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Bill Wading presents "All the Tea in China"

Bill Wadding presents "All the Tea in China"

On a balmy May afternoon the Chinese Heritage Foundation Friends presented Will Waddington of TeaSource in an informative talk titled, All the Tea in China. In a high-spirited, freewheeling interactive session with an engaged audience, Bill talked about the native origin of tea in China and its many variations and different individual practices in different regions of China. He dwelled on the six major types of tea: black, red, Oolong, green yellow and white, the ages of the tea leaves and the different stages of oxidation (or none) that they are allowed to go through, the effects of soil types, humidity and elevation on tea bushes, and the care one should take on keeping the ideal temperature of water or steeping time for each type of tea. He also brewed both an Oolong and a Purer tea for everyone to taste, demonstrating the differences the brewing time makes on the same type of tea. Everyone found the information most helpful, and the tasting, when accompanied by the special condiments personally selected by Yin Simpson, most enlightening.

There was also much laughter, particularly when Bill debunked myths, such as the specialness of leaves picked only by monkeys in inaccessible areas, and substituted astute and accurate observations instead. In cultivating special relationships with small individual growers in different regions of China and maintaining contact through many years, Bill has been able to offer high quality tea leaves that have received careful handling throughout the growing and tea making processes.

Soon the two-hour session ended, leaving many audience members with more questions and much eagerness to pay more attention to tea from now on, particularly in steeping loose tea leaves rather than relying on tea bags.

Sunday Tea with Wing Young Huie

On the afternoon of March 31, the Chinese Heritage Foundation’s Sunday Tea Series presented photographer Wing Young Huie in a talk on his career and his new book, Chinese-ness, The Meaning of Identity and the Nature of Belonging. Wing had invited us to meet at his studio, the Third Place Gallery, located in the heart of south Minneapolis. Fifty of us were seated in a semi-circle around Wing, bathed with natural light from the studio’s store front windows and surrounded by Wing’s large photographs on two long brick walls.

Wing began his presentation by talking about his father, who first came to this country from TaiShan in Guangdong Province in China when he was a very young. He worked very hard, saved his money, returned to TaiShan to marry and came back to work hard again. It was only after many such cycles before he was able to finally bring his wife and children over here. Wing was the only one of his six children who was born in this country.

Over the course of his absorbing presentation Wing took us through the major phases of his photographic journey as well as that of his search for his own identity. He showed us numerous examples of being a street photographer, asking his subjects, all strangers to him and often to each other, to write their thoughts on a chalk board (thus his Chalk Talks). Thus was born his Lake Street and University Avenue Projects. He showed us a particularly poignant example, that of a white mother and her African American adopted daughter. After having photographed them when the daughter was a baby, he found them again on the daughter’s wedding day many years later. The juxtaposition of these then and now photographs shows overwhelming emotions that only an artist who has established a close relationship with his subjects can reveal.

For his new book, Chineseness, Wing added a new concept: what if? In the I am You chapter Wing shows photographs of different people he had encountered in China, and then himself in their clothes. A special dimension has been added to the ambiguity of identity, a subject of later chapters in the book. Another topic that Wing explores in his book is Paper Sons and Daughters. Continuing the project that he began at the History Theatre’s premiere production of The Paper Dreams of Harry Chin, Wing has given prominence to this still frequently taboo and painful topic. The descendants of Paper Sons and Daughters no longer need to hide.

The Chinese Heritage Foundation is delighted to have been an underwriter of the printing of Wing’s new book and is thrilled that Wing has just won a Minnesota Book Award in the Memoir and Creative Nonfiction category. Many Congratulations, Wing!

Decoding Chinese Opera

On the afternoon of December 9, an audience, consisting primarily of opera and music lovers, was abuzz with excitement, in anticipation of a Chinese Heritage Foundation lecture/recital showcasing prominent Chinese opera star, Feifei Shen, from Beijing. Shortly after 3 PM moderator Margaret Wong promptly began the program with a short history of the development of Chinese opera, from 2000 BC to the Tang Dynasty (600-900 AD), and introduced FeiFei to the audience.  Beautifully dressed in a white gown, FeiFei began with an ancient folk song, then sang two arias from the popular 2008 TV series on Dream of the Red Chamber, followed by two contemporary ballads on two famous women poets: Li Qing Zhao and Zhuó WenJun.

While FeiFei was changing her costume, Margaret continued with a description of the established format of Chinese opera, taking the audience through its staging, props, required attributes of actors (to be able to sing, speak, act and do acrobatics).  She the described the four main roles in Chinese opera: the dan (the diva), the sheng (male lead), the chou (clown) and the jing (painted face).  She also enumerated the significance of the colors of the painted face.  Throughout her delivery, Margaret encouraged the audience to imagine themselves in a traditional Chinese teahouse where Chinese operas are frequently performed and that it was all right to get up to avail themselves to the delicious tea and delectable treats that Yin Simpson had arranged for them.

When FeiFei returned, in a gorgeous traditional Chinese gown, she sang three arias from traditional Chinese opera: Farewell, My ConcubineA Walk in the Gardenfrom Peony Pavilion, and Lady Yang Gets Drunk.   The deeply appreciative audience sat quietly while FeiFei glided and danced as she sang. While such graceful and choreographed movements are integral to the delivery of all major arias in Chinese opera, they are rare in western opera.

With a final costume change FeiFei returned to sing four traditional folk songs, accompanied by pianist Li Lei.  At their conclusion, the audience applauded enthusiastically and many of them lingered afterwards to greet and to chat with FeiFei, urging her to return soon for more performances.  These serious music lovers greatly appreciated the intimate opportunity to see and hear Chinese opera the way it was intended, away from the acoustic assault necessitated by large venues.  

CHF Day at Theater Mu

Since its founding in 2004, the Chinese Heritage Foundation has supported area theater companies whenever they have planned a production with a Chinese connection. The History Theatre’s production of A Hundred Men’s Wife, based on the life of the first Chinese woman immigrant to MN, received one of the Foundation’s first grant awards.  In addition, the Foundation invited one of Liang May Seen’s granddaughters, Barbara Woo Bjornaas then living in Seattle, to return to Minnesota for a reception.  This granting activity continued with a 2010 funding to the Children’s Theatre for its production of Disney’s Mulan; a 2012 award to the Stages Theatre for its production of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, based on the book by Chinese American author, Grace Lin; and a reception for author C. Y. Lee at Theater Mu’first production of The Flower Drum Song.

In 2017 the Foundation stepped up its support of the theatre arts by underwriting the attendance of young Chinese American students at the History Theatre’s production of The Paper Dreams of Harry Chin, written by young Chinese American playwright Jessica Huang.  The response was so positive that the Foundation decided recently to underwrite more free tickets for young Chinese American families to attend Theater Mu’s current production of The Princess’ Nightingale.  On May 13, Mother’s Day, 250 young Chinese families took advantage of the Foundation’s offer and attended, for free, a matinee performance of this wonderful Chinese adaptation of the familiar Hans Christian Anderson tale. After a rapt performance many families stayed behind to greet artistic director Randy Reyes.  They listened as Reyes described the Theater’s efforts to create the authentic Chinese production they had just seen: from having Chinese calligraphy projected via shadow puppetry, to incorporating Chinese operatic movements and the well-known Chinese folk song The Jasmine Flower into the chorus.  Afterwards Reyes received many thoughtful questions such as how to navigate in an American society while keeping one’s Chinese heritage in mind, and he continued to address them in the reception afterwards.

Both Theater Mu and the Foundation were thrilled with the interest generated by this joint event and plan to work closely together in the future to engage more young Chinese American families in the theater.

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