The price of tea continues to shock me, which in itself is interesting given that I’ve become accustomed to buying tea that sells for 300-500 a jin (roughly $US 45-70 for 1/2 a kilo). Today, while I was waiting for my tea to be packaged by an assistant, the owner of the shop invited me to try some Iron Buddha that sells for “only” 700 a jin ($US 100). I drank several cups and thanked him for his hospitality, but wasn’t tempted to purchase because I prefer stronger teas – Yunnan Red, puer, and dancong, for example.
But. When I actually translate prices into US dollars rather than simply think about the prices in local terms, I wonder what it is I’m doing paying over $US 45 for 1/2 a kilo of tea. And I’m minor league. Many high end tea drinkers pay anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 for a jin of tea ($US 1,300 to 7,000). Out of curiosity, I googled to find the most expensive cup of tea and learned that at the 2010 Guangzhou tea action, someone paid 180,000 for twenty grams of Wuyi Hong Pao ($US 25,000).
Liquid gold, indeed.
And so here’s speculative point du jour: In addition to thinking about Chinese consumption in terms of mianzi, lately I’ve also been wondering about how much consumption is driven by a fear that tomorrow the house of cards may collapse and thus anything one has eaten or drunk or purchased today has already become part of the self and therefore will not be “wasted” in some existential sense. I’m tired and synapses stopped firing a while ago, but I keep coming back to the idea that China and the US share a live for the moment attitude that is more anxiety about the future than it is acceptance of the present. And for all our cultural differences, what we share is a fear that arrises precisely because our life styles are not sustainable.
Free association du jour: money to burn as sacrifice, as appeasement, as way of somehow righting what has gone wrong. Fireworks and fine cigars. Oil. Electricity. Combustive economics.