; Cwyn's Death By Tea: My Chinatown Trip ;

Sunday, March 6, 2016

My Chinatown Trip

Nothing is more deliciously relaxing than settling back on my pillows with a tea blog, and so I am a fan of long form tea blogs. Few people write enough paragraphs in a blog post to justify the time loading the page, and on so many blogs the page barely loads such that when the loading time finishes, I’m already done reading. My favorite long form blogs lately which comprise a Saturday morning tea in bed include the curmudgeonly Steepstories by lazyliteratus, a writer whose prose just gets better and better. And of course, James at TeaDB.org posts a long form every other Saturday, a blog I anticipate and miss on the off-weeks.

OolongOwl is the other long form blogger I read with no rival anywhere in the professionalism of her layout and high quality photos. Behind the crocheted Japanese owls lurks a Tea Master whose palate goes easily from pristine white tea to the funkiest puerh, and with equal deftness covers tea ware, kettles and even Korean cosmetics. In fact, I think OolongOwl’s site isn’t just a blog, it’s a one-woman magazine. In her site I’ve found invaluable discoveries on brewing tips and tea ware. She digs deep into tea, the how-to's with brewing to get the best out of tea, and honest notes, sometimes correcting her own parameters right in the post.

This week, OolongOwl wrote a travelogue on a recent trip back to her hometown of Vancouver which included a tour of tea shops and Chinatown. I adore travelogues written by people who share my interests. I bookmarked that page immediately and started looking around for inexpensive silver plate covered sugar bowls on Ebay that I might use for gong fu, after reading about tea water prepared in a silver kettle at The Chinese Tea Shop. I love reading tea travel stories, and in fact a Younger Cwyn traveled to Vancouver not once, but twice. A long time ago, not for the tea but for the pot, the other kind of pot. I got to remembering one trip after reading OolongOwl’s post this week.

 This post is not about tea. Not really.
I’ve traveled to Seattle twice now, 20 years ago or more, to visit my former brother-in-law, traveling with other family members and both trips included day jaunts up to Vancouver. But I have to back up here in my recollections, because much like reading OolongOwl’s travelogue this week, my Vancouver trips were also preceded by reading travelogues, back then from High Times magazine. Now, I used to live in what was then left of the old hippie neighborhoods of Madison, when we still didn’t have internet and unless you worked in a bread shop or food co-op, you didn’t dare subscribe to things like High Times magazine. I used to buy my copies with cash at a store on State Street, not for the high quality bud photos which gave me anxiety much as million dollar tong photos do today, but rather for the travel section, for I was determined to follow along on as many pot tour travels as possible.

Yes, dear readers. Old Cwyn was a pothead back in graduate school and I venture that is the only way to do graduate school. In fact, I was baked all the way through to the end of my dissertation, and at the time I was convinced I had insights into multiple regression not accessible to ordinary students arriving to class only on latte cocktails. So while I didn’t dare to mail subscribe to High Times back in those days, instead I bought single copies at a store which also boasted the only location in town for computer LAN gaming. You young people won’t even know what that is, or what a wonderland gaming shops were for us in the days of IBM 8 inch floppies. But I’m trying to get around to the travel section of High Times in which I discovered a pot tour of Vancouver, because my goal was to get there and follow that tour. And so I did.

My son’s father and I were already living separately, but remained good friends and we traveled with our son and yes, my mother-in-law, going from Seattle to Vancouver for a couple of days with no real plan. That would be the same mother-in-law who stayed at my house last summer. I’m still having trouble recalling now what years exactly we went to Vancouver, and I’ve never publicly told this story before. Maybe someone can help me with the dating.

Back in Seattle, my brother-in-law worked for one of the newly sprung up computer hardware companies. This brother was a long-haired hippie sculptor back in the day, living on air and weed but with a hobby for computer animated cartoons in the 1980s, and this hobby placed him in the right place at the right time when personal computing began. He landed himself a plum job with more money than he knew how to spend, and he had rented a huge house in Redmond with almost no furniture. He himself slept on a futon on the floor much as he’d always done, as we all did back then. When staying at his house, however, the rest of the family got the spare bedrooms which meant my only choice for privacy was to sleep in the car. I have a long history of sleeping in cars when I travel because I’d rather not share a room.

Current drug of choice.

So, we went up to Vancouver for a few days, staying at a hotel attached to a large shopping mall where the train stopped for a quick lift to downtown. By then I was seriously jonesing, because I didn’t dare bring any weed on the plane and after a few days with my ex’s relatives, I deserved a break. While the rest of the family toured the mall, I hopped in my bedroom car to head downtown for the High Times Pot tour.

My destination was the shop owned by marijuana activist Marc Emery in downtown Vancouver. The state of this shop at the time I visited might help with dating my tour. I visited before Mr. Emery was arrested and imprisoned for the long sentence, but after the raid on the café with the bong-installed tables. So at that point, the café was gone and the store sold only marijuana seeds and growing equipment. Vancouver residents then could legally own up to two marijuana plants, and I could see the legal two on apartment patios along the downtown area where Marc Emery’s store was located.

Pot is still illegal in Wisconsin where I live, and the main reason why I don’t use it any longer. It’s just not worth the trouble to be a girl and smoke weed unless you grow it yourself, because you deal with men ripping you off. Or you have to sleep with someone, and sometimes that guy will rip you off too. I got fed up with the whole nine yards. I don’t have stamina like Mr Emery, we all know what he went through. Let’s face it, very few of us have his guts. Sometimes the most honest thing you can do to support a movement, if you can’t handle the heavy lifting, is to stay out of it. Leave it to people who know what they are doing and give money to the places they ask you to.

But I was dumb and didn’t know it back then. At the time, to actually see a shop with, well, everything out in the open was just heady stuff. I imagine today that walking into the Chinese Tea Shop might be equally exciting. Upstairs I could see Grow equipment like lights and bottles of fertilizer, things I had no chance in hell of carting over the border unless I wanted to risk a tear-down of the rental car. Downstairs was the seed shop, boasting varietals and clones from around the world, and the store displayed samples of various clones. Mr. Emery did not sell marijuana, the samples he had were grown by others. He also did not serve any, though the customer was free to try display materials.

I told Marc that I saw his store in High Times, and that I was from Wisconsin, and gave him proof in a cigarette lighter with the Bongo Video logo. Bongo Video was a VHS tape rental shop in Madison once owned by neighborhood friends and activists Nancy Streckert and Carl Degner. Their shop also sold Dunhill tobacco and rolling papers. Alas the once-successful shop succumbed to the age of streaming video.

Best video shop in the history of the world.
We miss you.
Logo photo at dane101.com
Marc laughed at the Bongo Video lighter, and so I gave it to him.

“Here, roll yourself a joint,” Marc pushed a tray of samples. “We don’t sell weed here and I don’t serve it myself anymore.”


I’m not a good joint roller. Nobody rolls joints in a pot-illegal state, unless you’re using weed to try and quit cigarettes or deal with a health problem. Joints are wasteful. Instead, we cut off chair legs and make pipes from the wood. When the cops show up, all you have to do is put the chair leg back on. And of course the chair is a curb pick anyway, who knows where it came from?

But I rolled something of a joint and lit up, passing it back and forth with Marc. Okay, now this was seriously the best weed I’ve ever had. Unreal. I don’t think I could move for at least 90 minutes. Instead I just watched people drifting in and out of the basement section of the store. I purchased six seeds of Blueberry something or other. Back then seeds were like $8 on the low end each, so this purchase cost me like $50, but I didn’t feel as I could leave without purchasing anything, given the generous hospitality. Marc told me that if I needed weed, I might find people across the street with some, just to tell them he sent me. I went across the street to see, and found a dark hallway with a man down on the end. This looked a bit scary so I decided to head back to the hotel and managed to find where I’d parked the car.

Now this is when my problems with Vancouver began. I had no problem whatsoever finding the shop, but couldn’t find my way back to the hotel. The city seemed to think that putting up a street sign on every corner is a waste of public dollars. Only a few streets actually had street signs with the name of the street. And to make things worse, the city had no left turn traffic lights. None. If you wanted to make a left turn, you had to sit in a long line of cars hoping for a break in the traffic. And by this time of day, rush hour had started. So instead of Vancouver thinking “hey let’s put in left turn signals to reduce congestion, and mark streets with signs so people can find their way around,”  well no, instead “we’ll just decorate the median strips with flowers and sculpted bushes so people have something nice to look at while they are sitting in cars not moving.” In America, you won’t see a whole lot of decorated median strips because you will whiz by too fast to notice them anyway.

Steep it while it's legal, people.
Yeah, okay, I was stoned out of my mind. But I knew which street I needed to get back to the hotel, and it just wasn’t there. Drove around in circles for at least ninety minutes and finally pulled over on a side street to try and either take a nap or figure out my location. The afternoon waned and the sky was getting dark, and I couldn’t even remotely tell where I was. Just then, the street lights came on, which also included rather fancy sidewalk lamps.

“Now these look odd,” I thought, “this street is so decorated.” I looked up at the storefront next to the car. A café, with Chinese lettering on the window. Then I looked up the rest of the street. All the shops were in Chinese. I was in Chinatown, at dusk when the lights came on.

Suddenly I wasn’t in English anymore. A wave of paranoid terror ran over me, and I started up the car to get the hell out of there, fast, before someone noticed a stoned white girl in a foreign country and a rented car. Chinatown wasn’t so tony back then. Hit the gas and drove like mad.

Found myself on something like a four lane, maybe, the traffic heavy so I just kept going until I had some room to maneuver and finally pulled off into an open lot. I sat back just to breathe. No idea where I am. I closed my eyes for a while until the Blueberry spinning subsided somewhat. Looked around. The only cow land references I could see were buildings like silos and a few cranes. Grain elevators, maybe? Yes, I must at the wharf, I see water here. Okay this idea gave me at least a north-south perspective, one I’d lost once the sun went down. I knew where the hotel was in relation to the wharf, so using a notion of a street grid in my head I finally managed to find my way back to the hotel. A ten minute drive had turned into a trip of nearly four hours.

Back at the hotel, feeling guilty and irresponsible, I found a note from my son’s dad that they had all gone to a movie at the Mall. “Men in Black.” My ex had taken my 4 year old son to a violent Rated R movie. And I’m not exactly in a self-righteous position to complain, given I’ve been gone half the day, partying at a head shop and then arriving back stoned out of my beejeebers. Decided to go to bed.

Copper glazed cup by CeramicSoul, etsy
The next day, we all planned to walk around downtown before heading back to Seattle. I realized my mistake on the road, I had actually been driving on the correct street more than once the day before, but without the street sign I didn’t know it. The offending sign-less turn signal mocked my failures as a parent. I started to feel better walking around downtown with the family, their khakis clashing with my gunny sack dress, but the appearance of dignity restored. And we were just so close to…

“I’ll be right back,” I told the others. The shop was nearby after all, and I didn’t need to be the one driving. Made it quick this time, and wisely visited the bathroom to stuff my seed purchase where the sun doesn’t shine.

Now here’s my advice with traveling contraband, but it only works if you’re a chick. You need to save one of your monthly menstrual supplies and yes, it needs to be a used one. Wrap it in plastic if you’re squeamish, but in goes your contraband, all tightly wound and bye bye no one sees. Then you need a used pad too unless you’re currently in a position to make a fresh one yourself. So if you get stopped by the drug dog, well it’s not your fault the dog likes your crotch.

I was all set for the border. Or so I thought. We had no problems on the way in, but while my buzz was comfortably wearing off and my ex driving, sure enough the border patrol took our birth certificates and said “Can you pull over to the parking spot, please.”

Oh shit shit shit. No time for eye drops. I tried to look appropriately sleepy, which wasn’t too hard considering the café was even more fun this time. But far worse, the patrol officer heading over was a big, burly man. This is not good. I squidged my seed baggie, trying suck it in further up, hoping I didn’t have to bend over and cough.

“Is this your kid?” the officer asked.


“Is this your son?”

“Yes, of course he is,” I said.

What the fk…

“Can you prove it?”

“He’s four years old,” I said.

Back then, a child under the age of five traveling with his parents didn’t need to have a birth certificate, so we didn’t bring his.

“The United States forbids the trafficking of children from Canada,” said the officer.

“Oh, yes. Well of course he’s ours. Can’t you see the resemblance?”

My son looked like me in the face. Awake now, the boy was in a child restraint seat in the back seat looking up at the officer.

“Son, are these your parents?” the officer asked.

My son stared up with a blank look. He had just started early childhood special education, and had been born with a brain injury. He struggled with understanding language, a problem he still has today. Back then, if anyone said something he didn’t comprehend, he tried to get rid of them by saying “no.” So my son was about say “no” and I’d soon be coughing out additional evidence to add to my child trafficking charge.

“Son. Are these your parents?” the officer repeated.

I thanked the good gods for my ex taking the boy to see “Men in Black” the night before. For once my son was sufficiently scared to keep his mouth shut, a smart tactic around officers of any type.

The officer gave up at that point, and decided to wave us on. After all we were a family of three plus one old lady in a rented station wagon. Wisely, the border patrol has better things to do.

So there you have one story of my visits to Chinatown in the days before tea. Back at home, I gave my seed purchase to a friend who was a grower. Typical to the weed underground, I got nothing for my smuggling efforts, and my friend denied remembering the seeds later on when I asked about them.

Washing an old Ding Xing wrapper. You can buy this tea in
Vancouver or online at thechineseteashop.com
It all adds up after awhile, and this trip was one among many that led to me not wanting anything more to do with the hippie scene as I was living it then. When Marc Emery was arrested not long afterward and assigned a long prison sentence, one which he was forced to complete in a country which actually is more forward thinking than my own, I realized society had reached a point where I didn’t want to be part of any movements any longer. My father is allowed to kill himself with alcohol, and people can have their two drinks or more a day without anyone thinking the worse of them, but god help the person who wants to imbibe a plant that never killed anyone.

Along with that, the peaceful hippie scene got worse in other ways. People started throwing tomatoes at people like me wearing secondhand fur coats. Hippies were no longer wearing gunny sack dresses, leather fringe and fur. No, they started wearing plastic shoes and belts and fabrics you will still find in a landfill 1000 years from now. I got fed up with the whole movement which had moved from peaceful and healthy living, to rabid city politics targeting rural ways in the state. So after 9/11 hit and our society descended into an even deeper chasm of irrational politics, I realized it was time to get out of Mad City. I sublet my dump of an apartment in the neighborhood which has since been completely rebuilt with cheap materials to so-called modern standards, and purchased a vintage stone foundation house in the rural cow town where I live now.

And believe me, I’m the happier for it. I don’t share most of the politics around here, but I value my neighbors’ penchant for independence and no government interference. Even if for reasons I don’t share. We’ll see how long this lasts. Any day now I expect they will start regulating my tea too. Someone, somewhere, is going to give the wrong person a cup of dizzy puerh and it will be all over. I just hope I check out first.

Requiescat in Pace

Don't miss OolongOwl's post this week at:


  1. Border controls can be a nerve-racking experience even when you're stone cold sober.

    A couple of years ago I was returning to Scandi-land after a short spell in Albion, complete with 4 tea caddies full of loose leaf tea.

    It was only as I laid my baggage on the belt for the X-ray scanner did I begin to think how potentially dodgy that might look to an over eager customs youth.

    If they start to rummage through my stuff, I thought, god only knows what they'll think if they open up the Pu-erh...

    1. My postmaster thinks my tea is weed. He can't fathom all the boxes that keep arriving, why anyone would keep ordering tea.

  2. I . . . loved . . . everything about this. And not because I was mentioned. (Although, that did grab my attention.)

    And if you ever want to be IN the movement (that's not bowel related), it's now legal in Oregon. NW Portland smells like cheap kush, now. Yes, all of it.