2005.12.17 Ding Shan, China
I'm in the capital of teapots. Ding Shan is a small city in Yixing County, a region midway between Nanjing and Shanghai. For over 1,000 years this has been the place where China's finest teapots are made.
The area is rich with ruddy clay. The clay isn't glazed after firing, giving a terracotta color to many teapots made here. There is a nice, if limited, range from that basic color: I have seen teapots in shades of red, brown, grey, and purple.
Some teapots have calligraphy or other designs etched along their side. Some are almost perfectly round, others shaped into boxy vessels with a hexagonal base, a few are in the shape of dragons. None are too large--most would prepare tea for one. The most beautiful one I've seen here was actually two separate, functional teapots shaped into the Taoist yin-yang symbol.
The special clay from this region is said to absorb the essence of the tea. Before using it for the first time, one is supposed to "season" the teapot, preparing it for the particular type of tea it will serve. Only one type of tea (e.g. Oolong, Earl Grey) can be used in each pot, mixing varieties will give the tea an "off" taste.
Activity in this area today probably resembles what it did 1,000 years ago. Walking down the streets in Ding Shan finds shop upon shop selling nothing other than cute, clay teapots. I've seen lots of other ceramics produced here as well. Outside the larger shops are all manner of traditional wares: shingles, platters, and huge urns. It shouldn't have surprised me to see modern products also available. Still, I didn't expect to find a new, western-style toilet in the midst of all of one shop's crockery.
I'm here for just a couple days. Tomorrow I'll go back to Shanghai where I'll spend my remaining days in this country visiting with Lisa and Zach.
Before coming to this area I spent three days visiting with Aaron. Aaron moved from Beijing recently, he's continuing his study of Chinese at Nanjing University. It was good to see him again and go out, getting a sense of the city.
I enjoyed my time in Nanjing. China's east coast has a very different feel from how things are back in Xinjiang. Nanjing itself feels clean and modern as opposed to dirty, run-down Urumqi. Aaron and I spent one evening wandering around the northwest corner of the city along the old city walls.
Like Xi'an, Nanjing has enormous old walls and gates which once ringed the city. Unlike Xi'an, the walls which stand today in Nanjing don't completely encircle the city: there are many stretches where the old walls have been completely destroyed. However, I found that the walls and gates in the area we explored were being brought back nicely.
Aaron and I stumbled upon a recently-built flight of stone steps along the wall. We climbed up and found ourselves atop one of the old city gates (through which six lanes of traffic now enter and leave Nanjing.) Strolling along the top of the wall in Nanjing was nicer than being atop Xi'an's city wall: it was well-maintained with trees planted atop. Paying nothing for admission was a welcome change. One of the most pleasant parks I've visited in China ran for miles along the wall's base.
The park's boundaries were the city wall to one side, water along the other. The park had well-maintained paths winding through attractively kept gardens. Strolling through I felt as if I had already left China--public areas are seldom so clean and aesthetically pleasing.
Perhaps I'll return and explore more on my way back to Xinjiang this February. There are so many corners of this country I have yet to see...