The human-sized ceramic figure that was being unboxed during my last visit to the Asian goods megastore Wing Hop Fung could not be the Tea Sage Lu Yu (733–804) because the symbolic article half-hidden under the robe was clearly a barrel, not a teapot. Remembering too little about those illustrious personalities whose biographies were mandatory readings in school, I asked the store associate, “Who is he?” “Li Bai.” Yes, the famous Tang Dynasty (618–907) poet Li Bai (李白) (701–762) was known to enjoy his wine to the extent that he would definitely be deemed an alcoholic by today’s standards. A highly improbable legend states that the intoxicated Li Bai drowned after falling from his boat while attempting to embrace the moon’s reflection in the Yangtze River.
During a SoCal vacation, in addition to sauntering through must-visit destinations such as the Huntington’s magnificent gardens, tea enthusiasts could arrange a side excursion to Wing Hop Fung where they will find not only great selection of teas and tea ware but also delicacies such as ginseng, edible bird’s nest, dried scallops and sea cucumber, myriad models of rice cookers and thermos, and as mentioned in majority of Wing Hop Fung’s Yelp reviews, a state-of-art wine cellar. The store also showcases two or three Tea Sage Lu Yu statues, in different sizes and postures.
My friend Regina and I sampled two white teas at Wing Hop Fung’s Spring Tea Tasting event last month. We picked the teas and the store associate brewed them for us. My purchase of the day was an organic peony white tea, also known as Bai Mu Dan (白牡丹), produced not in China’s Fujian Province, but in Yunnan Province.
Did Li Bai lament about tea at all in any of his 900-plus poems? I doubt it. One of his most famous seven-character, four-line verses, Setting Out Early From BaiDi City (早發白帝城), was beautifully recited and translated via this YouTube video.
Due to the construction of the Three Gorges Dam, BaiDi City is now partially submerged; in other words, those of us who have not been to this historical site will never, ever have the opportunity to re-trace Li Bai’s steps, let alone the sentimental journey.