Sunday, November 8, 2009

Hello, Ni-hao, Bonjour, Konnichiwa, and all that Jazz

I'm finding that I am unable to do much more than give brief notes on what I'm tasting these days. I remember having a conversation with Scott Wilson some months back about teas and he told me that talking tea is very different in English than it is in Chinese. He said he can describe it in ways that lack comparison in the American tongue. It makes me interested to start writing in other languages again. I'd be curious to hear the input of anyone who reads and/or writes in a multilingual capacity already.

I've always been fascinated by the contrast between literal and figurative translation. For example, in French, one might say "avoir de l'oseille" to say someone has money. Avoir have. L'oseille....sorrel. Sorrel is an herb used in salads. Lettuce? Ever heard anyone refer to money as lettuce? It's American slang for paper money. Coincidence? Possibly, but I doubt it. Lets take one that is a bit less literal. To see yourself getting angry. Americans might say something to illustrate the way a person's face and ears become red when angered. A common saying in french is (and correct me if my sentence structure is incorrect as it's been a few years since I studied the language fervently) "avoir la moutarde qui monte jusqu'au nez." This translates literally to having mustard going up one's nose; a concept that makes sense to anyone who has ever had too much wasabi or spicy mustard. Even then, I have still never heard it used to describe anger in English.

In English, the word for body is always the same. Body of a car, body of water, human body, and so on. In Japanese, there is a different word for each, but all translate to body. What I was told is that the reason for this is that certain words have a greater level of cultural importance. Just how there might not be a literal translation to English for concepts and ideas that don't exist in Western society.

The closest translation for Tao is "the way," but again, almost all the authors and translators of Lao Tsu's Tao te Ching stress the importance that the true meaning behind Tao is something more.

I could go on all day long about these parallels, yet I am still stumped to jot down the detailed notes about the mellon flavours, mushroom, huigan, camphor, cha qi, and whatever other terms used to describe the mysterious characteristics of pu-erh tea.

Perhaps a fresh perspective on how I write and how I enjoy my tea could be beneficial. Perhaps just learning to enjoy it for what it is will be the greatest lesson of all.

It's getting colder and the nights are consuming more and more of each passing day. I'll be starting school here in a few short weeks and slowing down will not be a viable option.

My friend Bryan just gave me a Dayi sipping cup that reads simply


For now, those words are plenty enough for me.

1 comment:

tieguanyin said...

Hey Jamus,

Cool post. Being a native speaker of French and having dabbled in other languages, your comments are well taken (good job on the French stuff =D).

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend who is from Mainland China. I was asking her some questions on the basic flavors referenced in Chinese language and also used when describing tea (sour, sweet, spicy, etc,...). She started teaching me a sequence to say them in order to remember them (mnemonic device?) and another string of words in Chinese (which escapes me at the moment).

The upshot was when one took these two string of words together, the meaning was something along the lines of: knowing the basic flavors is important because they can also describe different experiences one can have in life. Remembering them is important as memories gives meaning to one's life. Know the past in order to go forward?

I know, I know, this is a little esoteric. My thoughts are that tea is an expression of the country (and culture) from where it is from. This can lead to interesting cross-pollination when combined with another country's specialty. I have seen folks in the French speaking tea world use wine terminology to describe tea. At the end of the day, it is all good!!!

Have a good tea =D,