I remember describing it to people at that time as “kind of like drinking dirt.”  But refined dirt.  (On a related note, Cher today said that my sample of 2009 Shou Mei looked like “yard clippings.”)

Now I would never describe puer in those terms, at least not the good stuff I like to drink when I do drink it. Puer of  this quality and this variety is much more like green tea–but deeper.  More like wild green tea.  For nomads.

Anyhow, the cakes we drank in Max and Celeste’s apartment, overlooking the busy 台中港路 (Taichung Port/Harbor road), were of this type–ethereal, smooth, kind of just floating there, around you, but not of the same intense energy like the 1996 butterfly tuo I wrote about previously.  Normally I don’t drink tea within a few hours of bedtime, but with these, it’s more that they just flow with you and through you at any time, so it felt OK.  On this point, I think it is interesting what the things we consume/the nature of our palates say about us, and tea is as good a barometer as any.  While attempting to proselytize the Black Dragon bible to Max, he said to me, “Oolong makes you feel up, but Puer is grounding.”  And I’ve thought about that.  There’s a certain amount of truth to that.  At the age of 22, Max had already arrived at Bill Porter-esque proportions of calm austerity and simplicity.  The other thing I remember, is that he left The Netherlands at the age of 16 to play with his favorite band in L.A., and while playing with that group, he was told at one point, by some dude, “When you can play just one chord for the whole set, then you’re good.”

I can also appreciate that.  “Stay on the same step,” to quote Paul Gardner sensei replying to the quote I threw at him from Shunryu Suzuki some years back talking about not climbing the ladder.  That being said, we each have our elements and styles that we have to identify with that help us grow and reach our full potential.  I think Blues suits Max while I’m more aligned with Jazz.  Miles Davis could amp on one chord for a whole song–hell, he could amp on one or two notes for a whole song and make it sound good.  Part of why I consider him one of the greatest, despite that he was a colossal jerk, by all reports.

I’m remembering now, the loud, clanging Buddhist trucks driving down the road, early in the morning, my random and serendipitous outings with Wai, the intense sun and manicured campus of 東海大學 reminding me ever so much of Southern California, eerily, (and the dairy farm), wandering through the streets towards nowhere in particular and realtors coming out of their office just to talk to us because so little goes on there, arriving at night on the high speed rail and everyone in the connecting bus line turning in the same direction at once to hear someone cough loudly, the feeling of epicness of the jazz festival in the main park square, like I had arrived somewhere, at something, even though it was an anomaly, the gorgeous Vietnamese girl with impeccable movements of grace that sat down across the room from us in the empty, dumpy restaurant at midday, as we ate our Pho with squid tentacles, the man who came up to me in the veranda in the park and started talking to me about martial arts when he saw me doing some Wing Chun with Wai (but was much more interested in my knowledge of Aikido).  Some places are best just to visit once.

I think I’m just starting to synthesize things, 10 weeks back.  This is good.  I want to write a lot more.