Friday, September 25, 2009

A Starbucks teahouse

Been looking for a Suzhou-style teahouse upon arrival.

Shouldn't be too difficult. As Suzhou is renowned for its teahouse culture. Have been dreaming about sitting in a traditional teahouse with wooden panel doors carved with beautiful patterns and sunshine pouring into the teahouse through these doors and windows, creating patterns of shadows on the floor; sitting back on those traditional bamboo or wooden chairs...

To my dismay, it is certainly ten times easier to find cafes than teahouses! It was only after a long relentless walk and search that I finally found one--a franchise some more--meaning it is not unique to Suzhou but a product of mass production.

I like the decor of the teahouse though, thoughtfully decorated with duplicates of (Chinese) ornaments and bits and parts of Suzhou old houses. There is a drum stone (usually found at the sides of the front doors of the traditional Chinese old houses), a duplicate of an arch stone bridge (which Suzhou is renowned for), decorative panels of wooden doors (ancient panel doors were usually carved with a lot of motiffs), bronze door knobs (ancient style, those with huge rings to be used to knock against the doors) has a nice ambience. Each sitting area is separated either by a curtain or a screen for privacy. Nice thought.

There is a free flow of hot water for the tea that you ordered and FREE flow of food. There is a kitchen that is always churning out food. You can place order for a dish or the waitress/es will carry trays of food that is freshly prepared from the kitchen and serve them round. It is not a wonder to find the patrons at the teahouse twice the size of a typical Chinese. There was a table next to us who were always sweeping all the food off the trays whenever the waitress/es come around and I caught them having a siesta on their tables when we first came in. There is no restriction of time apparently.

According to its brochure, this teahouse has outlets all over China and prides itself as the representative of the tea culture in China, just like Starbucks for coffee culture. I almost spat out my tea, for two reasons: one, Starbucks is an icon of coffee culture (probably the culture of drinking coffee but definitely not a culture of drinking good coffee); two, a Chinese teahouse equating itself with a Western symbol.

Seriously, I will not be surprised that ten years or so down the road, in China, the Chinese will only be speaking English among themselves and that Mandarin will be redundant among themselves.