Monday, February 10, 2014

A Book about Stealing Tea!

Title: For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World's Favorite Drink and Changed History
Author:  Sarah Rose
Date: 2011
Publisher: Penguin Books
ISBN:  0143118749

Tea and books - there is no better combination. Not even chocolate and peanut butter!  And this is a book about how tea got to be a British monopoly and the drink of choice for the British Empire.

Up until the first Opium War, the secrets of growing and processing tea was closely guarded by the Chinese Dynasties. But with the conquering of China in the war, many new trade cities were opened to the East India Company and paved the way for Scotsman Robert Fortune to engage in some industrial espionage and smuggle the tea plants and seeds of China into the fully conquered country of India and try to reproduce the conditions for tea growing and processing.  Not only did Fortune sneak into the interior of China twice to abscond with tea, he also had to figure a method of transporting thousands of plants and seeds across water and time without detriment.  Once in India, other gardeners took over the planting and tending the precious cargo and within a few decades, India became the main source of British tea.  This brief summary highlights none of the details included by the author that shows her in-depth research of Fortune’s journey and subterfuge.  

Much of the quotes from Fortune's time make me cringe with overt racism and discrimination against the conquered Chinese people.  Like most of the other conveniences of cheap modern life (such as sugar, cotton etc), the tea trade has been built on the subjugation of people and corporate greed.  However, the author highlights the enormity of the impact of Fortune’s theft and made me re-consider the origin of the drink I truly love.  Through out the book, I constantly remarked, like I do when watching How Its Made, “Hmmm… I never thought about how people came up with that idea.”  Modern tea plantations look idyllic and inviting, but the history is very complicated.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

I've Been Ristening

One of my favorite books is the short ode to reading entitled The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life by Steve Leveen, the founder of one of my favorite stores to window shop, Levengers.  I have listened and read this book several times over the past few years because it constantly inspires me to re-start my readerly life when I feel it begins to fade into the banality of everyday life. 

Leveen devotes a chapter to the listening of books and the inability of our vocabulary to express the difference between reading with our eyes and reading with our ears.  Is listening to a book "cheating"?  As a classroom teacher, I've been posed this question many times by parents and pre-service teachers. 

But, what is reading?  In my mind, it is understanding and making personal meaning of a text composed by someone.  Do I have to have eyes on the text to classify it as reading?  Or, can I wrestle with the ideas presented by the author through listening to it?

I would agree that I tend to focus a little closer when I'm eyes-on reading, as I can't really be doing anything else but focus on the text to be able to decipher the letters.  But, I can be just as easily distracted by the TV or a phone conversation and lose the sense of the text.  When I'm ears-on reading, I could be physically doing something else, driving, ironing etc., but my mind is more focused.  Though, I will have to admit, much of my ears-on reading takes place right before falling asleep, or at 3 am when I'm trying to get back to sleep.

Though I sometimes wondering if listening to books will turn out like an old Disney movie entitled The Monkey's Uncle in which high school students listen to their history lessons read in a female voice, to learn the facts.  But when they have to recite the lessons, the woman's voice comes out, rather then their own.  When I encounter the printed version of books I've listened to, I can only read the text with the actor's voice in my head.

With limited choices in my local digital library, I've been trying titles of books that I might not otherwise read with eyes-on.  Many times I've been pleasantly surprised by these titles - many of which have appeared on this blog.