Category Archives: Anecdotes

All about tea

I never used to drink tea or coffee but due to my interest in all things Chinese, tea piqued my interest. In fact, over the last year or so I’ve developed quite a tea-drinking habit. There’s a lot of info out there about tea but this post will just cover the major things I find most interesting about it.

Tea with tea leaves

What is tea?

  • Essentially, all types of tea (black, green, white, etc.) come from the same plant: Camellia sinensis. The difference is in the processing of the leaves.
  • Herbal ‘tea’ is not actually real tea — they are tisanes and aren’t going to be talked about here.

Where did it come from?

  • All tea originated from China, where it has been drunk for thousands of years.
  • Its Chinese name is 茶 (pronounced “chá” in Mandarin, but more like “tê” in the dialect of the area of China where it was exported to the West.
  • It arrived in Europe during the 1600s. England wanted more of it so badly that they went to war with China over it in the 1800s and started growing their own in India.
  • Today, China and India still the top two countries for tea production, but many others now grow it.

Gaiwan with tea leaves

Why is it so popular?

Tea is the second most consumed beverage on the planet (after water). There’s a number of reasons for this.

  • It contains the drug caffeine, which raises alertness but is addictive.
  • Many cultures have developed strong tea cultures and social norms that perpetuate its consumption.
  • Tasting different teas is interesting because of how different one tea can be to another (thanks to variances in cultivar, location, altitude, processing, storage, etc.). This is similar to wine tasting.

Where can I learn more?

Pouring tea

Parting thoughts

  • In my opinion (obviously this is subjective), for maximum tea enjoyment I recommend:
    • avoiding tea bags — use quality loose-leaf tea;
    • avoiding tisanes and flavoured teas (e.g. tea scented with flowers/herbs); and
    • brewing gongfu style.
  • You can follow my Instagram account where I post about my tea adventures.

Celebrating Chinese New Year in Sydney, Australia

Chinese New Year (CNY) has become a big event in Sydney. Despite Australia traditionally being a Western country, high levels of migration from Asia has meant that there’s plenty of people eager to share their cultural events here, and CNY is perhaps the best example of that in Sydney.


Most of the Asian population in Sydney is ethnically Chinese, but there are also significant Vietnamese and Korean population centres. For this reason, it’s common to see the term ‘Lunar New Year’ used instead of ‘CNY’ to be more inclusive.


Major events are held in the areas of the city with high Asian populations. This mainly includes:

  • The city centre/CBD (this includes Chinatown),
  • Ashfield in the inner west,
  • Cabramatta in the west (primarily Vietnamese here),
  • Chatswood in the north,
  • Eastwood in the north west, and
  • Hurstville in the south.


I’ll mainly focus on the CBD/city centre (because it’s the largest) and one suburban location: Eastwood (the one I’m most familiar with).

The city centre

Web site:

The city of Sydney’s Chinese New Year celebration is enormous. Now the largest CNY celebration outside of Asia, there is a multitude of events on, most of them different every year. The following video shows some highlights from the 2016 celebration:

I made a big effort this year to try and catch as many events as I could. Below are some highlights.

The zodiac animal lanterns

Large lanterns representing all twelve of the Chinese zodiac animals were set up in various places around the CBD and it was fun walking around and tracking them all down. The City of Sydney council even added a special culture walk in their Sydney Culture Walks app for this to show you where to go.

The three wise monkeys at #cnysyd

The various displays were at many different iconic and picturesque parts of the city, including the Sydney Harbour Bridge (dragon), Opera House (monkeys), and Chinatown (goat, dog, snake).

The Chinese Garden of Friendship

Located near Darling Harbour, the Chinese Garden of Friendship is available all year round but hosts special events during CNY. In 2016 they hosted numerous things including:

  • traditional tea ceremonies,
  • a traditional Chinese music concert,
  • a lion dance,
  • story telling for children (“monkey tales”),
  • pénjǐng (bonsai) displays,
  • tofu carving,
  • lantern decorating, and
  • tai chi classes.

Tea ceremonies in the Chinese Garden of Friendship

I only managed to get to the music concert (“Chinese Chamber Garden Music”) but it was absolutely excellent. The gardens are really beautiful and it’s a great place to rest and relax.


Every CNY the City of Sydney promotes the hashtag #cnysyd so you can always catch good photos on Instagram using that tag.

Due to some new construction in the city, the usual CNY twilight parade was not able to be held. You can watch highlights from the parade in previous years.


Web site: Eastwood Lunar New Year Celebration on Facebook

Eastwood has a large Chinese and Korean population, so there are quite a few events on around CNY. The main event is usually held on a Saturday about two weeks from the actual new year day. It consists of things like:

  • dragon & lion dances (with eye-dotting ceremonies with guests of honour),
  • Monkey King & god of wealth (财神) appearances,
  • various Chinese & western musical items,
  • martial arts demonstrations, and
  • various traditional and modern dance performances.

Other events held on previous weeks included cooking competitions and art & calligraphy classes and markets.


Here’s a video summary of the 2015 CNY:


Here’s a few choice photos from 2016’s main event (courtesy of the Eastwood Lunar New Year Celebration page on Facebook):

Lions with the Monkey King

Dragon with a lion in the air

Local band 'Ai ai ai'

Traditional dance in costume

Traditional Chinese orchestra


This is just a small sampling of what’s on offer in Sydney during Chinese New Year. If you’re a local who hasn’t been before or if you’re visiting around this time of year, be sure to check out some of these yearly events!

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Who is Dashan?

Who is Dashan (大山)? Well he’s actually the most famous Westerner in China – quite literally.

His real name is Mark Rowswell. He’s a Canadian that studied Chinese at university and went to China in the 80s on a scholarship to continue his studies. Through a series of fortunate circumstances, he ended up on TV and was watched by hundreds of millions of Chinese viewers, most of whom had never seen a white person speak such good Mandarin before (or at all).

He ended up embracing this and continued perfecting his Mandarin and doing media appearances. To this day, he is still the most skilled Western Mandarin speaker most Chinese people have or will ever hear. I’ve had native speakers tell me that he’s the only person where, if they close their eyes while listening to him, they cannot tell he’s a foreigner.

Why he’s interesting

  • Probably the most skilled Mandarin speaking by a non-native speaker that you will hear.
  • He has a unique perspective and interesting views on issues in China and the relationship between China and the West.
  • He’s funny! He likes to do a lot of comedy: stand-up, crosstalk , etc. For example:
    Dashan - Solo xiangsheng - Eng subtitles

More info