The Tea Cup from Lijiang
Today I found many back alleys that I missed yesterday. One led me off the tourist track and through narrower streets filled by artisans, rather than trinket shops. One vine enveloped store beckoned; it looked dark and secretive and inviting with it’s Tibetan silver ornamentation and shocks of color among a warmly lit store. Everything was handcrafted and quite expensive, but absolutely exquisitely beautiful! The shopkeeper and his wife said hello, but then pretty much left me alone, until he asked me to join him for tea. He had been sitting, as is customary of the shopkeepers I have observed in the village, at a tea table, patiently waiting.
After a few minutes circumnavigating the tiny, very-filled space, he offered me tea. I accepted and joined him at the table. I sat on a low, handcarved stool, instead of on the bench covered with soft tiger fur. Yes, it was real tiger fur, and real soft: I petted it to see. Before his offer of cha (tea), I’d had my eye and hands on this beautiful handcrafted tea cup that was way out of my price range. I drank a cup of weak tea, had a short, surface conversation via translator app, thanked him, and continued perusing the store. After a while, I kept returning to the cup. Knowing the bargaining nature of the shops here, I gave in to my cup-coveting and asked him the price. And there it went. The way this works is the price on the item isn’t the real price. I discovered this in every shop I visited: you ask the price, they get a calculator and discount the price, showing you a total. From there, I believe you bargain more or accept it. Sometimes if the price is too high, they will think you are playing hard to get and drop the price even further. This is somewhat maddening. Even at 50% discounted price, the cup was too expensive—more of a collector’s item or display piece than the fancy tea cup I was seeking out. I shook my head no, expressing in English it was too pricey for me. That was at $300US. He thought I was bargaining and took the price down further, to 1200 Yuan. I could not, just could not spend nearly $200US on a tea cup, no matter how beautiful, ornate, special, amazing, or handcrafted. There was a conversation going on my head, rationalizing the purchase: it was a set of two and not just one cup, how often would I find craftwork like this, it would serves as a beautiful keepsake item for years, I really wanted a beautiful tea cup, a beautiful cup is part of the tea ritual, and so forth. The voice of influence won: I offered a lower price and he accepted. After my purchase, he offered more tea. We sat and chatted again, via the app.
Everything in the store was made in Tibet and he hailed from Shangri-La, having owned the store for 28 years. The artisan-quality of the jewelry, idols, decor, and everything was like none I have ever seen. The metal work especially was jaw-dropping in its intricacy.
We communicated via our translator apps with the standard fare of where are you from/what do you do type of conversation. His wife (I presume) sat near the counter, moving her prayer beads through her fingers and gazing at a computer screen. The man, near my age, with a pleasantly handsome and open face, translated our conversation to his wife as it went on. We chatted a little while and he told me about his visits to Tibet to get the items he sold in the store. He also explained my cups are those used by the wealthy “prince” of some area of Tibet.
I departed, feeling both giddy with my purchase in my backpack and disbelief at the amount I had just spent to drink tea. Well, considering the amount I spent on Rock Cliff Oolong last month at the tea expo, I do need a very good cup from which to drink my very expensive tea. Aftter walking past a few stores, I stopped to reorganize my backpack and place my tea cups at the bottom and my purse on top. My purse containing 700yuan and my passport had instantly dropped in value next to these cups. You’ll just have to guess what I spent!
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Gina The Great in the country of The Great Wall!