Category: World Cultures
Although more than a million tourists flock to its beaches, boutique hotels, trendy restaurants and clubs each summer, Bodrum (ancient Halicarnassus) never seems to lose its cool. More than any other Turkish seaside getaway, it has an enigmatic elegance that pervades it, from the town’s crowning castle and glittering marina to its flower-filled cafes and white-plastered backstreets. Even in the most hectic days of high summer, you can still find little corners of serenity in the town.
Urban planners have sought to preserve Bodrum’s essential Aegean character, which was influenced by the Cretans who moved here during the population exchange of the 1920s. Today, laws restrict buildings’ heights, and the whitewashed houses with bright-blue trim evoke a lost era. The evocative castle and the ancient ruins around town also help keep Bodrum a discerning step above the rest.
Sights in Bodrum
There are splendid views from the battlements of Bodrum’s magnificent castle, built by the Knights Hospitaller in the early 15th century and dedicated to St Peter. Today it houses the Museum of Underwater Archaeology (Sualtı Arkeoloji Müzesi), arguably the most important museum of its type in the world and a veritable lesson in how to bring ancient exhibits to life. Items are creatively displayed and well lit, and information panels, maps, models, drawings, murals, dioramas and videos all help to animate them.
Based on Rhodes, the Knights Hospitaller built the castle during Tamerlane’s Mongol invasion of Anatolia in 1402, which weakened the Ottomans and gave the order an opportunity to establish a foothold here. They used marble and stones from Mausolus’ famed Mausoleum, which had collapsed in an earthquake, and changed the city’s name from Halicarnassus to Petronium, recalling St Peter. By 1437 they had finished building, although they added new defensive features (moats, walls, cisterns etc) right up until 1522, when Süleyman the Magnificent captured Rhodes. The Knights were forced to cede the castle, and the victorious Muslim sultan promptly turned the chapel into a mosque, complete with new minaret. For centuries, the castle was never tested, but French shelling in WWI toppled the minaret (re-erected in 1997).
Spread around the castle, the attractively lit and informative museum has reconstructions and multimedia displays to complement the antiquities, and takes about two hours to see. It gets very busy and claustrophobic in the museum’s small rooms, so try to arrive early. Look to the ground for green/red mosaic arrows indicating a short/long tour route. You’ll see peacocks strolling, strutting and calling to prospective mates throughout the castle grounds.
One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Mausoleum was the greatest achievement of Carian King Mausolus (r 376–353 BC), who moved his capital from Mylasa (today’s Milas) to Halicarnassus. The only ancient elements to survive are the pre-Mausolean stairways and tomb chambers, the narrow entry to Mausolus’ tomb chamber and a huge green stone that blocked it, the Mausolean drainage system, precinct wall bits and some large fluted marble column drums.
Before his death, the king planned his own tomb, to be designed by Pytheos, the architect of Priene’s Temple of Athena. When he died, his wife (and sister), Artemisia, oversaw the completion of the enormous, white-marble colonnaded tomb topped by a 24-step pyramid and a quadriga, a four-horse chariot carrying Mausolus. In the late 15th century the Knights Hospitaller found the Mausoleum in ruins, perhaps destroyed by an earthquake, and between 1494 and 1522, almost all of it was reused as building blocks for the castle or burned for the lime content to strengthen the walls. Luckily, the more impressive ancient friezes were incorporated into the castle walls, while original statues of Mausolus and Artemisia were sent to the British Museum.
The site has relaxing gardens, with excavations to the west and a covered arcade to the east – the latter contains a copy of the famous frieze now in the British Museum. Four original fragments displayed were discovered more recently. Models, drawings and documents indicate the grand dimensions of the original Mausoleum. A scale model of Mausolus’ Halicarnassus is also on display.
Bodrum Maritime Museum
This small but well-formed museum spread over two floors examines Bodrum’s maritime past through finely crafted scale models of boats and an excellent video on traditional ‘Bodrum-type’ boat building. Much is made of Bodrum’s role as a sponge-diving centre and local writer Cevat Şakir Kabaağaçlı – the much-loved ’Fisherman of Halicarnassus’.
Conchologists of whatever hue will be in seventh heaven here. A private collection of some 6000 shells representing one third of all mollusc families is on shimmering display upstairs.
The restored Ottoman shipyard stands just above the marina. In 1770 Russia destroyed the entire Ottoman fleet at Çeşme; rebuilding it took place in boatyards such as this one. It was fortified against pirate attacks in the 18th and 19th centuries with a watchtower; today it occasionally hosts art exhibitions. Old tombstones, dating from the period when the Latin alphabet was replacing Arabic-based eski yazı (old-style writing) are kept above. Excellent views.
These are the restored remains of the only surviving gate from what were originally 7km-long walls probably built by King Mausolus in the 4th century BC. In front of the twin-towered gate are the remains of a moat in which many of Alexander the Great’s soldiers drowned in 334 BC.
On the main road to Turgutreis, ancient Halicarnassus’ theatre was built in the hillside rock in the 4th century BC to seat 5000 spectators but that capacity was increased to 13,000 for gladiatorial contests in the 3rd century AD. It hosts concerts and other events in summer.
With its cobblestone paving and Georgian façades, tranquil Hill Street is a haven in Edinburgh’s busy New Town. Compared to the Scottish capital’s looming castle or eerie closes, it doesn’t seem like a street with a secret.
Walk slowly, though, and you might notice something odd. Written in gold gilt above a door framed by two baby-blue columns are the words, “The Lodge of Edinburgh (Mary’s Chapel) No 1”. Further up the wall, carved into the sandstone, is a six-pointed star detailed with what seem – at least to non-initiates – like strange symbols and numbers.
Located at number 19 Hill Street, Mary’s Chapel isn’t a place of worship. It’s a Masonic lodge. And, with its records dating back to 1599, it’s the oldest proven Masonic lodge still in existence anywhere in the world.
That might come as a surprise to some people. Ask most enthusiasts when modern Freemasonry began, and they’d point to a much later date: 1717, the year of the foundation of what would become known as the Grand Lodge of England. But in many ways, Freemasonry as we know it today is as Scottish as haggis or Harris tweed.
From the Middle Ages, associations of stonemasons existed in both England and Scotland. It was in Scotland, though, that the first evidence appears of associations – or lodges – being regularly used. By the late 1500s, there were at least 13 established lodges across Scotland, from Edinburgh to Perth. But it wasn’t until the turn of the 16th Century that those medieval guilds gained an institutional structure – the point which many consider to be the birth of modern Freemasonry.
Take, for example, the earliest meeting records, usually considered to be the best evidence of a lodge having any real organisation. The oldest minutes in the world, which date to January 1599, is from Lodge Aitchison’s Haven in East Lothian, Scotland, which closed in 1852. Just six months later, in July 1599, the lodge of Mary’s Chapel in Edinburgh started to keep minutes, too. As far as we can tell, there are no administrative records from England dating from this time.
“This is, really, when things begin,” said Robert Cooper, curator of the Grand Lodge of Scotland and author of the book Cracking the Freemason’s Code. “[Lodges] were a fixed feature of the country. And what is more, we now know it was a national network. So Edinburgh began it, if you like.”
I met Cooper in his office: a wood-panelled, book-stuffed room in the Grand Lodge of Scotland at 96 George Street, Edinburgh – just around the corner from Mary’s Chapel. Here and there were cardboard boxes, the kind you’d use for a move, each heaped full with dusty books and records. Since its founding in 1736, this lodge has received the records and minutes of every other official Scottish Masonic lodge in existence. It is also meant to have received every record of membership, possibly upwards of four million names in total.
That makes the sheer number of documents to wade through daunting. But it’s also fruitful, like when the Grand Lodge got wind of the Aitchison’s Haven minutes, which were going for auction in London in the late 1970s. Another came more recently when Cooper found the 115-year-old membership roll book of a Scottish Masonic lodge in Nagasaki, Japan.
“There’s an old saying that wherever Scots went in numbers, the first thing they did was build a kirk [church], then they would build a bank, then they would build a pub. And the fourth thing was always a lodge,” Cooper said, chuckling.
That internationalism was on full display in the Grand Lodge of Scotland’s museum, which is open to the public. It was full of flotsam and jetsam from around the world: a green pennant embroidered with the “District Grand Lodge of Scottish Freemasonry in North China”; some 30 Masonic “jewels” – or, to non-Masons, medals – from Czechoslovakia alone.
Of course, conspiracy theorists find that kind of reach foreboding. Some say Freemasonry is a cult with links to the Illuminati. Others believe it to be a global network that’s had a secret hand in everything from the design of the US dollar bill to the French Revolution. Like most other historians, Cooper shakes his head at this.
“If we’re a secret society, how do you know about us?” he asked. “This is a public building; we’ve got a website, a Facebook page, Twitter. We even advertise things in the press. But we’re still a ‘secret society’ running the world! A real secret society is the Mafia, the Chinese triads. They are real secret societies. They don’t have a public library. They don’t have a museum you can wander into.”
Some of the mythology about Freemasonry stems from the mystery of its early origins. One fantastical theory goes back to the Knights Templar; after being crushed by King Philip of France in 1307, the story goes, some fled to Argyll in western Scotland, and remade themselves as a new organisation called the Freemasons. (Find out more in our recent story about the Knights Templar).
Others – including Freemasons themselves – trace their lineage back to none other than King Solomon, whose temple, it’s said, was built with a secret knowledge that was transferred from one generation of stonemason to the next.
A more likely story is that Freemasonry’s early origins stem from medieval associations of tradesmen, similar to guilds. “All of these organisations were based on trades,” said Cooper. “At one time, it would have been, ‘Oh, you’re a Freemason – I’m a Free Gardener, he’s a Free Carpenter, he’s a Free Potter’.”
For all of the tradesmen, having some sort of organisation was a way not only to make contacts, but also to pass on tricks of the trade – and to keep outsiders out.
But there was a significant difference between the tradesmen. Those who fished or gardened, for example, would usually stay put, working in the same community day in, day out.
Not so with stonemasons. Particularly with the rush to build more and more massive, intricate churches throughout Britain in the Middle Ages, they would be called to specific – often huge – projects, often far from home. They might labour there for months, even years. Thrown into that kind of situation, where you depended on strangers to have the same skills and to get along, how could you be sure everyone knew the trade and could be trusted? By forming an organisation. How could you prove that you were a member of that organisation when you turned up? By creating a code known by insiders only – like a handshake.
Even if lodges existed earlier, though, the effort to organise the Freemason movement dates back to the late 1500s. A man named William Schaw was the Master of Works for King James VI of Scotland (later also James I of England), which meant he oversaw the construction and maintenance of the monarch’s castles, palaces and other properties. In other words, he oversaw Britain’s stonemasons. And, while they already had traditions, Schaw decided that they needed a more formalised structure – one with by-laws covering everything from how apprenticeships worked to the promise that they would “live charitably together as becomes sworn brethren”.
Scotland’s true Masonic history, it turns out, is more hidden than the church that Dan Brown made famous. It’s just hidden in plain sight: in the Grand Lodge and museum that opens its doors to visitors; in the archivist eager for more people to look at the organisation’s historical records; and in the lodges themselves, tucked into corners and alleyways throughout Edinburgh and Scotland’s other cities.
Their doors may often be closed to non-members, but their addresses, and existence, are anything but secret.
China is an ancient, mysterious land w which extends up to an area of 9,596,960 sq km. This country, with its rich culture and ancient traditions, is abundant in its resources and minerals and has served people for generations. The splendid Chinese culture, with its distinctive customs, is credited with four great inventions viz., gun powder, paper, printing and compass.
This keenness of the Chinese culture can also be seen in the uniqueness displayed in their arts and crafts, calligraphy, embroidery, operas, painting and silk. Martial art, a fairly recent concept in the rest of the world, has been a part of the Chinese culture for centuries.
Chinese literature has also contributed a lot towards shaping the rich heritage of this culture. The delectable and vibrant Chinese cuisine is also amazing and has travelled to most of parts of the globe to turn into a universal cuisine. For more amazing and interesting facts about Chinese culture, scroll further!
— Chinese civilization is considered to be the longest and the most continuous civilization of the world.
— In ancient times, it was believed that China was situated in the center of the world and hence the name ‘China’ or ‘Zhong Guo’, which means ‘Central Nation’ or ‘Middle Kingdom’.
— The first human skull, which is estimated to be about 67,000 years old, was found in Liujiang, southern part of China.
— Considered to be one of the most prominent introductions to the Chinese culture, Buddhism carved a new beginning to religion and philosophy in China, in the second century B.C. During this period, innovative ideas led to new designs, temple layouts, new styles of figure painting, sculptures, furnishings etc.
— Chinese is the most widely spoken language with about 850 million speakers across China.
— In the present day Chinese culture, the Chinese Government has incorporated several elements of Chinese tradition. Various forms of Chinese literature, art, music, fashion, film and architecture have been revived vigorously with the rise of Chinese nationalism.
— Opportunities for social advancement of the Chinese are purely based on their performance in the prominent imperial examinations which have been in place since 605 A.D. This helped the Emperor select skillful bureaucrats and also refined the perception of culture in China.
— Calligraphy, a decorative practice of hand writing, was developed as an art form in China, over 2,000 years ago. Nowadays, this art form is done with special pens and ink rather than the brushes used in the olden days.
— Previously, sculpting and painting weren’t significant in Chinese art forms but with the iconography of Buddhism, they reached a different level altogether during the fifth and the sixth centuries. During the Middle Ages, the art styles which were prominent were the Tibetan, Mughal and Mongolian styles.
— There are about 300 different forms of opera in China with a rich history of more than 800 years. Chinese Opera has been popular for generations and uses string instruments along with high-pitched vocal stylings.
— During the Chinese Spring Festival, about 230 million people go back to their hometowns to welcome the arrival of the Chinese New Year. This is the time of the year when public transports get congested with a sea of people and subsequently, ticket fares skyrocket. China observes a 15 day holiday throughout the nation which is the reason for this mass migration.
— Shanghai, in China, is considered the biggest city of the world with a population of 16 million.
— Being a multi-racial country, China is home to 56 ethnic groups.
— In the Sichuan province of China, the population is more than the total inhabitants of Canada, Australia, Austria, Guatemala, Holland, New Zealand, Malaysia, Portugal, and Greece taken together.
— Unless you have a close relation or association with the person you meet, you should not address a Chinese with the first name. Official or professional titles such as “Mayor Wang” or “Engineer Li” can also be used for the address.
— During ‘Great Leap Forward’, Mao Zedong’s unsuccessful experiment, which was a step towards making China, a modern economy, about 20-30 million people died of starvation.
— Chopsticks, the wooden cutlery items, are a specialty of the Chinese and are used for the longer reach. It is not considered good manners to play unnecessarily with them. Chinese prefer to dine with their families and use the traditional, hygienic and well-designed utensils.
— Ginseng is considered the most important herb of Chinese diet and has special significance in their folklore and tradition as well. For about five thousand years, special herbs were compulsorily included in Chinese diet charts, for a long and problem free life.
— Chinese follow very specific traditions with respect to their outfits. They wear dark colors for special ceremonies whereas light colors for casual outings.
— One of the wider known and followed customs of Chinese culture is giving a hard-boiled egg, dyed red, in order to make birth announcements.
— According to the Chinese culture, dragon is considered to be the most powerful and is the luckiest symbol for them among all the other twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac.
— One of the major attractions of China is ‘Great Wall of China’ that is more than 21000 km long. Another attraction here is the 46-ton of the ‘Great Bell temple’ situated in Haidian District of Beijing.
The artist’s Rio 2016 single follows pop’s tradition of cliched Olympic tributes by releasing a video in which she conquers the art of parachuting.
It’s day zero of the Rio Olympic Games and as everyone knows, nothing screams “Win the discus!” more than watching a pop star get smothered in a parachute while dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow.
Katy Perry’s video for Rise, her Olympics song released before the opening ceremony on Friday evening, is a gymnastic extravaganza in which she attempts to launch herself from Utah’s Snow Canyon and Sand Hollow state park into the sky like a scabby-faced Cirque du Soleil performer. Along the way she is tangled in parachute cables, nearly drowns and scales a mountain. In fact, there’s so much billowing pink fabric and emphasis on triumph in the face of adversity that the three minutes of footage could double up as an advert for Always maxi pads with supermassive wings.
Perhaps the pressure of global competition, mixed with the responsibility of representing four years of athletes’ gruelling training schedules, is the reason why so many Olympic songs are totally bereft of fun. If its ropey lineage is anything to go by, an otherwise entertaining pop star is left with nothing but a list of empty verbs such as “rise”, “survive”, “thrive”, “dream” and – in the case of Bryan Adams and Nelly Furtado’s 2010 Vancouver Winter Games soundtrack – “banging the drum”.
On Rise, glossy, cavernous production is paired with some relatively straightforward concepts, such as not conforming, rising, surviving, thriving, not negotiating, and, er, ignoring the vultures whispering “you’re out of time”. I’m no Chris Packham but I’m pretty sure beaks reduce a vulture’s ability to whisper . I digress. Anything is possibly if you try! Enjoy!
It is important to begin the article with the mantra of an obvious fact – that wine is an amazing way to meet new people and get a between the lines look at who someone is.
Knowing your wine means knowing geography, culture, history and the art that goes into making the most sophisticated beverage known to us. Now, I don’t mean to say that you need to be a so called “wine snob” – because that only says you’re a snob. I mean getting to know more about the bottle you’re sharing together to show a sense of passion and culture to your character. What’s more attractive in a person than that?
Bringing a bottle of Yellowtail to a party, or ordering something that ordinary at a restaurant with someone is comparable to discussing how cultured and well traveled you are, then emoting on a recent trip to Daytona wearing a shirt that needs ironing. This doesn’t mean you have to break the bank for a better wine, but just to put more thought and care into the bottle you open.
For the novice in wine, a great way to start is to know what you like. What varietal do you like? Do you like Merlot? Then look at an independent wine agency, or simply head to your LCBO (especially one with a strong vintages section) and talk to someone there about different regions (BC and Oregon make amazing Merlots) and look for something in a comfortable zone price range that you’ve never heard of.
Being uncommon, doesn’t make a wine necessarily more expensive. Google it and learn more about it so you can discuss what you know. Learn some tasting notes, the layers of flavour, find out what cheese will go well with it, and show some care into what you’ve opened – that will go a long way to say a lot about you.
The advanced oenophile will already know what I’m talking about, but that doesn’t mean you can’t grow further, and use your knowledge to even host a wine tasting – is there a better way to meet someone?
Can astrology be disproved? Literally thousands of volumes have been written on the subject over the ages, attacks and defenses, apologies and interpretations. Proponents have claimed astrology as a “science” and an “art,” a true interpretation of the inner workings of the universe. Opponents have mostly attacked astrology on physical grounds, citing the old classical arguments: the question of twins, the time of birth versus time of conception, the immense distances to the planets and stars, and so on.
But very few writers have come to the nub of the matter: astrology is false because it is a system of magic, based on the magical “principle of correspondences.” In fact, astrology–or at least its prehistoric predecessor–probably arose concurrently with the magical world view of early civilized man, astrology and magic adding to each other and being developed and used by the priests to lend “cohesiveness” to the evolving city-states. By the time cuneiform and hieroglyphic writing had been developed, astrology in some form or other was already a part of man’s culture.
Thus, several thousand years have gone into the development of astrology, into its theory and practice. Astrology proper began in Babylonia as a system of omen-reading to foretell the fate of kings and realms. More or less simultaneously, the Egyptians developed their system of Places, based on “planetary aspects.” Then the Greeks took over both the Babylonian and Egyptian systems, combining them into a complex mathematical cosmology. Under the Greeks, astrology became available to the common man; astrologers today use virtually the same system as the Greeks, or endless variations thereof.
As a result of astrology’s long history, confused development, and obscured theoretical bases, it is common for writers and astrologers to state that the ancient “art” cannot be disproved, that modern man lacks the necessary “cosmic insights” to grasp its truths. Even the great humanist Petrarch attacked astrology only by making fun of astrologers, leaving the cosmological arguments relatively untouched. Very few writers indeed have associated astrology with its magical bases; a reasonable search reveals that only Isidore of Seville, in the seventh century, and recently Richard Cavendish, in The Black Arts, have properly identified astrology as magic.
This confused state of affairs is precisely the astrologers’ aim: as long as they can obscure the fact that astrology is nothing more nor less than magic and totally unrelated to physical science, they can continue to find customers willing to part with hard-earned funds. For, after all, astrology is a practical “art”; it has provided many an astrologer with a lifelong living.
Prehistoric man–and specifically the Upper Paleolithic cultures –painted images of animals on the walls of caves; he also carved and formed similar hand-held images, often in conjunction with carved notations, a series of nicks and lines. In “Lunar Notations on Upper Paleolithic Remains” and later in The Roots of Civilization, Marshack introduced the revolutionary idea that such Upper Paleolithic notations do not represent “hunting tallies” but rather lunar observations, a seasonal timekeeping that aided prehistoric man in keeping track of the seasonal activities of his prey.
Certainly, such seasonal timekeeping would have been of great selective value, permitting man to use his rapidly evolving cognitive powers to anticipate and prepare for the coming hunts. While Marshack tends to place religious and ritual significance on such seasonal notations, one might suggest that the rituals were more in the form of learning and preparation experiences than religious in nature, particularly at first. Play-learning is very common in mammals, especially among the primates; hence, one suspects that ritual play-learning came first and that it was only with the rise of civilization that religion and the magical world view came into being.
Marshack’s sequences of lunar notation then further suggest that the traditionally accepted view that astronomy arose from astrology is wrong. It would seem that prehistoric man was making careful observations of the night sky long before astrology entered the picture; plus, he was putting those astronomical observations to a practical use: keeping track of the seasonal comings and goings of the plants and animals that were important to him. In that sense, prehistoric man was far more scientific than the modern astrologer.
Marshack’s thesis concerning prehistoric man’s use of lunar notation has been generally accepted by anthropologists. The Paleolithic use of linear notation in conjunction with artistic representation goes far toward paving the way for the civilized development of cuneiform and hieroglyphic writing.
Similarly, the use of such linear notations to keep track of the phases of the moon goes far toward explaining why astrology, in one form or other, arose nearly simultaneously all over the globe ( China, India, Egypt, Babylonia, Central America). Prehistoric man had been used to watching the comings and goings of the heavenly bodies, and when the magical world picture arose with the advent of civilization, astrology was a natural consequence.
The association of lunar notations with the seasonal advent of certain plants and animals also helps explain why abstractly shaped constellations have animals’ names: there was a long history of associating celestial objects with animal life. A similar idea is expressed by Rupert Gleadow in The Origin of the Zodiac.
One may well ask, Why would magic develop along with civilization? As in the case of lunar notation and seasonal timekeeping, one can only suggest that magic arose because it was of selective advantage. Perhaps magic gave the burgeoning citystates cohesiveness; one could easily make a case for magic being the power yielded by the priests to keep the citizens in line, convincing them that only by working for the good of the state could they keep the “powers of nature” in check.
This interpretation would further suggest to a hard-core skeptic that civilization does not have a rational basis, but rather an irrational basis of selective value–irrational at least in terms of the twentieth century. For magic is based on the “principle of analogies,” or the “law of correspondences,” as it is generally called in astrology. As we shall see, this “principle of correspondences” is merely a product of the human mind and has no physical basis in fact.
Couples who want to apply for a marriage licence in Beijing will have to dress smartly in future, or risk being turned away.
Beijing’s Civil Affairs Bureau has announced a new rule stipulating that couples won’t be issued a licence to wed if they show up in shorts, T-shirts or other casual wear, the state newspaper Beijing Daily reports.
The bureau’s marriage registration director, Han Mingxi, says people aren’t showing sufficient respect for the process. “It is not unusual to see couples registering in shorts and slippers. It shows their carelessness and disrespect for marriage,” he tells the paper. “From one glance you can see that marriage registration is being treated as a casual affair, and this is prone to many problems.”
Coming into effect on 1 July, the new rule is part of efforts to tackle the capital’s divorce rate. Mr Han says his bureau is currently analysing a large number of divorce cases, and asking experts to “propose methods and ways to promote marriage and family happiness”.
China’s divorce rate has been rising for more than a decade: in 2015, the government said that 3.6m couples ended their unions during the previous year. Beijing had the highest rate among cities, with 55,000 divorces in a single year.
There has been a mixed response to the new rule among Chinese social media users. “Marriage is not child’s play, it should be dignified,” writes one on the Sina Weibo microblogging site. But others think applying for a licence shouldn’t have to be a big deal. “What if a young couple want a low-key event?” asks one user, who thinks that applying for a licence is “simply a boring and tedious process” anyway.
The British drink more than 60 billion cups of tea a year – so what is it about this humble brew that refreshes them so?
Whether they take their tea with milk, sugar, lemon or just plain, it’s clear that the British have a fondness for its flavour. There’s something about that firm bitterness that sparks devotion: the British consume 60 billion cups per year, according to the Tea and Infusions Organisation. That’s more than 900 cups a year for every man, woman and child in Great Britain – though we no doubt all know someone who likes many more than that.
Tea has become entrenched in the British way of life, from the humble tea break to the high tea to be enjoyed – in a jacket and tie, of course, gentlemen – at the very swankiest of London hotels. But what are the molecules behind the taste of this beloved beverage? And does how you take your tea say something about who you are?
To answer that, it’s worth first trying to work out what it is exactly that makes tea taste the way it does. Tea’s flavour is intimately affected by how it is grown, processed, and brewed – beginning with the light. Tea bushes – Latin name camellia sinesis – are grown in terraces all over the tropics and subtropics. But if the intent is to make certain kinds of green tea from them, like matcha, growers will make sure they are carefully shaded with nets or mats. Less sun causes them to produce more chlorophyll as well as fewer polyphenols, a class of molecules that imparts tea’s singular astringency.
Of course, some of us may like that taste, and tea processing can amp it up. After the new leaves and buds have been plucked from a bush, they are laid out to dry. How long they lie again depends on the kind of tea intended. For green teas, the leaves are almost immediately tossed in a hot pan or steamed (tea might look like the rawest of edibles, but it is actually cooked, or at least heat-treated). An oolong results when the leaves are dried a little, bruised and only then cooked. And a black tea – the most popular variant, accounting for 78% of the tea drunk world-wide – results when the bruised leaves dry quite a long while before being finished in the pan.
What’s behind all this is that as the tea leaves are drying, enzymes native to the tea plant are busily transforming simple molecules into more complex ones. The longer the tea spends drying, the longer those enzymes have to work – and the more these molecules build up in the tea leaves. The most famous in tea-chemistry circles is probably theaflavin, a tangle of carbon rings responsible for some of the ruddy colour of black teas as well as some of the astringency.
Firing the tea leaves calls the process to a halt by destroying the enzymes. As a result, there’s very little theaflavin and related molecules in, say, green teas. But aside from polyphenols, hundreds of other compounds build up in the tea over time; their roles in crafting tea’s bouquet and taste are not yet clear. Regardless, the end result is a different chemical profile for each kind of tea.
Given how much tea people drink, there’s growing interest in understanding whether this habit has any medical benefits. It appears that molecules found in tea can protect cells in a dish from some kinds of damage, but despite copious research, there is conflicting evidence on whether tea-drinking provides benefits beyond warm hands and an alert mind.
Because, of course, there are the stimulants. Brewed tea has roughly half the caffeine of an equivalent volume of coffee, but it is still plenty for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up. You might have heard that caffeine in tea gives a different high from the caffeine in coffee. Many studies have found that if this is the case, it’s because of an amino acid called theanine, which occurs in tea.
When volunteers consume both caffeine and theanine – versus caffeine and other tea molecules – they show moderately more alertness and better ability to switch between tasks than with caffeine alone. The amount in a given cuppa may not be the same as the doses given during a study, however, and the effect of theanine is not enormous. But all on its own, the caffeine will give you a nice lift.
So that’s what makes tea taste how it does (not to mention energise its drinkers). But why do these melanges of molecules mean so much to British people? And what does your preference, in terms of tea type and how you drink it, mean about you?
Anthropologist Kate Fox writes in her book Watching the English that there are several clear messages sent whenever a Brit makes a cuppa. She observes that the strongest brews of black tea – with the largest doses of these molecules – are typically drunk by the working class. The brew gets progressively weaker as one goes up the social ladder.
Milk and sweetener have their own codes. “Taking sugar in your tea is regarded by many as an infallible lower-class indicator: even one spoonful is a bit suspect (unless you were born before about 1955); more than one and you are lower-middle at best; more than two and you are definitely working class,” she writes. Other rules involve when and how milk is added, if any. Making a point of drinking smoky Lapsang Souchong with no sugar or milk can be a sign of class anxiety in the middle class, Fox suggests: it’s as far as possible as one can get from sweet, strong, milky mugs of the no-nonsense ‘builder’s tea’.
As for why the British drink an infusion of imported dried leaves at all, there are historical reasons aplenty for why tea came to wash up on Britain’s shores. And one could come up with any number of rationales for why the current state of affairs was inevitable (boiling water to make tea, for instance, made it less likely to give you a stomach bug).
A food scientist I once corresponded with pointed out something that seems to apply here. “In my opinion, food choices are driven by one’s environment – the context,” he wrote. You like what you like not necessarily because of any intrinsic quality, though obviously one can develop a taste for almost anything. A food or drink’s real importance in your life may be because of everything the surrounds it – the culture of it.
No guide to the Pacific, or the world for that matter can be complete without a mention of China. Like daylight through curtains it persistently makes its presence felt in half the countires you visit through its people, its trade, its traditions and customs. It is impossible to ignore anyway, because China is larger than continental Europe, and contains over a quarter of the world’s peoples. Its processes of civilization have matched those of Europe and the so-called cradle of civilization – the Middle East.
Often Chna has led the west, and not just in the invention of gunpowder and printing – 200 years before Christ, China had a national road network, standardized coinage, weghts and measures, and script. Even now Europe can hardly match this. By 200 AD China had developed a civil service, nationwide examinations and had begun to codify its laws. Through all these and following ages the arts and sciences flourished astoundingly, leaving struggling Eurpoe for behind. Agriculture and trade were very advanced by Western standards – there was a credit exchange system in operation before the 9th century, and fairly sophisticated taxation. By the time Marco Polo and various missionaries arrived the West had a lot to learn.
A succession of wars, foreign invasions both military and trading by various powers, the revolution in 1911 that turned China into a republic, the Sino-Japanese War from 1937 – 1945 culminated in the struggles that led to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1948. During all this time, and particularly since, increasing periods of introspection and isolation have left China something of a country apart, a country of mystery. Now this giant of life and history is opening up again to visitors and trade. More and more people are going there, not just statesmen and businessmen. It is of course an incredible country and should you experience it.
With a future as bright as its past, Reykjavik should be at the top of your cities-I-must-visit list. Follow Time Out’s tips for the perfect break in the Icelandic capital.
Reykjavik’s origins can be traced back to AD 870, when it is believed to have been Iceland’s first permanent Nordic settlement. There are monuments to its past as a seat of the Vikings all over the city, and also to its role as the birthplace of the Althing, the world’s first parliament.
Despite all its history, modern Reykjavik holds its past and future in even balance. Its modernism is striking – from the clean lines of its buildings to its experimental music scene to its status as one of the cleanest, most environmentally conscious cities in the world. So whatever it is that draws you to Reykjavik, there’s plenty to explore when you get here.
Reykjavik’s compact size (it has only 120,000 inhabitants, over a third of Iceland’s entire population) makes it the perfect place to get round on foot. If you want to get your bearings, start by taking a trip in the elevator to the top of Hallgrimskirkja; Iceland’s largest church resembles the vast helm of a Viking ship – or an iceberg – stretching from the ground. From the top, 73 metres up in the air, you’ll get a panoramic view of Reykjavik’s colourful rooftops.
A trip to the city must take in its incredible cultural centre, Harpa. An architectural stunner, its southern façade was designed by Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson. It’s free to enter and definitely worth a visit even if just to wonder at the modernist magnificence of the building’s interior – but as home to the Iceland Symphony Orchestra it also puts on an impressive selection of shows in its concert hall.
Art and culture lovers are well catered for. Learn about Icelandic history at the National Museum of Iceland, or get a sense of cutting-edge Icelandic contemporary art at the Reykjavik Art Museum’s Hafnarhús location (the museum is split over three venues) a converted warehouse a herring bone’s throw from the harbour. Then there’s the excellent sculpture garden at Einar Jónsson Museum. If you prefer your art a little more transient, the city’s streets are full of vibrant street art, too.
Those looking to get to grips with nature also have a lot of options – from whale watching at the harbour to hiking along the rugged coastline (which is also perfect for navigating by bicycle). Then there are the city’s famous hot pools. A handy by-product of Iceland’s natural volcanic action, you’ll find them all over the city – though the historical Sundhöllin Public Baths (Iceland’s oldest public swimming pool) are a popular bet.