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www.zidao.com Apprentice harmonizer, for sheer fun. Journeywoman writer, for work and pleasure. Starting point was Iowa, current stopping point on this journey is Switzerland, with frequent pauses around the world to watch and listen to the crowd, and occasionally make comments.

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Saturday, February 11, 2006

Digital time capsules (4)



The China behind my china

tea basket, circa 1980, China

If there was one place that epitomized "exotic" when I was growing up, it was China. Huge, distant, untouchable, shrouded in centuries of mystery and obscurity, dressed in brocades and heavy silks in rich hues - this was a place of the imagination. I never expected to go there.

Even in 1983, when I lived in Paris and was discovering that once-exotic France had a normal-life side to it, China was still a land beyond the pale. My friends Tom and Maggie gave me a teapot and two small cups in a wicker basket, a present that I found so charming I promptly doubled my tea intake, just to use it. It was made in China, and it sat on my Paris balcony in the 6th arrondissement, on a marbletop bistro table. I sipped green tea and looked out over the Luxembourg Gardens at the belfry of St. Sulpice, occasionally wondering about the people who had made the little cups and padded the teapot, which seemed such an ingenious way of keeping tea hot.

In 1985 I spent three months crossing China on a bicycle, much of the time in areas closed to foreigners (but no one thought to stop a bicycle), and I saw simple teapots and magnificent ones. I drank tea off and on all day with Nick, who became my husband two years later - but I never saw a wicker tea holder like this one, and I often wondered who had made it, in what part of China? Had he, or she, known that it would live in Paris, on a balcony with old church bells chiming the hours? Was Paris a place people in the Chinese village had heard of?

The tea basket moved to Switzerland and lost its lid, I saw less of Tom and Maggie, I visited China again and wrote a book about it. I hope the Chinese people who made the basket had their one child (no more allowed during that era) and that the child grew up happily into the world of a newer, less exotic China. Perhaps this child is now an adult and will visit Paris this year - maybe even Switzerland. Exotic places, from a Chinese perspective.

I like to think this is possible, and that the cups of tea I drank so many years ago contributed in some small way to China's introductory bow to the rest of the world.

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