The China Tea Book by Luo Jialin

Looking for an informative, yet beautiful picture book to show off your obsession with tea? Look no further.

3/5 stars.
Hardcover, 220 pages.
Read from May 26 to June 01, 2016.

This is another book I picked up to try and learn a bit more about about the culture that I’m currently living in. I also have an obsession with tea so it was a good pairing.

The book is full of beautiful pictures of tea farms and ceremonies as well as anything you’ve ever wanted to know about tea. From the different types, how it’s farmed and processed, to how long to steep it, tasting etiquette as well as any cultural and historical connections with the tea in relation to China. It also briefly goes over the difference between a Chinese tea ceremony versus a Japanese ceremony.

Here are some cool tea facts that I learned:

– The Japanese tea ceremony is more about the ceremony and the actions performed, whereas the Chinese one focuses very much on the tea itself rather than meticulous actions. It may seem less extravagant than the Japanese version but it is just as important to Chinese culture.

– Black and green tea can be made from the same leaves. The difference is that black tea is fermented, whereas green tea is not.

– Green tea is often compared to youth, as it is not fermented and the leaves are still pretty fresh in some types, whereas black or oolong tea is compared to middle age as it is moderately fermented, and pureh tea to older age as this tea is extremely fermented and usually appeals to people with an older palate.

– Different types of tea are classified and named based on the location that it’s grown and farmed in, as well as the way that they are rolled, or not rolled, or fermented or not fermented.

– Proper loose tea leaves can be brewed numerous times. In fact, the first brew is often considered the worst and many will dump out the first batch.

– “During the Sui Dynasty (581-618), tea was used for its medicinal qualities. In the fourth and fifth centuries, rice, salt, spices, ginger and orange peel, among other ingredients, were added to tea. In the Tang Dynasty (618-907), tea drinking became an art form and a drink enjoyed by all social classes“. – China.org

– “Tea became a popular drink in Buddhist monasteries after the caffeine proved to keep the monks awake during long hours of meditation. For this reason, many monasteries cultivated vast tea fields. Lu Yu (Chinese: 陆羽), author of “The Book of Tea”, was an orphan brought up and educated in a monastery. It is likely that his experience growing up surrounded by tea inspired his book written during the Tang Dynasty. In “The Book of Tea”, Lu Yu recorded a detailed account of ways to cultivate and prepare tea, tea drinking customs, the best water for tea brewing and different classifications of tea.” – China.org

– While tea can be brewed in any tea pot, some types of pots favor different types of teas better. The most popular and also the most expensive is the purple yixing clay tea pots. They can go for hundreds to thousands of dollars.

– Tea is still a prominent part of Chinese culture. While there aren’t as many tea houses around as there was, groups of Chinese people will meet at these beautiful locations to drink tea and socialize.

– Tea and gardens go hand and hand. Many tea houses are set in beautiful gardens.

– Tea became a major currency for trade outside of China. The old tea routes are some of the oldest in the world and still exist today.

This book was surprisingly easy to read and really interesting. I am very interested in learning more! Overall this is the perfect coffee table book for any tea lover.

The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh

3/5 stars.
Hardcover, 294 pages.
Read from May 24 to 31, 2016.

Informative but also insightful, this book is a great place to get the basics of Buddhism and how to apply his teachings in your everyday life.

Out of mere curiosity, I wanted to learn some of the basics of Buddhism since I’m living in Asia. After a few Google searches, this book kept coming up to I decided to snag it from my local library.

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese monk who joined the monastery at the age of sixteen. He currently resides in France and is a very active writer and spokesperson for Buddhism. He is often considered one of the most influential Buddhists of our time.

What I learned from this book is that there is more than one sect of Buddhism:

  • “Theravada, the most ancient form of Buddhism, is the dominant school in Southeast Asia (Thailand, Myanmar/Burma, Cambodia, and Laos). Its name translates to “Doctrine of the Elders,” and it centers around the Pali scriptures, transcribed from the oral tradition taught by the Buddha. By studying these ancient texts, meditating, and following the eightfold path, Theravada Buddhists believe they will achieve Enlightenment.”
  • “Mahayana Buddhism developed out of the Theravada tradition roughly 500 years after the Buddha attained Enlightenment. A number of individual schools and traditions have formed under the banner of Mahayana, including Zen Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Pure Land Buddhism, and Tantric Buddhism. Mahayana Buddhism focuses on the idea of compassion and touts bodhisattvas, which are beings that work out of compassion to liberate other sentient beings from their suffering, as central devotional figures.”
  • “Vajrayana was last of the three ancient forms to develop, and provides a quicker path to Enlightenment than either the Theravada or Mahayana schools. They believe that the physical has an effect on the spiritual and that the spiritual, in turn, affects the physical.”  
  • “Zen Buddhism is said to have originated in China with the teachings of the monk Bodhidharma. Zen Buddhism treats zazen meditation and daily practice as essential for attaining Enlightenment, and deemphasizes the rigorous study of scripture.”

Source: http://bit.ly/29U8Rj2

Here’s a run down of the basics of Buddhism, in which is common to all of areas Buddhism.

The Four Noble Truths:

 

1. The truth of suffering (dukkha)

2. The truth of the cause of suffering (samudaya)

The First Truth identifies the presence of suffering. The Second Truth, on the other hand, seeks to determine the cause of suffering. In Buddhism, desire and ignorance lie at the root of suffering.

3. The truth of the end of suffering (nirhodha)

4. The truth of the path that frees us from suffering (magga)

The Third Noble Truth, the truth of the end of suffering, has dual meaning, suggesting either the end of suffering in this life, on earth, or in the spiritual life, through achieving Nirvana. When one has achieved Nirvana, which is a transcendent state free from suffering and our worldly cycle of birth and rebirth, spiritual enlightenment has been reached. The Fourth Noble truth charts the method for attaining the end of suffering, known to Buddhists as the Noble Eightfold Path.

The Eightfold Path, as well as Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration are were things start to get a bit complicated, but there are three themes in which the path is divided into: good moral conduct (Understanding, Thought, Speech); meditation and mental development (Action, Livelihood, Effort), and wisdom or insight (Mindfulness and Concentration).

They also often believe in not harming any sort of life, which means that a lot of Buddhists are vegetarians, as well as the belief in karma and reincarnation are a few other basics. Many monks have restrictive diets in that they only eat food that has been offered to them.

Not only did I find this book really informative, I also connected with it on a spiritual level. The idea that there is an acceptance of suffering and that it’s part of what helps us appreciate the better things in life as well as the use of mindfulness are the areas that really spoke to me. However they have one rule regarding hate, in which you’re not to intentionally expose yourself to it in any form, including music, books and video which I struggle with. I understand why in a way, but I could never give up heavy metal or certain books, they make me feel blissful even if the content is occasionally hateful. I mean, come on, moshing has a purpose if it makes you feel good, right? I would argue that it relates to the suffering noble truth and that these media pieces are just a reflection of them.

As with all religions, there are aspects of the book the get complicated, or rather overwhelming with doctrine, though it thankfully never got preachy. I wouldn’t have read the book if I thought at all that there was an attempt from the author to convert me. The more the book started to delve into more complicated aspects of the religion as well as setting out a few rules, I knew that the monk life was not for me. However there are some very helpful ways that Buddhism suggests in dealing and healing with the ins and outs of life, which really is the purpose of most religions.

Overall if you have interest in Buddhism or are looking for a little inspiration in your life, this book is a good place to start.

 

To Swim Beneath The Earth by Ginger

3/5 stars.
ebook, 280 pages.
Read from July 04 to 07, 2016.

I’m jumping the gun on this review too because this is another lovely gift from Netgalley. The first half of this book I would have easily given 4 stars, but the second half bordered on 2 stars for me. What happened? I felt like I ended up reading two different convoluted plot lines. I was intensely into the first half of the book and couldn’t put it down but it all changed after the halfway mark. The writing is good and I believe the author has massive potential but the plot line could have been more concise.

Megan Kimsey lives in a small town in Colorado and is a successful emergency room doctor. It’s the 1970s and she is dealing with the traumatic death of her father, one of the only family members that understood her. The problem is she knew she was going to lose someone close to her, she saw it happen in a vision. Since she was a girl Megan has had unwanted glimpses in to the future along with puzzling images of Ecuador, more than 400 years before she was born. Her neurotic and very Catholic mother forced her into psychiatric treatment after a previous traumatic event that caused a mental breakdown in Megan’s youth. Megan’s mother is however, more concerned with appearances than giving her children affection so Megan learned to take care of herself and has a fierce independence that doesn’t always correspond with her mother’s wishes. Before her father’s death, Megan received a gift from him that will take her to South America so that she can deal with her demons and her visions. An adventure, that opens up a life that Megan has apparently lived in a previous lifetime.

The good stuff: This author does great character work; Megan is a solid character throughout the book, even with the mismatching plot lines. She beautifully depicts tragedy and grief, as well as how mental illness is poorly dealt with, as well as the quirks of a dysfunctional family. This is the author’s debut novel and I would absolutely read another book by her as I enjoyed her character development. She is a admirable writer with plenty of potential.

Alright, now here are the issues I had with it that prevented me from giving it a higher rating. The beginning of the book is quite cryptic about Megan’s visions and their cause. It’s mysterious, exciting and empathetic as the author does a great job in describing the fall out of her potential mental illness before you learn the truth. You get an wonderfully detailed story of Megan’s youth and the relationships leading up to the traumatic event that caused her mental breakdown as a teenager. It was absolutely riveting and I was counting my lucky stars that I got another great find from Netgalley. But then all of a sudden the plot line takes a full 180 and then instead of focusing on her dysfunctional family and Megan’s own turmoil, you’re all of a sudden talking about the Inca’s in South America. I felt like I wasn’t prepared for this twist at all and was actually asking myself what the heck had happened? I felt severely disappointed.

The plot line with Bella’s family and the fall out of that tragedy is completely dropped. Megan’s family is completely dropped and what I thought was the root of Megan’s turmoil is now something completely different. Now she’s in South America and I feel like there was no proper lead up to it and that I’m reading a whole new book, one that I didn’t ask for. The author tries to pull it back in the last few pages of the book but I found it wasn’t successful. I think there is supposed to be a connection this frozen child in Megan’s visions and Bella but it wasn’t embellished very well. I actually wonder if this is supposed to be a series with the way the book ended, as I found it very unfinished. If it is, I would be curious about reading the second just to satisfying my own yearnings to patch together some of that parts I feel are missing.

Mostly, I didn’t care about this Inca Lord that Megan is apparently the reincarnate of, I was more interested in the dynamics of her dealing with her visions, tragedy and her family, and that’s because that’s exactly what the first half of the book was about and what the author lead me to believe was important before Megan could all of a sudden speak Quechua, an ancient Incan language. I’m not saying that the second half of the book was bad, far from it actually. It was just jarring as the plot lines didn’t seamlessly go together like the should. I enjoyed aspects of the second half of the novel, the characters were interesting and there were definitely some riveting scenes.

I also didn’t understand the connection to the title of the book. It’s a great title but I don’t get a reference to it at all in the book, unless I missed it or something.

So, I stuck with a 3 star rating, as I loved the first half and was ambivalent about the second half. Overall I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in reincarnate stories, Incas, exploring tragedy or for those looking for a bit of an adventure. Keep an eye out for this author, she is definitely up and coming.