Prepping for a trip to China, tracking the roots of the ginseng trade

I'm preparing for a big trip in less than two weeks. I've known about it for the past few months and the timing is fortuitous given my writing plans. I'm still largely unsure of what I'll see along the way. No withheld mystery here - I'm going to China. 10 days, a chance for a big drink from a wide open firehose. I'm being afforded the chance to briefly explore Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Call it a trade mission, because I'm going with a group of Americans and Canadians whose purpose and interest in visiting China has a specific business implication. But I have plans to be personally adventurous (within safe bounds - hello, unseen all-knowing Internet sniffers) along the way. As a matter of educating myself, I've been reading a fair amount online, flipping through maps and guides, and asking questions of some well-placed friends and friends-of-friends. I'm also finishing off a book this weekend that just came out in August by Tom Scocca - titled Beijing Welcomes You. One direction he pointed me is to mention a travel guide titled Beijing By Foot that is made up of set of 40 maps (printed on cards) that itemize walks around the city. I noticed that journalist James Fallows wrote one of the blurbs on their website. Not bad. I contacted the publisher and they can send a copy to my hotel after I pay by PayPal. Call it the ultra-modern equivalent of getting a TripTic from AAA. Costs more, pays off much much more. I hope.

For today's clue about why I'm here, doing what I'm doing as the sun struggles to burn off the Santa Barbara fog a handful of hours earlier than most recent days. A tangent got me wondering about the Trans-Pacific (if that's what you can call the connection between China and the USA) trade of ginseng. I've always been struck by how little truth in labeling there is on any teas or Whole Foods-y things that feature ginseng. It's rather like trying to find out what part of the moon your moon rocks come from - complete lack of specificity. I suspect this has always been the case with ginseng. And the crazy part is that ginseng from the USA has been making its way to China for centuries. When the trade with Korea (the traditional source of most of the ginseng consumed in China) collapsed, American wild ginseng entered the breach. Eventually, cultivated ginseng became a new trade opportunity. The degree to which that continues, I'm now exactly up to date. But this is something I'm thinking about, for the time being. We'll see if I learn more during my visit.

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Until the next page turns...may you have a chance to go to the beach and eat pancakes after a workout.