In Kinmen, there's a slow rhythm to the day that passes much as it probably has for decades. Shops in every small town close for two hours every mid day, just to take a rest. Families will invite you in to their shops for conversation, insisting that you at least stay for one meal. I feel at peace with the slow life of the Chinese way no where better than at Wang Laoshi's Tea Shop, just outside the bustle of Jincheng.
It's tucked away, and quite poorly advertised. You won't see any glowing neon signs here, or tour bus organizers frantically waving their baton flags at the picture-snapping Chinese elite. When you step inside you may even feel a bit uncomfortable at first, because it may be completely empty. Don't let this deter you, in fact, I have a feeling that Wang Laoshi, the owner, wouldn't really mind if no one came, simply because he enjoys the quiet so much.
A hot day is the best time to come in, and you'll have plenty of hot days. The entry room has a cool cement floor with open windows and large garage-sized doors to catch the next breeze. You'll find a round swinging chair that begs for a nap, an open park bench table ready for afternoon crafting, and probably some kids toys just waiting for Wang Laoshi's children (or their neighborhood friends) to come play. Wang Laoshi may stroll out and invite you down to a table. Inside or outside is just fine.
If you head in, take a moment to pick the best spot for yourself. Will you sit to admire his bookshelf and tea pots for sale? Or perhaps to absorb yourself into the calligraphy that adorns the back wall? Maybe you'd like to pick a spot where you can gaze out into the middle garden and watch the trees dance in the heat. Any spot you pick, you'll find something to wander your eyes over.
The menu isn't translated, and I don't expect it ever will be. There are so many teas to try, and Wang Laoshi will not tell you a favorite, because he doesn't have one. If you just pick one at random, you should be okay, or use Pleko to translate the basic flavors you are interested in. Some adjectives to think about are bitter, sweet, smoky or flowery. There are so many sites out there worth exploring when trying to understand what tea is, but this page is a great way to get started on a hobby that absorbs so many people worldwide http://www.teasource.com/teas/SelectTea.html.
You'll be treated to a traditional Chinese tray of tea materials, and a small pot of water at your side with a burner to keep it hot. Don't worry about asking for help in getting started, Laoshi may just do it for you the first few times. There are quite a few steps but it'll become habitual after patience and practice.
Wang Laoshi himself is an interesting man, but genuinely confused if you ask about his life as he's naturally very modest. He's a professor of Chinese at the large university on the island, and has many talents related to his study of Han culture. I would recommend asking to see his TaiChi. It's one of the most beautiful performances of it you'll ever see, and well worth building up the relationship to witness it. The man is a philosopher, and an expert in many aspects of traditional Chinese life. He's a wealth of information, and is willing to struggle through language barriers to achieve understanding for an honest question.
In a place where you don't say much unless it bears saying, and tea is splashed over cups with the abandon of knowing there will be another cup, you may catch a piece of Kinmen's quiet in this inviting haven.
Author: Lillian Ferraz, 2014-2015