Monday, October 27, 2014


At lunch around late-afternoon I ate a little more than I had intended.
A basket of open pork dumplings , a small saucer of black bean sauce spareribs and a steamed northern style bun, plus a couple of sesame balls filled with red bean paste. Then I lit up a pipe and spent a while wandering around -- past the volley ball court next to Hang Ah Alley, down to the First Chinese baptist Church on the corner of Waverly and Sacramento, then finally over to Portsmouth Square -- before returning home.
Suffice to say I am still a wee bit bloated.

Really shouldn't eat so much.

[Open pork dumplings: 豬肉燒賣 'chu yiuk siu mai'; minced pork in a pasta cup, steamed. Black bean sauce spareribs: 豉汁蒸排骨 'si jap jing pai gwat'; chopped spareribs with a little garlic, ginger, and mashed salted black beans for a savoury touch, steamed till done in a shallow bowl. Steamed northern style bun: 饅頭 'maan tau'; A plain wheat dough steamed bun which many Mandarin speakers customarily eat in lieu of rice. Sesame balls: 煎堆 'jin deui'; a glutinous rice dough ball with a yummy filling, rolled in sesame seeds and deep fried. Red bean paste: 紅豆沙 'hong dau saa'; adzuki bean mashed with sugar and oil, rather like a distant relative of marzipan, used for sweets.]

The place where I ate is a hole-in-the-wall, but it's a friendly local food-stop. Cheap, clean, good. Honest people who work hard, make decent food, and provide a welcoming place to sit down and eat. They also do three extremely affordable plate lunches (steamed chicken, or spareribs, or pork cake, with a mound of rice, a serving of veggies, and a bowl of old fire soup (老火湯 'lou fo tong') for four bucks; five with coffee or tea.
Very limited seating, because it is a small place.
I go there three or four times a month.
Though it is small, it is great.
It's just like home.

815 Stockton Street
San Francisco, CA 94108

I have a taste for their food, and I enjoy being treated like a human being. They're very decent folks. Lunch was a pleasure. So was the smoke afterwards: McClelland's No. 24 Virginia, a seven year old vintage, puffed contemplatively in a Charatan.

As I mentioned, still a little plump.

So I've fixed myself some strong hairy crab king in a purple sand pot that has a bamboo motif.

[Hairy crab king: 毛蟹王茶 'mou haai wong chaa'; a mild Oolong-style tea from Anxi (安溪 'on kai') in Fujian, which is possessed of a delightful fragrance (清清香香的花味 'ching ching heung heung dik faa mei'). Purple sand pot: 紫砂壺 'ji saa wu'; a tiny teapot made of i-Hsing clay (宜興坭 'yi hing nei'). Such products are stone-ware fired, around twelve hundred degrees Celsius in an oxidizing atmosphere. Bamboo motif: 竹形 'juk ying'; I-Hsing teapots are often decoratively shaped or incised, this particular one is a textured squatty globe with sculpted spout, handle, and lid-knob. I have a number of similar pots which are short and round of body, with bamboo-shaped handles and spouts, and a bamboo leaf or knob finials. 紫砂竹形茶壺: 'ji saa juk ying chaa wu'. They all make lovely tea.]

And consequently I am wired to the tits.
Just about oscillating so hepped.
Splendid, forsooth!

Now, you might think that one small pot of tea cannot possibly achieve that, unless it's some potent leaf. But if you are familiar with "mastered effort tea" (功夫茶 'gung fu chaa'), you will have realized that I filled the pot over three quarters full of hairy crab, and have added hot water several times after the first cleansing wash.
I am on my fifth bowl right now. Washing the leaves rinsed off dust and fragments, and opened the leaves. The first real steeping was slightly more than a minute, each subsequent steeping a little longer than the last. All of them tasted different, but the underlying fruitiness of the furry crustacean despot comes through as a signatory quality. It is a beautiful evening that glows intensely golden, with mild vibrating at the edges of sight.
My mind and my senses are awake, with great clarity.

Yep. Entirely and totally whacked.
Zipped to the eye-balls.
This is good.


Purple sand teapots have been a happy factor for over half of my life, even when I was dirt-poor and living in North Beach. At present I own about thirty of them (some are boxed away, don't know how many), and aside from the bamboo motif items there is also a little lobed squash with leaves curling cunningly around the body, a flat inscribed flying saucer shape, and, deserving of particular mention, a large pot in the shape of an archaic bronze rice weight, with seal-script calligraphy on one side.

The so-called purple sand clay from Yixing has been used for tea utensils for nearly ten centuries now, with the oldest surviving examples in museums dated back to the late Ming. Understandably, utilitarian objects made of a breakable material do not have great survivability.

By the middle of the Ching dynasty period, many scholar-literati developed a fondness for them, having noted their unique aesthetic and charm, and having discovered that a well-made pot absorbed both flavour and colour over several years of use, to the point where an empty pot would still echo the fragrance of previous brews.

There are actually three particular types of Yi Xing clay to mention, namely "purple sand" (紫砂 'ji saa'), which yields a purple potting clay (紫泥 'ji nei'); "crimson sand" (朱砂 'jyu saa'), which elsewhere is the term for mercury sulphide (cinnabar) but in this context refers to a soil stratum with an extraordinarily high iron oxide content; and "tempered clay" (鍛泥 'duen nei'), coloured with minerals for a varied range of effects.
What sets the types apart initially is the iron.
That is what makes it "purple sand".

The finest potting material results from crushing and grinding or milling the mined clay, then meticulously sifting it to a minutely fine grit. It is then moistened, kneaded, pressed -- nowadays a vacuum process is used to remove air -- and rested, after which it is further graded before it finally ends up in the hands of a master potter. Such clay is seldom if ever turned on a wheel; instead it is shaped by hand, smoothed, carved and molded with tools, then finally dried before firing.

Perfect clay, fired at a higher temperature, yields vessels with a clear ring when tapped. Low quality wares will sound dull or tinny instead, and are often thicker-walled to compensate for their lack of material integrity and strength.

[As an indication of particularity, before spending any money on such a teapot one must feel the inside rim of the mouth for roughness or sharp edges, and the inner surface for unevenness. The interior should be inspected for irregular scrape marks where tools were used inexpertly, the hole or holes to the spout should be well-made and not ragged. Tap the pot, and also weigh it in the hand. Lastly try it out with plain water; it must pour in an even stream without any hindrance, not drip or drool. A well-made pot does not have teeth that collect remnants, nor inordinate weight for its capacity.]

Yes, these things are collectible. Yet despite the ridiculously high prices for prize pieces, one can truly doubt that a rich vulgarian has sufficient subtlety or discernment to exemplify the "quaint elegance" (古樸雅趣 'gu-pok ngaa ceui') that "hallmarks the literati eye" (文人藝術的眼光 'man-yan ngaai-sut dik ngaan-gwong').

In key ways, a good teapot is like a good person.
It should have the same characteristics.
Honesty, decency, integrity.


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