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Hockey in China Blog: Tea Party

by Deb Francisco / New York Islanders

Charles Wang and the New York Islanders have invested many resources in helping hockey grow in China through the Project Hope Foundation.’s Deborah Francisco will be blogging about the hockey scene in China and about Project Hope as she coaches a week-long hockey camp in Harbin, China.

To read previous posts in this blog, CLICK HERE.

Having a morning cup of coffee is a ritual that I’m so accustomed to that I didn’t think twice when we told Yin-Bin, our host, that we were going to run out for a cup during our hour-long break on the first day of camp. We left the rink and wandered around for 20 minutes before Yin-Bin, who speaks just a small amount of English, came and fetched us to guide us on our quest.

We walked a few blocks to a giant mall where he led us to the third floor and stopped at a shop that housed a variety of packaged goods. “Co-ffee,” Yin-Bin muttered as he pointed at several boxes of NesCafe instant coffee.

Laughter erupted from our group of coaches as we realized how silly we’d been to think that we would find a hot, steamy cup of black coffee as easily as if we were in New York City where coffee is literally available on every corner.

However, our kind host was eager to please his Western friends and insisted on buying us a box of instant coffee packets to use for the rest of our stay. Then we assumed our guide would lead us back to the hotel for lunch, but he made a detour on the way back and brought us into a tea market where there were dozens of Chinese tea shops set up for guests to drop in for a tea party – which is exactly what Yin-Bin wanted us to do.

He sat us around a large, dark-polished-wood table and handed us each a tiny tea cup that fit easily on the palm of my hand. He then placed a handful of dried tea leaves in a small pot and poured hot water into it to steep for a moment before pouring the tea through a filter and into another pot to serve it to us. He filled each of our tiny cups and then we all clinked our glasses and said, “Gambe” which is the Chinese version of Cheers. We sipped, and laughed, and chatted, and sipped some more and he made more tea and we sipped more and laughed more and repeated this for 20 more minutes before we all realized we were going to be pretty late for lunch. Before we could rush out of the shop, the shop-owner insisted that we leave with a huge sack full of tea bags so we could make our own tea. We were also outfitted with a small loose-leaf tea pot that looks similar to a French coffee press as well as ten tiny glass teacups.

Our impromptu tea party taught me something beautiful about Chinese culture; people here are not constantly rushing around but they take time to sit and enjoy each other’s company whether it’s over a cup (well several tiny cups) of tea, or over chicken and rice at dinner. Meals here are all served family style. You never order an individual portion because they bring out heaps of each dish that you split between everyone at the table.

The food has been an adventure in and of itself for our team and we’ve eaten everything from sweet-and-sour pork to chicken gizards, cow’s throat and barbequed caterpillar cocoons. Our team of coaches has had to step out of our comfort zones to immerse ourselves in the culture here. Although the kids laugh at us during lunch when we make a sour face over a taste we didn’t expect, we’ve all laughed more this week then we have in a long time. Ultimately, this week is about bringing our worlds together through the sport of hockey.

When we’re on the ice with the kids it’s obvious that hockey transcends cultural differences and forms a bond that we can all share. As Jin Yu Wang, the Chief Representative of Project Hope in China, told us at dinner on Wednesday night, “We are all a hockey family, and together we can help to grow the sport of hockey here in China.”


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