Bo Jenks


I grew up in New England, the northeast of the United States, so I have lots of fun when I tell Chinese people "I am a northeast local." When
I moved to Guangzhou at the beginning of 2014 to study a master's degree in history at Sun Yat- Sen University, I learned that Guangzhou is known as China's flower city. This city has developed so rapidly that many places look like they could be in the center of Manhattan, where I spent many days when I was growing up. Yet Guangzhou is a unique place.

There are many features of Guangzhou which are uniquely Chinese, which can't even be found in Chinatown, and one example that sticks out in my mind is fairly subtle, but something that I have also come to appreciate: ji dan hua, a fragrant tree flower that closely resembles the literal meaning of its name, chicken egg flower, with a touch of yellow surrounded by white. After the leaves are sun dried, ji dan hua makes for a delicious herbal tea.


Plumeria

All over southern China, I have seen elderly men and women picking the delicate ji dan hua off of blossoming trees in public parks, private home courtyards, and on farms. These small flowers are valued so much that I occasionally see people collecting them after they've fallen off the tree onto the ground! Now that I know how to identify the "chicken egg" flower, I always make a point to strike up a conversation with anyone picking their flowers just so that I can have an opportunity to stick my nose in their harvest and take a deep breath. The flower's rich and wholesome smell makes me see beautiful colors when I close my eyes.

While there is a long tradition of farming near my hometown in the state of Massachusetts, most people have transitioned to modern life long ago, and only few keep a personal garden for themselves.

Yet, it was not part of my cultural upbringing that I could pick flowers off of a tree and use it to make water taste incredibly delicious… usually we just drank plain water or some artificial soft drink. That is why ji dan hua is a refreshing new life experience, and I am grateful to have learned about it when I came to Guangzhou.

Of course, Guangzhou's tea culture is unique, and is recognized throughout China as being the most refined. Here, restaurant servers don't simply ask "Do you want tea?" but rather, "What type of tea do you want?" It is assumed you will drink tea, and in fact you will pay for the tea whether you want to or not! Small tea cups are used so that every sip is as fresh as possible. This cultural significance of tea is no doubt because of the diversity of flowers and plants that can be found in the region.

Until moving to Guangzhou, I has only lived in cities where it can snow, which is perhaps why I am in awe of Guangzhou's enchanting flora that springs forth throughout the entire year. Other than ji dan hua, my first outstanding memory of Guangzhou was walking around the Sun Yat-Sen University South Campus when I visited in November of 2013. Looking out of the window at the main library, I felt that I was deep in a rainforest, and it puts me at peace so that I could think clearly about my work.


Sun Yat-sen University

The most magical flowers on the campus were the little pinkish-red puffs that adorned the trees lining the pedestrian streets. I can imagine that for the last century scholars and students were inspired by Mother Nature's own creativity as they walked along Sun Yat-Sen University's intimate streets. To this day, I don't know what that particular tree is called, but I will never forget the deep impression they made on me – it was the most welcoming introduction to a university I have ever received.

Ever since my first day in Guangzhou on Sun Yat-Sen University's campus, I have always appreciated the city's ubiquitous greenery that is sprinkled with flowers of all colors. It will be difficult to leave Guangzhou after my studies finish next year since it's hard to imagine another city that embraces its native flowers so much. Perhaps I will simply continue to live here afterwards, just to make sure I am never too far from a fresh cup of ji dan hua tea. 

(By  Bo Jenks)

Editor:Lynus Tan
 
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