Phase 1: Posing Real Questions

Updated 1 year 2 months ago
In Phase 0, I narrowed a list of desirable topics down to a topic that I will be studying in my 28 days in Xizhou. For that, I chose to merge the topics of tea and photography together—in Xizhou, I will be researching on traditional tea-related activities that exist in Xizhou, and more importantly, wrapping and brewing methods and the types of tea local communities often drunk. This is Phase 1, where I will be digging deeper about my chosen inquiry project and gaining more background knowledge regarding it prior to the trip.
Also, in Phase 3, I completed some background research on my topic to gain a better understanding of tea before we travel to Xizhou. 

What do you already know about the topic? Where did you learn these things? 

My knowledge on tea has always been insufficient, although I possess some vague background information on the types of tea drunk in the Yunnan Province, since my mother and father are both very passionate about Chinese tea. A couple of days ago, my mother took out Pu'er tea leaves for brewing (a tea type that is apparently popular in Yunnan), and it was shaped in the most interesting way. The tea leaves were hardened and molded into the shape of a pie—in Chinese, it is named "茶饼 [chá bing]"—and to brew it, you must either use your hands, or a knife, to cut a piece from the 'pie' to put inside the already boiling water. Pu'er tea leaves, according to my mother, are like wine: the older, the better, and they are usually best brewed in water of the highest temperatures. Other than that, I know that the brewing of tea is practically considered a form of art in China, and is a traditional practice stretching back hundreds of years. Mostly, they are learned from conversations with my parents and my relatives from China, since they're experienced in this field. I feel that even though the internet and/or books can be a great source of prior research, discussing the topic with my parents would also allow me to learn more knowledge about tea. That is partially the reason why it attracts me so much. 

What do you want to know about this topic? 

I want to dig deeper into the methods of making tea, as there is way more than one, and the frequency of tea-drinking in Xizhou. My mom informed me that places like Yunnan have an abundance of grown Pu'er tea leaves; the weather and environment are in a perfect condition for Pu'er tea to grow excessively. One of the most notable aspects of Yunnan culture is the tea, and after reading about many of the previous Microcampus students' projects, many people drink tea because it is a normal activity, and many of them do not know the history behind that specific type of tea leaf, or the variety of ways on how to brew it, or how it was planted and grown. Chinese tea contrasts greatly with Western tea, and I already have a great deal of background knowledge on tea in the west—namely, England—but I still have a vague level of knowledge on Chinese tea in general. The brewing methods, the history in Xizhou, the various types of leaves that are drunk frequently in Xizhou; they are all topics of great interest to me. 

Big Questions   

These questions will provide guidance, explain the lines of what I will be expanding on when I arrive at Xizhou, and sometimes even serve as a reminder of what my topic is.

  • Opinions on Tea-Drinking, General Facts, and History

1. What does the concept of tea-drinking mean to the Bai community? 
To dig deeper on this question, I will start conversations with local individuals about what they personally think of tea-drinking, as no textbook or website could portray the people's personal beliefs better than the people themselves. Research aside, I would make an inference that tea would play a significant role in most of the Bai citizens' lives and it will appear often in their day-to-day routines, which naturally will inspire a variety of personal perspectives on it. 

2. How does the Bai community view the activity of tea-drinking? Does this affect the manner in which they drink it? 
Since some people drink tea so often in their daily lives, their view of it may differ from someone who, say, only drinks it to appreciate the taste once in a while. I can assume that tea is a popular drink in the area, meaning that the people there may perceive its value differently than we would. 

3. How did the drinking customs in the Bai community differ from what it was like in the past, if there was development present? 
The drinking style and customs in the past may be passed down through generations to today, but I believe that there will be some alterations made to better accustom to present day life. 

  • Various Types of Tea

4. What are some noteworthy types of tea that the Bai people frequently savor?
Local communities often drink tea of specific types, such as red tea, green tea, Pu'er tea, and/or flower and herbal tea.

5. What are the Bai people's beliefs in different types of tea in terms of wellness and even spirituality? 
Each type of previously mentioned tea has their individual benefits for one's health and wellbeing. Wellness is an important factor in the lives of not just the Bai people, but communities all over China as well. Some may have purposes such as cleansing the body, ridding bacteria, or refreshing the mind, while others have more detailed health benefits such as lowering blood pressure, strengthening organs, or providing essential vitamins. Some types of tea may even have ties to religion or spiritual beliefs. 

  • Packaging and Presentation Methods

6. What are some frequent packaging methods used on tea? 
Tea can be either packaged loose in a box or compressed together into a fixed shape. Pressed tea vary in shape—such as squares, pies, bricks, hearts, or bowls. When brewing pressed tea, separate a small section of tea away from the main piece and boil under high temperature, which will make the tea leaves disperse. 

7. Are there any specialized packaging methods used for specific events/times? 
I will have to expand further on this question, but for now, I will assume that there will be some packaging methods designated for specific events, as they may hold some symbolic meaning that ties in with the purpose of the event.

  • Traditional Customs and Celebratory Procedures

8. What are some celebratory activities, brewing methods, or other tea-related customs unique to the Bai community only? 
One is known as San Dao Cha, or Three Course tea, a procedure of brewing tea leaves often used to welcome guests and treat distinguished figures. It is practiced frequently during special occasions among the Bai community. 

9. If so, when and how did this custom originate and for what purpose is it executed? 
The history of San Dao Cha stretches back to the Ming Dynasty, where it is executed for similar purposes—welcoming and entertaining guests. 

10. How is the said custom executed and does the method in which it is executed embody any symbolic meaning? 
San Dao Cha consists of three tea courses—the first course sweet, second bitter, and third with an aftertaste. An assortment of ingredients will be added to each course to fully depict the taste that is intended. The bitter course represents the hardships, conveying that such "bitterness" is only fleeting. This leads to the sweet course, which explains that hard effort gathered to do something will result in contentment. The aftertaste course is a combination of all flavors, representing that life has highs and lows, happy and sad moments, and both sides balance each other out. One must react to the different sides with a calm and collected front in order for a successful life.

I think my knowledge from the internet is somewhat sufficient, but what I am in need of are real people's opinions incorporated along with the research. This can only be collected if I discuss these topics with the local people in Xizhou. I think this will be the most effective way of gathering information. An important part of this is direct interaction and talking with the communities. Their personal opinions on this are vital as they are the ones that are part of the village and know more than any website does. 

Here in Phase 1, I have listed down what I know and what I want to know about my topic, found some background information, and established some questions to guide my learning process in Xizhou. In Phase 2, I will be finding helpful resources to gain a deeper understanding of my topic. 

Hi! My name is Angela and I am a student from Shanghai American School. I was a part of the Superior Microcampus group, and staying at Xizhou for the all of March in 2017 was something I will never forget. It was one of the most difficult, frustrating, uncomfortable, and unforgettable opportunities I will ever have the honor of experiencing. I had learned so much values and knowledge over the course of those 28 days, and these lessons are what I will be carrying with me for the years to come.