At the back of the hill

Warning: If you stay here long enough you will gain weight! Grazing here strongly suggests that you are either omnivorous, or a glutton. And you might like cheese-doodles.
BTW: I'm presently searching for another person who likes cheese-doodles.
Please form a caseophilic line to the right. Thank you.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


While browsing among the dried scallops, a gentleman who could not read the labels asked me what those things were. He was accompanied by his wife and his son, and neither of them had the appearance of people who could read the labels either.
Seeing as the labels were entirely in Chinese.

Thirty minutes later they left the store with a half pound of top quality moorland chrysanthemums (dried), prize pu-erh tea, a bag of lou hon gwo (羅漢果), some salve for sore joints, and pleased smiles of discovery on their faces.


Chrysanthemum flower tea is reputed to be good for smokers, pu-erh tea (普洱茶 ) aids the digestion and benefits from combination with chrysanthemum, and lou hon gwo is good for what ails you.

I've always liked snuffling around stores that sell medicinal herbs, tea, and dried "sea flavour", and there are a number of shops in Chinatown that cater entirely to people who know what all those items are. By which descriptive you will understand of course that that means mostly non-westerners. The shopkeepers generally assume that non-Chinese are completely ignorant, and that furthermore explaining what the stuff is, how it's used, and why you should buy this and not that, will take far too much time and way more command of the English language than they themselves possess, without yielding any satisfaction for the time and effort required.

Largely that point of view is entirely correct.

A few years ago I passed hundreds of hours at a store on Grant Avenue carefully writing down all the labels of a multitude of products, then going home and looking up the words and researching the ingredients. It was time well spent, and I'm still grateful to the shop owner and his staff for their extraordinary patience.

They also sold tea. Many general herb stores do the same, whereas medical herbalists may have extracts, patent remedies, bottled concentrates and tonics, around three hundred or so commonly used medical herbs for compounding in standard remedies, and a qualified Chinese doctor on the premises.
General herb stores will be somewhat more exposed to non-Chinese than the medical herbalists, and by-and-large have a better idea of what outsiders may want to buy.
Still, catering to the barbarians is largely a waste of time.
So much to explain, so little comprehension.
And there are so many of them!

Most casual browsers are intrigued by an enormous selection of green and semi-fermented teas that range between sixteen and one hundred and sixty dollars per pound, but the gentleman behind the counter will not be able to explain the difference, as he relies on your keenly honed nose to tell you everything you need to know. And the visitor, usually possessed of a totally innocent proboscis, won't have a clue what they are sniffing, it looks green, and why on earth should they spend that amount of money on something that the supermarket sells them in English for three bucks a box?

A small number of people are willing to experiment. Once they've purchased a few things, they start coming back, and veer sideways into other varieties and different products. Curiosity, patience, little bit of research, asking the right questions, plus visiting the library and Wikipedia, eventually pays off, and their lives are enriched.
The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.
Moving your feet is entirely up to you.
Wanna take a walk?

You'll probably enjoy the stroll, and there are flowers and butterflies to sniff along the way.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.



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