A show and cups of tea at the Lao She Teahouse
In 2010, a colleague who who I met whilst studying Mandarin, asked me would I like to visit the famous teahouse, Lao She, to see a show and drink some tea. I immediately said ‘yes’. So with another friend, one Saturday afternoon we caught a taxi to the Lao She Teahouse which is located in Qianmen very close to Tian’anmen Square.
The Lao She Teahouse was named after famous Chinese novelist Shu Qingchun. When writing, Shu used the pen name ‘Lao She’ and wrote the play ‘Teahouse’. Hence the name ‘Lao She Teahouse’. Shu also wrote the great novel ‘Rickshaw Boy’ which I have read and thoroughly recommend. A really enjoyable read.
The whole building is quite beautiful, it was opened in 1988 and is decorated mainly in a traditional Chinese style.
The ground floor has a little museum on the history of the teahouse and then you walk up a flight of stairs to see paintings and calligraphy hung on the walls and beautiful displays of old teapots and teacups. There is a small shop where you can purchase tea, teapots etc [which of course I did].
We were shown to our table which was a basic wooden table with Chinese wooden chairs [very befitting with the rest of the building] and on the table there were traditional Chinese snacks and local desserts. Neither my friend Natalie nor I liked them very much but our colleague enjoyed some of them. I think I enjoy western sweet more than Chinese sweets…they are an acquired taste; and unfortunately I don’t like most of them. I don’t think the Chinese mind though as there are about 1.4 billion Chinese who do like them.
Then the show commenced, firstly with a traditional shadow puppet show which was very good, followed by a Chinese comedian.
Now this was a funny part of the show…and not for the reason you might think…yes I am sure the comedian was funny because the Chinese audience were all in hysterics..but at that time neither me nor my two friends neither spoke nor understood Mandarin, so whilst the audience was laughing loudly, we sat there wondering what in heaven this man was joking about!! And of course the Chinese kept looking at us (as the only foreigners in the restaurant) to see if we understood, so we had to keep up appearances; smiling widely and pretending to understand!!
The comedian was followed by a Chinese opera singer – again another acquired taste …and not mine…(I have seen one other Chinese opera when living in Hong Kong and even then, some years ago it wasn’t to my liking).
We then were treated to a man who balanced pots on his head; it wasn’t particularly enthralling but it was ok; clearly he was very talented.
Throughout the show, different types of Chinese tea was provided. I do love Chinese tea; in particular Jasmine and Oolong – fabulous. The Lao She Teahouse was the first of the modern teahouses built after the opening up of China and at that time the price of a big bowl of tea was only the equivalent of two cents a bowl.
Our next show was a tea pouring ceremony which was very good and then the final show being the ‘Chinese face mask changing’ [bian lian 变脸].
Bian lian is an ancient Chinese dramatic art that is part of the more general Sichuan opera. Performers wear brightly colored costumes and move to quick, dramatic music. They also wear vividly colored masks, typically depicting well known characters from the opera, which they change from one face to another almost instantaneously with the swipe of a fan, a movement of the head, or wave of the hand. (source: Wikipedia).
I have seen this many times in China and it is remarkable; I love it. So clever. Overall a good couple of hours and I am so glad I went.