I’m sure many of you, like me, were glued to the TV last week, wowed by the spectacle of the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics. The dancers, the special effects, the long procession of athletes walking in to the stadium – I haven’t seen a line that long since I stood in line waiting to buy the new iPhone.
Yet, in the days that followed, despite the dominance of swimmer Michael Phelps or the Chinese team’s success in gymnastics, the brilliance of the occasion didn’t hold my attention as much as a little known company doing business in China that gets very little attention but is actually no less awe-inspiring.
I’m referring, of course, to the tea-picking monkeys of Sichuan.
I learned about the existence of this monkey business during a random meeting a few weeks back. During the meeting, as we were listening to the latest month’s sales projections, I glanced over at one of the canisters of tea sitting on the conference table. There, sitting next to the other non-descript teas, was a canister of tea called, “The Monkey Picked Ti Kuan Yin”.
In the description, it read:
The legend of tea-plucking monkeys comes from the inaccessibility of mountain grown teas. Nurtured by clouds and mist, Ti Kuan Yin has an intense aroma and a complex, long-lasting finish.
In that moment, all my thoughts about the meeting disappeared and at once I became intrigued at the idea that in my tea cup, I was drinking tea made from tea leaves plucked by a monkey in a forest thousands of miles away.
A few thoughts: 1) How did the tea farmer initially decide that they were going to use animals to help them pluck tea leaves and how did they end up with a monkey? I mean, at some point someone came to the conclusion, “OK, no more ladders. No more long poles with knives on the end. From here on in, we’re using animals. Now where can we find a monkey?”
Actually, my guess is that they had to work their way up to a monkey. I mean, why go through the cost and effort of acquiring a monkey when, say, a squirrel can climb a tree just as well as a monkey and is already climbing your tea trees?
In an attempt to confirm my hypothesis, I’m planning to employ the local squirrels in my backyard for a little manual labor. While I have no tealeaf plants for them to pick, I figure that they are perfectly suited to clean out the gutters of my house. I will report on my progress with this at a later date.
Now back to the monkeys.
At some point, the tea farmer decides to use monkeys to pick tea leaves. So, my next question is, how do you train a monkey to pluck tea leaves? Now don’t get me wrong, I know that monkeys are capable of doing a lot of things – carnival tricks, sign language, etc., but picking tea leaves?
I imagine the training sessions involve a lot of frustration and patience for the tea farmer.
Bungo! Get over here! Drop that banana and get over here now! How many times do I have to tell you? I only want tea leaves! Nothing else! What did you bring me this time? A shoe! One shoe! You’ve been monkeying around all day! Today alone you’ve brought me three tea leaves, a rock, four sticks, a dead mouse and this shoe. Bungo! Stop scratching yourself and pay attention! You never see Bingo, Bango or Devin making these kind of mistakes. Now you shape up or no more bananas and you can go back into the jungle to eat bananas whenever you want! Get back to work you cotton-pickin’, tea-leaf pickin’ monkey!
The funny thing is that this company is actively promoting their tea and how monkeys picked the tea leaves. I wonder how it would go over here if the next time you pick a bottle of ketchup and in bold print it read, “The finest ketchup made from tomatoes picked by our own band of monkeys!”
Last thought: now that the Chinese have proven themselves in gymnastics while still having monkeys climbing tea leaves from trees humans can’t climb, wouldn’t this be the perfect time for the ultimate face off?
Now that’s a sporting event I’d pay to go see.
I read recently that in preparation for the 2008 Summer Olympics, the host country of China has been testing technology that would allow them to control the atmosphere to ensure that the games will be held in picture perfect weather.
That being the case, for the first time in Olympic history, when the athletes take the field, notice the crisp blue skies overhead and proclaim, “You couldn’t ask for better weather”, an official can rightly say, “Well, actually you can, but it takes a while to get the permits.”
As I understand it, the technology has been around for years, and it involves shooting certain chemicals into clouds that are heading towards the Olympics to force the clouds to rain and sputter out by the time they pass over Beijing, where the games are being held.
Think about it – we now have the power to CHANGE THE WEATHER! If we keep going in this direction, you just know that at some point the Sharper Image is going to come out with a personal “Thunderstorm Zapper” for those days when you “really can’t afford to let it rain.”
Umbrella companies will go belly up. No need to take any more chances when washing your car and hoping that it doesn’t start raining the next day. No more hurricanes to deal with and if one happens to slip through, you can send a nasty letter to the National Weather Service to fire the guy who apparently fell asleep at the wheel (or in this case, fell asleep at the big weather canon).
You have to wonder about the guy who came up with this technology and the type of personality he had. If I was in that meeting when he proposed the idea, I know what I’d ask.
Me: Excuse me, but do you really think it’s a good idea to tamper with Mother Nature and do we really know what the long term consequences might be?
Weather Changing Inventor Guy: Mother Nature sucks. Besides, I can make it rain!
Of course, if you ask an environmentalist like former Vice President Al Gore, he might say that we’ve had the power to change the weather for quite a while but until recently, we just didn’t know it. Who would have ever thought that as a collective force, we human beings would have the power to make our world warmer?
On the one hand the idea of mankind having the audacity to control the weather is kind of funny. But when you really think about it, it seems like it’s a part of a much larger trend, one that at least for me, seems a little scary.
We’ve built enormous dams to generate electricity and divert water to where it wasn’t meant to go. As we saw with hurricane Katrina, we’ve built entire cities in areas that lie ten feet below sea level and are shocked when a massive storm fills it to the rim with water.
Now we are planning to physically prevent the possibility of rain on the opening day of a very famous sporting event, as athletes from all over the world march onto the field in front of an adoring crowd.
Call me crazy, but maybe just this once, it wouldn’t necessarily be the worst thing for it to rain on this parade.