Today the entire team, still seeing the world through the opaque lenses of 12-hour jetlag, woke up around 5:00 AM for breakfast at 7:30. After a breakfast of fried rice and eggs we sucked down a piping hot glass of loose-leaf green tea and headed to the office.
If anyone ever wants an example of how innovative the mindset of GanQiShi is, they only need take a tour of their open floor plan office. It comes complete with well curated calligraphy, and a break/casual meeting space that is surrounded by bamboo, flooded with natural light, centered around an elegant fountain/sand garden. After meeting the staff (a special thanks to HR Director Hu Cong for helping to coordinate this trip!) we headed into Tom’s office for something truly special.
Over the next two hours, we were treated to our own private tea ceremony performed by Tom. We tried fresh and fermented varieties of Pu’er, Oolong, and several other kinds of tea, poured over and over into small cups, with each stage of steeping of the tea providing a different flavor and intensity.
Because the tea is either fresh or just released from the fermentation process, it smells, for lack of a better term, more natural. I am an avid tea drinker, but sometimes even I have trouble picking out more than basic flavors in a tea I am drinking, but with this high-quality Chinese tea, I was able to taste sweet and bitter notes alternating during steeping, smoky flavors from some of the fermented tea, and a distinct sense that was I was drinking was from a living plant, not from a dried up brown husk in a tiny bag that typifies the tea I have back home. Waterlogged and relaxed, Jhonny, Gerry and I were taken to the GanQiShi Training Center to begin the work we had travelled here to do!
The training center is an unassuming building set back half a block from the street. The trademark orange that graces the front page of this blog covers the exterior of the first story. Once inside, we suited up into our orange and tan bao maker’s outfit, complete with orange cap and apron. We garnered more than a few surprised looks walking into the main training area, but those immediately turned to smiles and waves once our presence was explained to the other trainees in Chinese.
We watched Mr. Yang first, observing how he effortlessly rolled the dough after putting it through the sheeter, and flattened it with a simple wooden dowel. Mr. Yang is a bao virtuoso – shaping dough in his hands with the dexterity that a concert pianist employs to plays scales. The standard for GanQiShi employees is to be able to take 22 dough balls and flatten them into the bao ‘wrappers’ in one minute. Those flattened pieces of dough are then supposed to be turned into baos, with fillings inside, in one additional minute. Mr. Yang can complete the second step at a rate of 6 baos per minute consistently, one every 10 seconds. Our more modest goal for the day was to make 2 bao in one minute. The tight spirals and plump, rounded shape of a newly formed bao escaped me completely. Not only are the precise gestures of the fingers difficult to remember and master at any speed, but they are all dependent on the gestures that came before, so that if you botch an early step, completing the next one correctly is nearly impossible. After an hour or so I began to understand the basic concept, but all of my bao look like they were made by someone who was blindfolded and dropped the bao on the floor halfway through production. Jhonny and Gerry both had more success, but there is still a long road ahead before any of us are able to make a bao worthy of the steamer at any speed, never mind the blistering pace considered the bare minimum to work in the stores. I’ll follow with another update soon when I have figured out how to close the top of the bao without getting my thumb stuck inside.