Story of Jasmine Buds
Jasmine buds were collected daily in season, early in the morning, before taking breakfast, after cleaning my face with a towel dipped in well water.
I recall electricity being a rarity at that time, and the alarm clock was unheard of. So with the crowing of two roosters in the yard (I guessed one crowed and woke up the sleepy one? :)), the village became alive. Many households had free ranging roosters, and one crow would always trigger neighbors’ roosters to crow, therefore quickly spreading the first news of morning to every villager in every house in this tiny village.
Before setting off for the jasmine fields in the mountain, I reached in a large ceramic vase where unmilled rice from recent harvest was kept, and generously scooped out a handful of it, spread it on the yard. The grains bounced off the dirt ground a very slight bit, as if trying to sprout into life. Our two chickens would dash over, heads quickly swung back and forth as they pecked on these morning rations.
Now chickens (we had free-ranging ducks joining the fray) were fed, the next task was to set off for the jasmine fields, to be bathed in morning dew. As my “special grandma” (she raised me since my both parents were too busy to do so) and I hiked up mountainous roads and leaving the Buddhist temple behind us. The jasmine field was large, covering the every square meter of the traversable mountainous land.
Our section of the field was next to a large banyan tree. I recall many time I used it as a compass as I navigated among oceans of jasmine buds. I always wondered if this hilltop was the top of the world? Looking at that banyan tree, I had never seen anything towering above it. If anything, it must be the gateway to the sky? The village was small, and no news of the outer world infiltrated my mind. “To be on the top of that sturdy bayan tree would be like being on top of the world.” I thought to myself in the morning light.
If we got up the hill into the jasmine field early enough, the banyan tree would faithfully reward us by extending a long, cool shadow onto our jasmine flower field. If this is the case, dew drops would form on large jasmine buds. I would occasionally sought refuge in chilly shadow areas to pick jasmine buds, letting the dew drops wet my fingers, arms, torso and bamboo basket (for collecting jasmine buds).
“If the jasmine buds already turned into blossoms, then they are no good, don’t pick them.” “Special grandma” duly instructed me.
“Is this one any good?” My bamboo basket had barely any harvest yet.
“Let me see… It’ll work.”
As I got more experience at picking jasmine buds, and endurance to hike along mountainous roads in later childhood years, I was able to be of help to her. There’s always a sense of pride in manual labor, in collecting jasmine buds to my little basket, then contributing these to my “special grandma’s” larger basket, which always had twice as much as my harvest at any moment.
As we collected jasmine buds, the morning mist picked up jasmine aroma, imbued it to our shirts, so that when we headed down the hill after morning harvest other villagers would immediately know our morning jasmine buds routine by smell. Jasmine buds were sold at the village hall to a tradesman. He would collect buds from everyone by balancing the harvest with a scratch-laden steelyard scale. Then he spread the buds on the floor in the village hall, as they got drier, he was to sell these to tea makers.
Then with a small bit of cash from selling jasmine harvest, my “special grandma” generously handed me a dime, with which I headed to the soy milk & youtiao shop for a mug of soy milk and, of course, youtiao (two fried porous bread sticks).