Free Transcript Project – #12

Mixed Mental Arts #302: Don Mei

Episode Show Notes : http://mixedmentalarts.libsyn.com/ep-302-best-of-east-best-of-west-don-mei-enters-the-dojo

YouTube Channel : https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCV5uJg_7m89dZ-0rqhHT1Ww

Web Sites :
https://mixedmentalarts.online

https://meileaf.com

Host : Hunter Maats : https://twitter.com/huntermaats

Guest : Don Mei :
https://twitter.com/MEILEAF_Don

https://twitter.com/mei_leaf_tea

 


 

[INTRO MUSIC]

 

Bryan Callen : Welcome to “Mixed Mental Arts”. This is “Mixed Mental Arts”. Welcome to “Mixed Mental Arts”…

 

Hunter Maats : … and then just… and then just…

 

Bryan Callen : Welcome to “Mixed Mental Arts”. This is “Mixed Mental Arts”. Welcome to “Mixed Mental Arts”…

 

Hunter Maats : Hi! This is Hunter Maats, and I’m really excited for this next episode of “Mixed Mental Arts”, because Don Mei – today’s guest – is the perfect example of a phenomenon known as “Third Culture Kids”. These are kids who have parents from one culture, and then grew up in another culture, and they find that they belong to neither culture one, nor culture two, but have evolved a third culture of their own. That was a term that I was introduced to in college, and it really fit my own experience growing up. I’m sure that it fits the experience of many of you, and it certainly described Don. Don’s dad – as you’ll hear in this interview – was Chinese. Don’s mom was Swiss, and then he grew up in the UK. His whole life has been about the conversation back and forth between Eastern and Western culture, and specifically with medicine and tea. There have long been these two different traditions – Eastern and Western medicine, [and] Eastern and Western thought – and Don has been trying to figure out, his whole life, how to have the best of East and the best of West. So without further ado I give you Don Mei… Welcome to another episode of “Mixed Mental Arts”, and today is a real treat, because [as] much as we, sort of, “ape” and pretend to have some sort of Asian credentials, and have thoroughly appropriated most aspects of Asian culture, today we have somebody with real credentials there, Don Mei. Don is, pretty much – like if you were looking for a “poster child” for “Mixed Mental Arts”, and “idea sex” between cultures, it’s Don, because Don’s mom [was] Swiss, and Don’s dad [was] Chinese, and then they’ve been doing everything that we sort of showed up to in the last few years for about half century. Specifically, Don’s mom and dad started this bookshop in London, and they were really the first onés to bring Chinese Medicine into the West, and have been acting as a bridge between cultures ever since then, and then … well, we’ll get into Don’s full story, But, essentially, [really] that’s your life, Don, is being a bridge between these two cultures. Is that fair?

 

Don Mei : I think it’s fair. It certainly isn’t something that I considered from a young age [laughter]. It’s only kind of crept up on me a little bit. But I guess that’s just the way it is normally, isn’t it? You kind of are so used to your own culture, and your own background, that you don’t realize what’s different and what’s similar. So, yeah, it’s certainly something that I have kind of taken upon myself over the last five or six years, for sure.

 

Hunter : So, just so that people know your credentials, let’s run down that list that you’re going to be very uncomfortable with, right?

 

Don : [laughter]

 

Hunter : [Because] Don has this great video that sort of sums up his life story in 20 minutes. But you’re the head of the British-Chinese – or the Vice President of the British-Chinese Medicine Association, or something?

 

Don : Okay. Well, first and foremost, I’m [the] director of Mei Group. Mei Group is kind of a cluster of different companies [which are] all focused on the same area, which is this kind of bridge between East and West. It started, as you said, with my parents opening a book shop, just kind of disseminating Eastern ideas to the West. This was in the 1970s, you know, when everything was all about the “Little Red Book”, and [all] of the interesting things [coinciding] with Nixon’s travel to China, and all of the focus that then was placed upon Chinese Medicine, and that kind of morphed and evolved into Acumedic, and Acumedic [was] probably the first Chinese medical, clinical organization outside of Asia. So that’s been running. So I’m a director of a clinic – [a] Chinese [Medicine] clinic. Other things that we do are related to the politics of medicine. So, I’m chairman of the “Chinese Medical Council”. I’m also Vice-Chairman of the “World Federation Of Chinese Medicine Societies”, which sounds very grand…

 

Hunter : [It] sounds amazing! [laughter]

 

Don : [laughter] [I know], it sounds really good! It sounds really good, but in fact that probably takes up about naught point naught… naught… naught…one percent of my time…

 

Hunter : [laughter]

 

Don : … but it sounds great. [It’s] kind of high up there on the C.V. [laughter]. So there’s a lot that’s happening in the politics of medicine, trying to kind of look forward to [different] paradigms in medicine – integrative medicine. That’s a whole other subject. Then [the] tea, [with] Mei Leaf. [It] started off as “China life” [over ten years ago ] – but now it’s morphed into Mei Leaf – and that really is looking to do something very similar. So taking the idea of tea – which is [the] most consumed beverage, after water, in the world – and yet 99.9 percent of people outside of Asia – and I have to say, even people within Asia – kind of don’t really know that much about it. So, it kind of was a really good metaphorical subject, in a way, to describe how, culturally, we think we know something, yet we don’t – or there’s plenty more to learn. So tea is a really interesting [“point of context”] that we find kind of can lead you into medicine, and lead you into all these other aspects to try and explore.

 

Hunter Maats : So, we’ll get into tea, but my father always says that nobody learns their first language the right way. I think that’s very much the thing, is that when something like tea is such an essential part of your culture it’s just everywhere and it’s unconscious. You’ve never had to really reflect on it. You’re never had to think about it, and you’re never really had to understand it. I think that, you know, [there’s] a lot [of] similarity between our childhoods – you know, the experience of being “third culture kids” – where you’ve [picked up] all these ways of being from your mom, [and] these ways of being from your dad, [and] you’re then surrounded by an entirely third culture of living in England, and [you’re] violating norms in some places, things don’t make sense to you, and so you’re having to be very conscious, and intentional about everything, and really having to pick it apart and understand the deep structure.

 

Don : Mmm.

 

Hunter : So I think that’s the interesting thing, is that as I watched all of your videos – and Don has all these great videos for Mei Leaf – that just sort of break down all the aspects of sourcing great tea, the different types of tea, what we look for, [and] this special type of brewing that is practiced. I mean, apparently, in the West, we just boil the shit out of everything [laughter] …

 

Don : [laughter] …

 

Hunter : [and] destroy the flavor, which is certainly my experience of English vegetables…

 

Don : [laughter]

 

Hunter : … as opposed to Gong Fu brewing, which is the style which really brings out the flavors. But so, talk to us about your tea journey. [It is] this great point of contact. [How] did you go down that “rabbit hole” of tea?

 

Don : It started off purely as a practical thing. It wasn’t this kind of life quest that I embarked on. I don’t think you kind of choose those things. They just fall upon you. It started off simply with the idea that we have this medical clinic, and we are serving tea to our clients. Tea is the first Chinese herb, in many ways. So [out] of the Chinese medicinal herbs tea is the first one. [We thought], “Let’s just try to up the quality.” Because at the time we were just kind of [giving just] a little bit [of] lip service to tea. We were serving some kind of medium to low-grade green tea, [and] marketing it as proper, authentic Chinese tea. So I thought, “Let me go and explore [and] see what we can come up with in terms of finding a better product.” It was literally coming at it from a purely marketing product angle. Then I started to learn how much – because growing up in England, of course, I’m used to British tea, right; you know, the classic “Builder’s Brew”, and I thought I knew enough about tea to be able to research this. I very quickly discovered that there was a whole world out there that I had no idea about, and I think that the kind of inquisitive, Western – I would say – desire to understand and put something into a [discrete] box, kind of took over, and I wanted to try to figure it all out within like six months to a year, and here I am like 15 years later still figuring out that I can’t figure it out [laughter]. So it started off purely practical, and then just tasting my way through different teas, and having these little moments of revelation where I suddenly realized that this “rabbit hole” was extremely deep, and pleasurable as well, because it involved taste [and] it involved experience. You know, I love food [and] I love cooking. It’s one of those things [where] I do enjoy that whole aspect of it. So it was a really interesting bridge for me, because it meant that I could enjoy something but also stimulate [a] kind of understanding, and try to break something down, and try to understand “how” [and] “why”, and all the different questions. So it just lead me down this path, and I haven’t looked back.

 

Hunter : Yeah, so there are these very different ways that, I mean, something as simple as tea is experienced by very different ways, and on very different level by different cultures. So let’s talk about that “Builder’s Brew”, which is the quintessential English cup of tea, you know. Firstly, even just the way — we had Sara Rose on, who wrote “For All The Tea In China”.

 

Don : Oh yeah. Yeah.

 

Hunter : Even the way that the British got tea, you know, says everything about maybe how cultural contact should not be done. Right?

 

Don : [laughter]

 

Hunter : So I’d love to hear your encapsulation – your perspective on that story – and also, what is the Chinese perspective on Robert Fortune?

 

Don : I think it that [it still] continues, and I’ve certainly noticed it in the sense that when I started at least – or when I make contact with groups of producers, they’re very reticent to give information, [and] to give answers to questions – for various different reasons. [It’s] not only because they’re protective, but also [with] some of them they don’t know the answers. That’s a whole other discussion which we can get into, [in that] just the way that they look at things is very different to the way that I look at things, necessarily. So I think that that continues – that legacy. There’s a protective nature to the Chinese, especially their approach to giving information. Certainly, the history of tea in India, and the way that the East India Company, and Robert Fortune, took this incredible product that was being enjoyed, and was growing, and was considered this medicine, and this kind of luxurious product, and they turned it into a commodity. They turned it into a commodity through “choose reduction”, which is a marketing tool which is used all the time. You know, why give people 100 choices. They’re going to spend a certain amount of money. Instead, reduce the amount that you have to spend, produce one or two different types, you’ll still get the same income, and you’ve got less work and it maximizes your profit. They did that very well, but the problem is that now everybody – especially in the UK – just associates tea with strong, black Indian tea, and all of the myriad of complexity, flavors, [and] all of the enjoyment  – well, 99 percent of it – has just been drained out of tea. So a lot of the challenge that we have – or when we started Mei Leaf – is just starting to take those blinkers off people. In fact, I have to say that the UK market has probably been the most challenging market. When you compare [it] to the US, [and] when you compare it other parts of, [like Russia], or other parts of Europe, [they’re] much more willing and open to say, “We don’t know anything about tea.”, whereas the British mentality has definitely been one of “Oh, I know tea. It’s a British drink.” So it’s been very difficult to take those blinkers off, but certainly that’s a legacy from that approach to tea – the commoditization of – which happened, you know, many years ago.

 

Hunter : But not just the commoditization of tea, but Fortune snuck into China, pretended to be from China, and then stole all these plants [laughter].

 

Don : Yeah.

 

Hunter :  [Which] is a pattern that was repeated. You know, Brazilian rubber was stolen from Brazil and then grown in Southeast Asia. This was a pattern that was repeated again, and again, and again.

 

Don : Mmm.

 

Hunter : To be fair, I mean, the whole thing was that [there] was this massive market for tea, and the Chinese, at that time, wanted to control the market, and everything. [So], you know, it’s not a clean history… [laughter]

 

Don : No… no…no.

 

Hunter : .. and it certainly wasn’t done in a way that both parties parties felt good about what happened.

 

Don : I think that there was problems on both sides, as you said, but one of the end results of that is that the East Indian Company – [or] Robert Fortune – managed to steal the tea and the seeds, and enough information to produce a single type of tea decently. But because there wasn’t a proper cultural exchange going on it meant that, yeah, the choice became reduced, the quality reduced, and the understanding of tea really became isolated to the Chinese and the Japanese, and some of the Taiwanese, and the actual – predominantly the UK – started to appropriate this drink that they thought they knew everything about, when in fact they knew nothing about [it].

 

Hunter : Well, and that is cultural exchange writ large, because [cultural] transition is so slow, right?

 

Don : Mmm.

 

Hunter : Like, if you think about a child growing up in a culture, it takes them decades and decades to really internalize all of the cultural knowledge. So to think that you’re going to show up, grab some seeds and be like “Yeah!…

 

Don : Yeah.

 

Hunter : … I now have this thing nailed!” is massively naive.

 

Don : Absolutely.

 

Hunter : One of the stories that I think points this up – just sort of as a large, cultural pattern that plays out again – is in Joe Henrick’s “The Secret Of Our Success” there’s this story about the [maximalization] of corn. So the Spanish came in [and] they found this crop that existed, corn, and they were like, “Man! They eat a lot of this stuff. It grows well. Let’s bring this back to Europe.” Then they noticed that they did this weird thing where they would mix wood ash and burnt seashells in with their corn, and they were like, “That’s gross! Like that’s not even food. Why would you do that?”  Sure enough, then, there was a massive epidemic of pellagra in corn-growing regions, and it turned out that that wood ash was actually releasing the niacin, and actually had a functional component to it.

 

Don : Hmm.

 

Hunter : But, as you’re saying, the local farmers didn’t conceptually understand this. For them this was just a learned cultural practice. So these are basic challenges of just being human, and the way we transmit cultures, and very often these things – and I think this is going to be super-important for when we get into Chinese medicine – very often, you know, it comes down to what Jenny Aguilar calls “FEISTY” – “Face It, Evolution Is Smarter Than You”.

 

Don : [laughter]

 

Hunter : So evolution [can] evolve these very, very, very, very smart solutions that the people who are practicing those cultural practices have no conceptual understand of how, or why, it works.

 

Don : Absolutely.

 

Hunter : So you’ve got – and I mean it’s just such a great example that, of course, the British think they know everything. I mean, that doesn’t remind me of high school at all [laughter].

 

Don : [laughter]

 

Hunter : But so yeah, the “Builder’s Brew”. [With] the “Builder’s Brew” not only did they commoditize tea, but then tea serves this very specific function. [There’s] this massive industrial revolution in the UK, and it’s this very functional drink that is a caffeine delivery system that is designed to basically give people a little boost so that they can be productive [and] get back to work.

 

Don : Sure, and it replaced drinking weak alcohol at the time, you know? [It] was always better to not go to work slightly pissed, you know?

 

Hunter : [laughter]

 

Don : [laughter] So it kind of made sense at the time, and it’s still being used in that way throughout the world. But there’s a big difference between using something in that way, and then being able to still get all of those functional benefits – if not more functional benefits – when you have the true stuff – the really well-made stuff – and then being able to appreciate, you know, not just the flavor, but the aesthetics of the actual drink itself, which has been totally destroyed, right…

 

Hunter : [laughter]

 

Don : … by this kind of “soggy tea bag”, right? But, you know, and I don’t mean that in a kind of imperial, “beautiful women wearing costumes with pinkies in the air” kind of ceremonial aesthetics. I mean the actual symbolic aesthetics of, you know, taking time, rehydrating [the] leaf, extracting it, and then watching it as it kind of gives up all it’s flavor and then basically dies, you know, and basically kind of becomes water again. There’s a certain aesthetic which [is so] part of tea. When you go to tea-growing regions, and you visit these farmers, and these producers, and these tea-lovers, you can so see that that’s so [part] of their life story – [those] moments.

 

Hunter : Right.

 

Don : It’s [one] of the thing that makes tea so special, and the reason why it’s been so intrinsically linked with Buddhism, and intrinsically linked with meditation, and all of those things – without going too far down the kind of “woo-woo” kind of area, it’s all about the [fact] that there’s a real, beautiful symbolic nature with tea that has been lost, and I think that people are craving that kind of rediscovery, and hopefully we can all contribute to that.

 

Hunter : But I think [that] the point is that, [well], let’s go down the “woo-woo” area, because I think [that] so much of … I mean, listen, Western culture – as it is manifested in the age of industrialization – right…?

 

Don : Mmm!

 

Hunter : … is massively practical. It’s produced all of these material benefits, but that myopic focus on that – which is what Western atomism tends to do; to myopically focus on one thing – has created a profound spiritual emptiness.

 

Don : MmmHmm.

 

Hunter :  You know, there is – I mean, I read “Man’s Search For Meaning” as a teenager – and boy did that book resonate on some non-conscious, non-verbal level, because we don’t have that experience of, sort of, that strong cultural embeddedness that a lot of people have had. So, I think – especially for sort of “third culture kids” like you and me – we then have to cobble together this global culture that draws the best from all places, and can give us those sort of rich cultural moments. So let’s talk about… Okay, just to even give people an overview, right? [Obviously], China’s huge, and there are all these different regions that grow tea. So, from what I’ve even – you know, my very sort of superficial understanding – it seems like Yunnan [province] is the heart of tea growing in China. Is that fair, or no?

 

Don : Well, Yunnan is the historical heart of tea growing in China, because Yunnan is pretty much where… Okay, so they’re still digging up the archeology of tea [and] trying to figure out when it started, and there’s some, you know, tea rhizomes from thousands and thousands of years ago in certain areas of China. But Yunnan certainly seems to be the first province that really started to grow it [and] cultivate it, you know. These tended to be tribal people – mountain people – so not the Han Chinese, which make up 90 [to] 95 percent of the Chinese population, but much more kind of mountain people that really revered this land, and revered this plant. It’s interesting, because you have to question why they started to cultivate it. It’s in the same area as was cultivating opium at the time, [and] cultivating cannabis at the time. It’s certainly an area that’s well-known for cultivating psychoactive plants that [function] psycho-actively, but also can help them get their caffeine fix, etcetera. So the background – or the real history – of tea, seems to [have been] hijacked a little bit by the kind of “imperial Chinese”. This kind of, “This [is] a great [touristy] cultural heritage thing that we can put out.”, but [it] actually comes from a little bit more, kind of, earthier roots – [we can] put it. It’s a little bit [different] to how it’s portrayed often. I think that that’s something that a lot of people, now, in the West are rediscovering that, and finding that a much more attractive way to get into tea, rather than – as I said – the very kind of surface, ceremonial side of tea.

 

Hunter : Well, and so to talk to us about the people of Yunnan, [you] talk about “earthier”, right?

 

Don : MmmHmm.

 

Hunter : So, [it sounds] like [maybe] they’re agriculturalists, but there is maybe a little bit of sort of that more traditional sort of shamanism, or those sort of hunter-gatherer practices. Is that fair?

 

Don : Yeah. I mean, I think [that] on a very practical level it’s very far away from Beijing.

 

Hunter : Yeah.

 

Don : [laughter] it’s probably one of the [furthest] provinces – you know, one of them – and it’s very close to the borders of Burma, Laos, and Northern Thailand, and in many ways it shares a lot of kind of cultural similarities to those areas. If you go there you see [that] the architecture looks very Thai. It looks very Northern Thai compared to Chinese, and yeah, they have a very different cultural approach to their land, I think. This is what’s really interesting. When they go picking the tea [it’s] a pride, and it’s a beautiful thing to watch, and the way that they treat their tea afterwards, and the way that they drink their tea, is very, very abstract. [I think] this is one of the challenges [for] me coming to understand tea with my Western education – you know, [British] private school celebrating the kind of Western logic, [and] the kind of modular, atomized way of looking at truth, and all of those things – and even though I grew up in a half-Chinese family, where my father was continuously talking to me [laughter] about contradiction, and being accepting of contradiction, and [contradiction] actually being part of truth, and all of those things, which from my very Western upbringing – and Swiss mother – [laughter] found challenging. I would always argue with my father. We would have blazing arguments  – you know, polite, civilized arguments – but still, about truth, and I would always tell him that he was copping out. It was a lazy way that he was…

 

Hunter : Mmm.

 

Don :… you know, that [he] would be so accepting of contradiction, and not ask the difficult questions, and he wouldn’t try to isolate and find the truth…

 

Hunter : [laughter]

 

Don : … and that he was too able to just kind of hide behind these kind of nice abstract concepts that kind of allowed him to get away with stuff. You know? So I came at it from that point of view, and I came to try to understand tea from that point of view, and I think [that] over the more than a decade that I’ve now been doing it – and especially the last five or six years – I’ve totally [come] to really understand the wisdom in this approach, and in Yunnan province they are particularly like this. They will never give you a straight answer for anything.

 

Hunter : Yeah.

 

Don : You know, you ask them a question, and it’s like [to them] that trying to understand things, or trying to isolate “the reason”, or trying to focus on “the why”, is in itself a very childish abstraction. It’s kind of [like] they chuckle about it, like you know, “Oh, here he goes again.. the very rigid Western mind who wants to try to fix something.” In other parts of China it’s similar, but in Yunnan province , if you don’t accept and give in to that, you’re going to have a very frustrating time as a tea buyer. I know a lot of people who I teach – you know, when we do all of these videos to try and teach – they’re [desperately] trying to fix something…

 

Hunter : [laughter]

 

Don : . [laughter] and I have to [now] be the one to go, “No.. no…no. You have to understand that there’s a dialectic in everything”, and then I start to talk about Yin and Yang, and I start to talk about … and it just reminds me of, basically…

 

Hunter : Your childhood.

 

Don : .. my father, and the arguments that I [used to have with] him. Yeah, exactly. It’s funny how it comes back. But yeah, Yunnan province is, by far, the most [like] that. They’re so abstract. It’s all about relationships. [They] never want to isolate any one thing. “Why is it? Is it the cultivar? Is it the earth? Or is it the way you’ve processed it?” No, it’s everything. You know, and you can’t isolate anything, and that is … [I’m not necessarily] saying that that’s right versus wrong, because I think that’s way to simplistic. I think that both viewpoints have a purpose, and whatever work works. But their point-of-view is that if you try to fix it then you’re not understanding what tea is about.

 

Hunter : Right. So it’s the most holistic environment, where they’re really just seeing everything as harmonizing together, rather than trying to isolate the parts atomistically. [It’s so] funny, because as you talk about this, [this wasn’t] the pattern – obviously, not that particular cultural pattern – with my own childhood. But I just have often thought that, “Man! If we took some of these ideas and just gave them to me when I was 10, [laughter] my life would have been so much easier.” Like, I feel like if I could go back and give young Don a copy of Richard Nisbett’s “Geography of Thought” that like so many conversations would have gone so much better.

 

Don : Yeah.

 

Hunter : I mean, that cultural pattern is, I think, a really important one to draw out, because [there’s] that great story about when Nixon met with the Japanese Prime Minister. He says to the Japanese prime minister, “We’re really getting fucked on the Japanese textile exports. Can you dial them down?” Right? And the Japanese prime minister says something like, “This is a matter that we will have to look into seriously.”, or something like that. Nixon, with his very rigid, atomistic mindset like interprets that to mean, “Oh, so you’re going to cut them down?” Then, the Japanese prime minister doesn’t do that, because he can’t like just destroy jobs in his home country because it’s inconvenient for Nixon, and Nixon interprets this as [the] Japanese prime minister having fucked him over, like, “He lied to me!”.

 

Don : Hmm.

 

Hunter : “He misrepresented himself!”, and so supposedly, when Nixon and Kissinger then went to go open relationships with China they deliberately didn’t tell the Japanese – which to not tell the neighboring country, that you have good relationships with, that you’re doing something that major, is the ultimate afront.

 

Don : Hmm.

 

Hunter : [Yeah], so I think that – [and] this is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot – because certain people that I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with over the last year – are obsessed with logic as the “be-all and end-all” of reasoning, and that this is how we find truth, and there are a lot of problems with logic. One [is that] if you start at faulty assumptions you reach ridiculous conclusions that don’t correlate with reality and how things actually work, and the whole point is that the western mind – that atomistic mind – just loves to dissect everything into little pieces, put them in categories, and then insist that a particular thing is that category. So even, before this conversation, we were talking about tea, right?

 

Don : Mmm.

 

Hunter : The reason why it’s so hard for the British to understand tea is because they know tea, tea sits in this bucket of “beverage”, and it is this “builder’s brew” thing, and to conceptualize that there might be other ways of approaching tea, or that maybe tea is not just a beverage but [that] it’s a medicine, and fits in this entirely different bucket, is like incredibly hard for them to grasp because they have such a clear, rigid idea of tea.

 

Don : Yeah. I think it [boils down] to the power of perspective in any ways. You know, one of the things that my father always used to say to me is, “Okay, so how do you paint an elephant?… [If] you had to paint an elephant, what would you do?… Would you just create its silhouette – a nice little outline with the trunk..?”, and you know, “.. or would you go really close, and would you look at the skin, and would you look at the texture?” You know, “How close would you go, [or] how far away?” So, just on the basic idea that, you know, truth us changeable depending on where you’re standing. Then he would take [to saying], “Well, and that’s just drawing. What about the smell, the sound, [and] the touch of the elephant? What about all of those aspects? How would you describe those things?”  Then he would say, “… and you’ve taken it out of its environment. Now put it in an environment. Now describe it. How does that change it? Do you put it in front of a sunset? Do you put it in front of a…?” You know, “How does it change? Then think about you, and how you are affecting the reality of that elephant.” Right? “Then, if you were then to describe the truth of an elephant to somebody, how far would you go? What would you talk about? And not only that, but whatever you choose to talk about – so let’s say you described it as this big, hulking beast of an animal, that would give off a very different impression to talking about it as this docile, vegetable-eating… and so your [communication] actually changes the reality in other people’s minds of what that elephant is, and therefore, their reaction to potentially meeting that elephant is going to be different, and it’s going to affect how that elephant reacts. Because if you go to that elephant scared that it’s this big, hulking beast of an animal then there will be an interaction that may lead to defensiveness, or whatever…”  So the whole idea was that you can take a very simple thing, like, “What is an elephant?” and you can turn it into this massive, you know, very, very expansive area, and the truth is in all of those things, and it’s all about depending on what you want to get out of it. I think that that’s [kind of] what I have learned in my exploration of tea, is I constantly ask the question of “Why?” to these producers, [laughter] and the answer always seems to be, “Because it works.”

 

Hunter : Yeah.

 

Don : You know? [laughter] It’s as simple as that to them. It’s like, “I don’t need to be drawn into that discussion. That’s not important to me.”

 

Hunter : Mmm.

 

Don : You know, “That’s an abstraction. It’s a nice little abstraction, [and] you can occupy your mind with it, but at the end of the day this is what works, and we will try different things, and if that works then we’ll try other things.” It’s purely experiential, and it’s purely just through time, and experience, and wisdom  – versus, kind of, analytical truth. It’s a whole different way of looking at things.

 

Hunter : Yeah, and I think that’s – [I mean], I can absolutely relate to that, and it’s amazing how often elephants come up on this podcast.

 

Don : Oh really? [laughter]  

 

Hunter : Yeah. There’s a real [abundance] of elephants.

 

Don : [laughter]

 

Hunter : John Heidt has this metaphor for the human mind as a rider and an elephant. The elephant is the large, sort of, lumbering, emotional brain, and then the rider is the reflective brain – the slow thinker..

 

Don : Right.

 

Hunter : … who can sort of nudge the elephant over time. Then the other one is the “blind man and the elephant”, that story.

 

Don : Sure.

 

Hunter : So, you know, [I just] think we should just embrace the elephant as the symbol of [“Mixed Mental Arts”].

 

Don : [laughter]

 

Hunter : But [it’s interesting] that you say that, as well, about elephants, because I was in [South Africa] a few months ago, and [again], like my conception of elephant is “Babar”. Like, essentially – and maybe certain types of chocolate bar that like, in the 90s, tried to make wildlife accessible to children in England. Then, [it’s very upsetting], because you start talking to these game wardens, and they say, “You know, elephants are a huge part of the ecosystem. They turn up all these trees. They [have] this role of almost – not pollinator – but like tiller of the land.” and you’re like, “Oh, that’s cool! Elephants are providing a useful role.” and they’re like, “In South Africa we have, actually, an overabundance of elephants, because we can’t cull them, and because they can’t wander across the borders to other countries. So they’re actually destroying the land, because they’re at too high of a density.” Of course, you know, like I’ve done this enough that I don’t just like freak out and get super triggered, but there was a little bit of like, “You’re threatening my conception fo the elephant here!”

 

Don : [laughter]

 

Hunter : “You’re saying that “Babar” is a problem, guys, and I don’t like that. Like, “Babar” is a good guy, and you’re saying that “Babar” makes problems.” So I think that [it’s] very clear that your father was a very wise man, but I think that – based on the sort of education that we received in the West – it becomes very hard for us to conceptualize that sort of dialectic, contextual way of thinking, and it just seems sort of very frustrating…

 

Don : Yeah.

 

Hunter : … because it’s like, “It’s an elephant! You’re overcomplicating this! I don’t like you! Go away! Shut up, dad!”

 

Don : [laughter]

 

Hunter : Then likewise, [with] you talking to these farmers in Yunnan, there’s obviously real value to just experiencing it, but there is value to being able to understand the parts of it…

 

Don : Mmm.

 

Hunter : … and to being able to sort of have a slightly more reflective, and intentional, understanding…

 

Don : Mmm.  

 

Hunter : … because i think [that] one of the problems with cultural transmission is that what can happen is that [if] you don’t understand what the “secret sauce” of the culture is then you can end up messing up that “secret sauce” and then being unable to reconstruct it.

 

Don : Mmm.

 

Hunter : So [you’re] in Yunnan, and [it] helps a lot to have it in the context of sort of : Burma, Northern Thailand, Laos… even, why are we calling it “Burma”?  Like, shouldn’t we be calling it “Myanmar”? Are we such British imperialists that…

 

Don : Yeah. [laughter]

 

Hunter : Yeah, so “Myanmar” [is pretty] sort of jungly, wet, [and] humid – that sort of terroir?

 

Don : Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely.

 

Hunter : Then what sort of teas? [What sort] of varietals are they producing? Are we talking about Oolongs? Are we talking about…? Oh, there’s a lot of Puerh there. What is Puerh? Tell us about Puerh.

 

Don : Okay. Puerh kind of falls under a weird little category of tea. There’s green tea, there’s white tea, there’s Oolong tea, there’s yellow tea, [and] there’s black tea. All of them are pretty clearly defined in terms of process. It’s got nothing to do with the actual plant. It’s got to do with the processing that defines the type of tea, although of course there are some varieties of tea plant that are more suited to white tea, more suited to black tea, etcetera. Yunnan produces black tea [and] it produces white tea, but it’s very famous for Puerh tea. Now Puerh tea is kind of a tea which starts its life as a kind of quasi-green tea, and then ages over time and changes. [It’s] a little bit more complicated to define, but in its very strict sense it’s a tea which is made through low-heating and sun-drying. What that does is when you don’t heat the leaf up in the same way that you would heat up a green tea – [or] Oolong tea – [to over] 250 degrees Celsius, if you kind of just heat it a little bit you slow down all of the enzymatic actions, and all of the kind of microbial actions that are happening, but you don’t kill it off You don’t stop it, and you don’t fix it. So the tea kind of stays alive, and continuously changes, essentially. This is why you get people who will age their tea for 20, 30 years, [or] 40 years, because it will change over time. There’s a delight – and I guess, a passion – for this kind of tea which is forever in flux. It’s never going to be the same. It’s always changing. Every day is going to be different. [When] people start to get into tea, I think by definition, they need to appreciate and celebrate flux in general, because no tea is ever the same. But especially with Puerh, just literally, it’s continuously changing in front of you, and it’s very, very wild. It’s produced from tea trees which are – even though there is plantation Puerh  – in general, the historical, traditional, Puerh comes from these kind of semi-wild tea forests, where the tea plants are allowed to just grow freely into trees, and that means that they’ve got very deep, long roots, which [means] that they can reach kind of layers of soil that plantation teas can’t reach, and it means that the leaf just seems to have a lot more going on. Now, whether or not that be certain chemicals [or] minerals, these are the “whys” that I’m continuously trying to find out , but certainly, these semi-wild, or wild, tea forests produce the highest quality in terms of flavor and effect. It tends to be something that people who get into tea become quite obsessed with. So there will be “tea lovers” and then there’s “Puerh addicts”, you know? [laughter] The Puerh people are very, very obsessive about finding [good tea]. It’s always changing, [with] lots of different mountainous regions [and] hundreds of different villages all producing their own types, so it gets very complex. It’s a whole area that you can explore.

 

Hunter : Really, [Puerh] has sort of blown up in the last decade or so, and there are now people who are spending outrageous amounts of money on Puerh, right? I mean, what sort of numbers are we talking about?

 

Don : Oh, [you] could spend, easily, $10,000 [USD] on a 500 gram cake, or a 400 gram cake – something like that.

 

Hunter : Yeah. Okay, so we’re got Puerh, [which are] these plants growing in the wild, and then also it [basically] sounds like – to simplify this down – like it’s unpasteurized tea. So because you’re not really heating it up very hot the bacteria are allowed to keep working on it, and it’s allowed to mature over these 20 or 30 years, and so it reaches this much more satisfying [and] much more complex flavor.

 

Don : Yeah. That’s a good way of looking at it. Yeah.

 

Hunter : Yeah. So then [that’s] just Yunnan, right? What are some of the other tea-growing regions that we’re looking at?

 

Don : So around Yunnan you’ve got Hu Nun, you’ve got Guang Xi, [and] you’ve got Si Chuan. [This is] very traditional, so that more western part of China – central to western – are very, very traditional, and then you’ve got the east coast. You’ve got Zhe Jiang province, and you’ve got Fu Jian province. Fu Jian province is very, very well-known. But those areas tend to produce a little bit more – [let’s] call them “refined”, for want of a better word – “refined tea. [They’re] less raw, unpasteurized, [and] much more kind of about precision and elegance. So you get this different culture even within China, and it’s expressed very clearly through the tea. Then, if you hop across the ocean, [you] can see, in Japan, how their culture has affected the way that they produce tea, and the Taiwanese produce their own tea. It’s really interesting how tea is a fascinating market [as a kind of] looking glass at the culture of the area. So, for example, in Japan they’ve actually gone down a little bit more of the wise and technical aspects of the tea production, and they’ve kind of made almost like a production line approach to tea, where they’ve isolated each stage in the production, and they’ve really dug deep into the numbers, and figured out : What’s the right temperature? How long to steam it for? What’s the right shaking time? … and it has produced an incredibly consistent quality tea – very high quality, consistent quality. That’s why Japanese tea is so celebrated around the world, because you [kind of] know that when you buy Japanese tea it’s very unlikely that you’re going to get a dud.

 

Hunter : Yeah.

 

Don : It’s very unlikely. However, the problem with that is [that] it’s taken away all of the flexibility from the system. So now you’re in a situation where the Japanese are starting to lose the wisdom of how this all came about, and you’re getting generations of Japanese tea producers, and tea farmers, that only know how to work the machines, and only know how to work the parameters that they’ve been set, and they’ve built these entire warehouses with all the machinery in place, and then there’s the kind of annoying foreigner, like me, who comes over and says, “You know? Why don’t you try something different? Because you’re tea sales are dropping, because you’re not exciting people anymore. So let’s try something else. Why don’t you try making some Oolong teas?” [It’s] very difficult to break out of that rigidity, because they’ve set themselves up with these parameters. From the Chinese point of view it’s chaos, right? You’ve got people doing all these different things, not explaining why, [and] not caring why. Like, they’re just trying shit out, basically [laughter], and they come up with the most steller, incredible, small-batch teas, [and] you’re just like, “How did you do this? How can I recreate this?” They just kind of nod in their very classic way, and kind of nod and say phrases that are very frustrating like, “Oh, if I tell you everything you won’t come back and visit me.”

 

Hunter : [laughter]

 

Don : You know? [laughter] Those kinds of…

 

Hunter : [That’s] so funny.

 

Don : ‘It’s not about me withholding information. It’s just simply that I want to develop our relationship, [and] I want you to come back, and therefore I shouldn’t tell you everything.”

 

Hunter : Mmm.

 

Don : So you get the opposite, where you can get a lot of bad tea coming from China, but you can get this immaculate, incredible, quirky, crazy stuff which blows people away.

 

Hunter : But that’s also why we need Don, right? Because Don goes into China, and he sorts the “shit from the shinola”, “the wheat from the chaff”, [or] “the “tea gold” from the “tea junk””, and then brings back [the best] of China to Mei Leaf, right?

 

Don : I think that [the] ego in me wants to say “Yes.”

 

Hunter : [laughter]

 

Don : [laughter] But I think that the truth is much more about intention. I don’t expect that everybody is going to think that the stuff I bring back is all gold. What I’ve learned, in the 15 years of sourcing tea that I’ve been doing, is that the success comes from actually you loving it.

 

Hunter : Hmm.

 

Don : If I love it, [and] my intention is to express it authentically, then it tends to be a winner. The moment I overthink it, [and] try to think about what other people might want, that’s when I fall into traps. So it’s not black and white, you know? Some people might love a certain tea [while] I hate it, but it’s simply about me coming at it with the best intention, and being very authentic about it. It’s interesting, because when you come at it from that angle you seem to stop asking the questions a little bit more. What’s interesting is, then, the relationships that you build with [the] producers tends to improve.

 

Hunter : MmmHmm.

 

Don : because you’re not trying to back them into a corner all the time, saying, “Why?..Why?…Why? You need to explain this to me, otherwise I can’t sell it.” So when the relationships improve they pull out the better tea [laughter]. So suddenly a whole different cupboard opens, and suddenly you’re tasting different stuff.

 

Hunter : Well, and not only [that, but] the other thing that also helps the relationship improve is drinking alcohol, right? Like there’s [some] great videos of you going out there, and so much of what opens “the doors “tea-ception”” is the fact that you got drunk with them, you ate with them, you hung out with them, [and] now they feel like you have a relationship, and it’s not a purely commercial venture for them. Like they have poured their heart and soul into this tea, and they want to share it with someone who’s really going to appreciate it, and cherish it in the same way that they and their families would.

 

Don : Yeah, and everybody knows [that] when you do business in China that sharing a meal is the essential part of any kind of business deal. But you’re absolutely right. [If] you [extrapolate] out this whole idea of “holistic versus individual”, [or] this kind of “atomized versus patterned”, it really is, in China, [that] the relationships are number one. You know? If the relationship is broken, or it’s not a positive relationship, then [there’s] no point in doing any business at all. The way that they figure that out is by getting you drunk [laughter]. You know? Let’s get him pissed…

 

Hunter : [laughter]

 

Don : … to the point where he can’t stand anymore. Then we’ll find out what he’s like, and then the next day the deals can be done. Also, you know, what’s his capacity to eat weird and wonderful foods? [I’m sure] that a lot of the time they don’t eat half the stuff that they put in front of my face, but they want to make sure that I’m down with it…

 

Hunter : Yeah.

 

Don : … and that I’m prepared to eat it. Then they feel [like], “Okay. He’s prepared to eat ant larvae, and elephant skin. We’re good.” You know? [laughter]

 

Hunter : In general, “fucking with the foreigner” is a universally appreciated pastime in every culture.

 

Don : Yeah, [laughter] and I totally embrace that. I totally embrace that.

 

Hunter : [Specifically], like, I appreciated that, you know, they – because, I mean, this is also one of those universal cultural things, is that everybody does a toast with you, and so the result is that everybody does one toast, [but] you do ten toasts.

 

Don : Yeah.

 

Hunter : So you’re ten drink in, [and] they’re one drink in…

 

Don : Yeah.

 

Hunter : … and that’s really how they fuck you up.

 

Don : Oh, there’s no illusion of fairness.

 

Hunter : [laughter]

 

Don : [laughter] There’s no argument here. I mean, everyone knows that they’re being totally unfair to you, but you just have to go with it. As I said, it’s all about them trying to understand your intention, I think.

 

Hunter : Right.

 

Don : Is your intention coming at it from really trying to appreciate and understand this product that they are [making]? Or is it simply that you want to sell something? You know? So once they understand that you’re happy to get drunk with them, act a fool, and you still love their tea, then things tend to get easier for you.

 

Hunter : Well, I think that’s the interesting thing, is that what you’re really talking about is that you’re trying to, [with] sort of the “Why…why…why?”, that interrogation, right?  You’re trying to open the box with a hammer, right?

 

Don : Yeah.

 

Hunter : [But] if you just establish a relationship with the farmer then he’ll give you the key. Right?

 

Don : Yeah, and a lot of the time, when you use the hammer, you start to tread very close to challenging their face, which we all know [that] in China is a big deal, right? It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not, you don’t challenge somebody and make them look like they don’t know. And a lot of the times – like we said before – this knowledge is just passed down, and there is no reason why. So the annoying foreigner commenting, and saying, “Well, you should understand why you do this, because otherwise, somehow, you are [not] taking your job seriously.” [That] is really dangerous, because that can just shut the door very, very quickly. So yeah, [I’ve] made mistakes in my sourcing – especially early on, and I still get very excited when I’m trying to understand something, and this whole debate, and questioning, comes in. But you’ve always got to check yourself, because a lot of time they don’t know. Or if they do know it’s going to come out in a very slow – over a few days. Suddenly – this tends to be what happens – the questions find their answers once you kind of build the relationship, and you start to see what’s going on. Part of [my] job, I think, is just observing, and then trying to make head or tail of it, and then testing to see whether or not… So, I am still kind of, in a very quiet way, following a western approach?

 

Hunter : Yeah.

 

Don : But it has to be done with the greatest kind of respect and understanding that this kind of pattern, and contextual way of looking at things, has lead to incredible tea, and lots of incredible things, so it’s not one or the other.

 

Hunter : Well, it’s the difference between speaker-driven and listener-driven communication, right? So, yeah, western communication tends to be speaker-driven, [like] “I’m going to ask the questions, [and] you’re going to give me answers.” I mean, even in this interview there is a certain amount of that sort of western communication. Whereas, in holistic cultures there tends to be much more listener-driven communications, where, you know, you [certainly] wouldn’t directly ask your boss a question, right? Like, your boss talks, and then you try and tease out his meaning, and that’s your job, right?

 

Don : MmmHmm.

 

Hunter : So [rather] than being very linear, like logic, where we start off, we set an objective, [like] we’re going to do a business transaction. Therefore, I now need to know this information, which I will extract from you about the terroir, about how it was grown, [and] how it was prepared, and all that sort of stuff, because I need it. Okay, now let’s talk about the a price. Now… dah…dah…dah…dah…dah…dah…dah…dah… and then we conclude the deal.[Compare this to] this very circular process of : we talk, we get drunk… and the westerner is like, “What the fuck are we doing here? I just want to buy tea. I don’t want to get drunk with you!” Right?

 

Don : [laughter]

 

Hunter : Then over the course of days we circle into ultimately doing business, but [we’ve] worked towards that. I mean, I think that the western mind… and this is something that I’ve sort of struggled with, and have been trying to conceptualize, is that [when] there’s talk about development in the West, so much of the narrative focuses on corruption, and that corruption in bad. [But] what we would call corruption – like doing things based on people that you have relationships with, is such a core part of how business is done in China, is done in the Middle East, [and] is done in most of the world, right?

 

Don : Mmm.

 

Hunter : I just [wonder] a lot about that in terms of development, whether we’re trying to impose sort of our narrative of corruption on this mechanism of Guan Xi, or “face”,  and whether… You know, [I mean], ultimately the goal is to create a society that delivers prosperity, and purpose, and all that. Does it always have to look the same way? Are there different paths? I don’t know.

 

Don : Yeah. I [bring] it back, again, to intention. [It’s] one of those things that you only discover people’s intentions through relationships. So deals aren’t done in black and white and paper. They’re done between people, and so if you need to get to know that person, and the relationship is fundamental to whether or not you do the deal, that could be a slippery slope for corruption, but it can also be a way of understanding the intention behind a deal. For example, I [was] in Chao Zhou, which is in South China, and I was looking for teaware. We went to this beautiful master clay [teapot] maker, and we’re talking about handmade teapots that are worth upwards of $200 [to] $300 [USD] dollars for a tiny 70 [milliliter] pot, or 100 [milliliter] pot. I found this pot that I fell in love with. [I] totally fell in love with [it]. [It was a] tiny little  pot, [which was] beautiful, [and] it had this tiniest little mark on it – this tiniest little indent on it, and the master refused to sell it to me. [He] just point-blank said, “I will not sell you that.” I said, “Look, I understand that there’s an error – or a mistake – or it’s imperfect there. But I don’t mind. It’s fine. I’m happy to pay for the pot. I love the pot.” He said, “No, no. I can’t do that. I cannot sell it to you.”, and I was like, “Well, we’re at an impasse here. You know? Because I want it. You’re not selling it to me. Like, you know that I love it. I’m not [questioning] your artistry, that you left this indent…” and he just – for about 45 minutes – it was just back and forth, and in the end I had to give up and walk out very, kind of, a bit sad that I’d missed out on this amazing pot. [Then] a day later the pot came to me, right? But what the master had done is he had given it to a friend of his [laughter]. [This] friend of his had been waiting for a pot to be made by the master for months, and it had been delayed. So the master said, “As an apology I’ll give you this inferior pot to hold you over, right?..”

 

Hunter : Mmm.

 

Don : “… until that pot [is ready].”, knowing full well that that person knew somebody else who knew me. So the master basically gave me the pot through three other people to get to me.

 

Hunter : [laughter]

 

Don : So that’s the really round-about way of doing something that seems – like to my mind – [it] should have been direct, but to him it’s like, “No, I need to protect all of this kind of contextual stuff. I need to protect my face, [and] I need to protect all of these things. So I’m going to give him the pot, but I’m going to do it in this roundabout way.” So yes, things take time, and relationships need to form, and [the] answers tend to come with a little bit more patience, and you eventually [laughter] kind of get there in the end, but it has to come from him understanding that I genuinely loved what he did.

 

Hunter : So beyond tea, [how] has this sort of journey over the last 15 years of sort of really understanding your father’s culture on a much more sort of primal, internalized level, how has that affected you?

 

Don : I think it’s affected me in all walks of life, in everything I do. [I] guess – [it’s not] like just the last five years, [or] ten years. I think that this has been a seed which has been growing ever since ever. Certainly, my father passing away in 2014, and putting me in the limelight – or the spotlight – of having to run these companies, and deal with Chinese medical doctors, and politicians, and this whole kind of world, which I was part of because I was working for 15 years with my father. So it wasn’t like I wasn’t [a] part. But it’s a very different thing when you are the person that everyone is looking to for direction, or answers. Certainly, that was a major catalyst of me trying to kind of figure out how I could walk a similar path, but iin my own shoes, right?

 

Hunter : MmmHmm.

 

Don : That involved me asking myself lots of questions, and dealing with this Western, kind of, analytically way of thinking, and not wanting to disregard it, because I think it’s extremely valuable, and [has helped me] a lot, in many different ways. But to find that integration – to be able to try to find that integration – [is] something that I continuously try to do, and it certainly has really shown itself in tea sourcing, but also just the politics of medicine, and [the] absurdity that I see on both sides of the ocean. [It’s] both on the very kind of pattern-based, kind of, quite [constructed] methodology of the Chinese medical traditional, to the very myopic, very absurd “drawing lines in the sand that don’t need to be there” world of medicine politics. So it’s kind of thrown me in. I’m in at the deep end, so it’s forced me to kind of really review that. Yeah, [and] that obviously filters into your personal life as well.

 

Hunter : Yeah, [and even] – [this] goes back to what your parents were doing, right? To be a bridge – and [the] thing that I really appreciated just from [the] video of your backstory – is the word “complementarity”, right? Like, with Eastern and Western approaches to things it’s not a about fetishising one or fetishising the other, and saying, “This one is the best!”

 

Don : Mmm.

 

Hunter : It’s really about what is the blend between them? How do you have that “bridge”? That’s a word you use a lot, Don, which I love, because the words I use a lot are “right?” and “you know?”, and “bridge” is an actual word rather than just “verbal garbage”. [laughter]

 

Don : [laughter]

 

Hunter : But, you know, it really is this promise of bridging East and West, and how can we get the best of both?

 

Don : Yeah.

 

Hunter : So yeah, let’s talk about Chinese medicine, and let’s talk about Western medicine, because you’ve found yourself in that intersection, and have seen sort of the problems of a myopic focus on one or the other. So what have you noticed? What have been the challenges in terms of moving ideas one way or the other?

 

Don : I think [what’s] surprised me the most – and I think that [my background] has not prepared me for this – [is] the level of entrenchment, the level of fundamentalism, [or] the level of dogma, that is on both sides. [People] are so entrenched – invisibly – in their kind of cultural heritage, that to try to kind of open eyes, or to try to have this meaningful dialogue – [not] just platitudes that kind of serve no purpose – but actual meaningful exchange. In order to find this other way, or these new paradigms of integrations where you can actually blend these different prospective ways of looking at things; these different medical approaches – which I absolutely 100 percent believe you can. Because seeing Chinese medicine in action for the last 30 years [of my] life with the clinic,  and also living in the West, really, honestly, it’s amazing when you start to look at the advice that these two areas of medicine are giving to their patients. When it evolves you start to see that there’s a major convergence – [a] huge convergence – and now we’re finally – in Western medicine, or in Western health – we are embracing lifestyle a lot more than we used to, right? We’re embracing the concept which seems very obvious, right? That nutrition is a very important thing for your health. [laughter]

 

Hunter : [laughter] What?! Don, what is this “woo-woo”  Eastern garbage that you’re peddling here?

 

Don : [laughter] I know!

 

Hunter : You mean I can’t just eat “Ho-Hos” all day and live forever? This is crazy.

 

Don : [laughter] But [the crazy] thing is that I will be sitting in meetings with agencies – medical healthcare agencies – and they will say things to me that make me want to bang my head against a wall, or look for the “hidden camera”. Because [I’m saying things like], “Look, Hippocrates said ‘Let food be thy medicine, and medicine by thy food.'” Like, we need to be giving people advice about nutrition in a much more meaningful way, you know? Rather than just, in Britain we have something called “five a day”.

 

Hunter : [laughter]

 

Don : That’s about as big as it gets, right? [laughter] “Have five a day”, and then they’re taking like really sugary juices and they’re saying, “[This is] one of your five a day.” You know, it’s just like the most nonsensical thing ever, and these people who are civil servants who [not] just enforce the law, but they guide the law when it comes to medicine. They’re saying things to me like, “No…no…no! The definition of food is that it doesn’t have a pharmacological effect on your body.”

 

Hunter : [laughter] … and because we’ve defined it that way, therefore, it can’t, right?

 

Don : Exactly!

 

Hunter : [laughter]

 

Don : I’m sitting there and going, “I don’t know how to actually like respond to that.” The level of absurdity makes me feel like I’m in another dimension, you know? Then they say to me, “Oh, and also, Don, the definition of food is [that] it cannot do you harm.”

 

Hunter : [laughter]

 

Don : So I’m sitting there going, “Okay, guys. How am I supposed to have a reasoned debate with you about nutrition, medicine, [and] healthcare, when you’re talking in a way which is [so] beyond anybody’s understanding of anything logical?” So yes, that’s what’s surprised me the most, is how willing people are to be entrenched in these ideas that seem very, very absurd. So yeah, I mean, that’s been surprising, for sure.

 

Hunter : [laughter] Well, [I think] the first thing is that culture binds and blinds, right?

 

Don : Mmm.

 

Hunter : You know, [one of] the analogies that we’re fond of in “Mixed Mental Arts” is that asking a human about culture is like asking a fish if it’s wet.

 

Don : Right.

 

Hunter : Like you’re wet, [but] you may not know it. [The point] is that it’s very much like the whole “builder’s tea” thing. Like, these guys are wet. They’ve internalized a whole culture, and they haven’t had the benefit that we’ve had of having to swim in different oceans. So the majority of humanity has never really known that it’s wet. I think that part of the thing that I’ve really realized in the last year is [that] I sort of naively assumed that people with a scientific education would know how wet they were. Like, that’s the point of science – to make you aware of your biases, [and] make you aware of all the things that you’ve internalized, so you can question them, and all of that sort of stuff. But what I’ve come to in the last year is that, you know, dealing with a westerner is no different than dealing with a farmer from Yunnan, or dealing with some guy from the hinterlands of Libya.

 

Don : Hmm.

 

Hunter : Like, you’ve blindly internalized your culture, you don’t know that you’ve blindly internalized your culture, and it is driving your thinking. It really is that problem of cultural arrogance, is that you look at all the cargo, and all of the material abundance that the West has accumulated, and so not only are you wet, but you just think that – [it’s] that hardcore naive realism – where you really just think that your view of the world is the best.

 

Don : Hmm.

 

Hunter : It’s that cultural chauvinism of like, ” Listen, we did the industrial revolution, [and] we invented science, [and] we cured all of these things. Don, who are you to come in here with this crazy “woo-woo” nonsense and try and tell me that Robinson’s juice drink is not a fruit or a vegetable.” [laughter]

 

Don : [laughter] Absolutely. That’s precisely what’s happening. You know?

 

Hunter : Yeah.

 

Don : It’s this blind [belief]. That’s, [I have] to say, [why] the “Mixed Mental Arts” platform is so fundamentally important, because as your [exploration] into this has no doubt shown you that it takes time to break that down, and it needs structure to break that down, and it needs continuous spotlights being shone in areas that you may feel uncomfortable being exposed to. So that’s essentially what I’m trying to do, not just to other people, but to myself as well, because I’m just as blind and bound as other people. I mean, maybe [I] have a [slightly] more diverse – [I’ve] swum in many oceans, perhaps – but we all carry it with us, and I think [that] exposing that is so fundamental. That’s why when I go to China I’m talking the same language to them, you know? I’m saying, “Look, you guys [are] so entrenched in historical, traditional constructs – [like] concepts of Chi, concepts of [the] “five elements, [and] concepts of the “Yin and Yang theory”. That’s not to say that they’re wrong. That’s not to say that they [have no] purpose or meaning, because absolutely they do, and we’ve seen the effects, and we’ve seen results. But you have to understand that these need to be modernized as well. [The language] is constantly in flux. The moment you fix the language you’re basically saying, “No more development [is] needed.” Right? It’s the same in western medicine, right? [They’ve had] incredible success at dealing with infectious diseases, yeah? [It’s] amazing. You know, how many billions of people have lived because of antibiotics, and the understanding of the microbes, and the ability to zoom-in, and the ability to use lenses, and the ability to focus on details. [It’s] incredible. But if you just then take that success [and say], “… therefore, everything else we do is right.” You know, [laughter] you’re not evolving, and more to the point – as you say – you’re not being scientific. This is the thing that winds me up the most – this kind of “skepticism” with a “k”, pseudoscience, you know, [and] all [these] kind of “trigger words” that people are throwing out at anything that potentially challenges the paradigm. [I mean], at the end of the day Chinese herbs is not such a difficult concept to understand, right? It’s a herb. You’re eating it.

 

Hunter : [laughter]

 

Don : It’s going to have an effect on your body. [I’m] not even asking you to believe in some vibrational whatever, you know?

 

Hunter : [laughter]

 

Don : I’m just saying [that] if you eat basil it’s going to have an effect. If you eat ginseng it’s going to have an effect. If you combine some plants together they’re going to have a synergistic effect. It’s really not that complicated. So [what’s] the opposition? Why are you being so like “anti” here? Is it because we’re using the words [like] “Chi”? Is it because we’re using concepts of energy, and life force, and all of this stuff? Fair enough. Get it. Understand those are your trigger words. But you have to also understand why those are your trigger words, and [what’s] the background that has lead those to be your trigger words? On the other side, the Chinese, and these Eastern [medicines] need to understand that they can’t just keep grinding their heels and saying, “Well, we have thousands of years of history!”

 

Hunter : [laughter]

 

Don : You know, [as if] that’s like the medal. It’s like, “Yes, good. Congratulations. You have had success over thousands of years, and you’ve built up this medicine experientially. [Those are] all good things, but we need to develop. If we are going to integrate we need to develop. We need to find this complementary approach.” So yeah, it’s on both ends of the spectrum. There’s [no point] in painting it black and white, and it certainly is the case that the Western way of looking at things has lead to incredible results. I have to say – as a little side story to this – the Chinese invented many, many things, right? But glass is not one of them, and the use of glass in Chinese history is very, very low. I mean, it’s superficial, and a lot of the reason why – there is a thinking, [although] I’m not sure how accurate it is – but there’s a thinking that the Chinese really focused on ceramics [and] metal work, and that tea is best consumed in ceramics, right? Whereas the Western drink of choice tended to be wine, which was best consumed in wine glass, and whether or not that lead to a bigger development in glass, and then lenses, and then the ability to look out, and [to] look into detail, [it] may be that tea played its part, actually, in this different way of thinking – the pattern versus the detail; the pattern versus the whole. You know, we don’t know, but it’s a kind of interesting area that China has very, very little experience with glass-making, and glass in general.

 

Hunter : Well, it’s not just glass. It’s also that atomistic mindset, right? It is that desire to – [and] this goes back to the Greeks – like the desire to break up, split up, categorize, [and] figure out all the parts. I hadn’t made that connection until this conversation, but infectious diseases are really the perfect problem for the Western mind, right?

 

Don : Absolutely! Yeah.

 

Hunter : You have to isolate the thing that is the problem, and you have to fucking kill it. Like that’s just what it comes down to.

 

Don : Yeah. [laughter]

 

Hunter : You have to sort through all the chemicals that are out there, and find the one that’s going to kill that thing without killing you.

 

Don : Yeah.

 

Hunter : It’s an ideal western problem, and one of the thing that Nisbett talks about in “The Geography of Thought” is the fact that surgery never appeared in China, right?  Because the body is so integrated, [and] it is so much a holistic thing, that why would you chop out a piece?

 

Don : Yeah.

 

Hunter : So again, like surgery is very much a Western thing to have invented, but in terms of these sort of rigid lines in the sand that don’t exist, there’s a guy out here, Tony Molina, and although Tony’s name is Molina, which is hispanic, right, [actually] a large part of his childhood was spent around his Korean friends and family. So my personal feeling… and he talks about sitting on the floor, and really being like, “This is so cool. This is a real community. I don’t have this. It’s such a great experience.” I think that he’s a very holistic thinker, and I just wonder how much that was picked up from his childhood. But his thing is… and he’s brought together all of these technologies that are basically designed to get the body to repair itself. You provide the targeted signals to the body, and it is these very modern approaches. Like for example, there’s this machine [called] “bio-density”. So if you send a person into space there’s no gravity, and therefore there’s no force on the bones, and so you get osteoporosis. So this provides, you know, you get on there, you generate a force, and then you’re signaling your osteoblasts to upregulate production and create that bone density.

 

Don : MmmHmm.

 

Hunter : It’s really effective. You can bring people in with osteopenia, and they do this for five minute [to] ten minutes a week, and you can see their bone density actually build, in measurable ways, on a DEXA scan. He has had – he and everybody else who’s promoting this stuff – a devil of a time moving this in the West. Of course, where has it had the best reception? China. They’re like, “Oh, duh! Of course! It’s all an integrated system”. Again and again, everything that he’s doing is basically about dealing with these imaginary lines that Western doctors have, where you go to a GP, you tell the GP you have back pain, the doctor sends you to a back specialist. [But] the only problem is that the real source of the back pain is that you actually don’t have range of motion in your foot, and so those forces are being transmitted up and manifesting in the back. The western doctor does a scan, sees a back problem – like there’s something that shows up on the X-ray – concludes surgery – because that’s what the west does – when really, you know, these much smaller fixes, in terms of foot motility, would actually fix the issue. So the damage that is done on both sides, just by sort of blindly running your cultural biases, is vast, right?

 

Don : Yeah,… [and] so you have, [in medicine, we’ve] lost the concept of proper triage – you know, the proper, “Let’s look at a problem, and let’s really take a step back from it, and really try to understand the whole environment that has lead to this problem, before we specialize. The specialization is a great thing, because it leads to expertise, and it leads to all of [the] improved – like the Japanese tea, right? It raises the overall standards [in] exactly the same way as tea. If I come in to a tea farmer’s house, and I try to specialize too quickly – to try [to get] them to answer very specific questions – then I oftentimes lose sight of actually the environment, and lose sight of the actual question that needs to be asked, right? [Like] if I sat and I kind of just observed for a while I would figure [it] out. That’s absolutely the case in medicine. It’s a specialization that’s happening far too quickly. It’s like, we had a Chinese doctor coming to speak with us once, and he kind of just gave a very simple example of mildew in the bathroom, right? If you have mildew in the bathroom you can find out what it is, you can find out what the microbe is, you can find the chemical, [and] you can kill it off, but really what’s causing the mildew – even though the cause of it is this microbe – it’s actually the [humid] environment that has caused it. So both are causes, right? But which is going to have the best long-term results: you spraying it every couple of months, or you figuring out a way to dehumidify your bathroom in some way [laughter]. You know? It’s a very simple idea, but that’s basically the difference in a nutshell.

 

Hunter : Yeah. The challenge for us, and a lot of what I think [building] this “Mixed Mental Arts” community of all of us who have sort of wrestled with this problem of culture, in one way or another, is to basically pool our insights, and to evolve tools so that we can all have these conversations better. That’s why we’re doing the “Mixed Mental Arts Belt System” as just sort of the nine basic concepts that are most important for like giving people the vocabulary, [because] I think that if you’re going to talk to some British civil servant about this sort of stuff I think, obviously, the compounding factor is [as] Upton Sinclair said, “It’s impossible to convince a man of something when his job depends on him not understanding it.”

 

Don : [laughter] Yeah.

 

Hunter : [That’s] the other compounding thing, but the more that we can get humanity to this idea… because I think [that] the difference is, Don, that you know that [culture] binds and blinds. Most people don’t even understand that, right? They might think, “Oh, yeah, culture binds and blinds other people.” But it’s really that when you understand that. So I think it’s, A, that, and the other thing that I think is super-important is [that] for people to be able to see this – and so we can all see this better, I think that, A, you know, humans learn by seeing example, example, example, and then they go to the general principle. So you and I have had lots, and lots, and lots of examples, examples, examples, and then we sort of accepted a lot of these general principles to live by. You have a totally different set of examples from the ones that Tony Molina has, or that I have, or that – a lot of what you’re saying, by the way, have you read Mark Schatzker’s “Dorito Effect”?

 

Don : No, I haven’t. No.

 

Hunter : Oh, see [this] is what I’m talking about [in saying] “pulling toolkits”, because that book is going to be give you so much of what really sounds like science to this British civil servant, where you can talk about food in ways that they’re really going to appreciate. So anyway, [I] think that’s the point, is that we all need to band together. [You know] it’s frustrating when you’re the one person trying to mediate these conflicts. [I mean], for me – in the last year – it’s been nice to know that I’m not alone, and that there is a community of people who think like this, who can help us all have these conversations better.

 

Don : Absolutely, and a growing community. I think that there are people that are searching for this, so [the] MMA platform is really important for that, because one place to send people is a much easier way than [laughter] trying to kind of like cobble together your own personal reading list. So yeah, pooling it is very important.

 

Hunter : Yup, and to that end, I [think] what’s great is, you know, [obviously] you’ve done so much of that pulling together – in terms of tea, in terms of Chinese medicine, [and] in terms of a lot of these things – and [with] Mei Leaf you’ve created a really great set of resources there for people to begin the journey towards becoming “teaheads”.

 

Don : [laughter]

 

Hunter : [We’ve] really only scratched the surface here. Like obviously, being a recovering “WEIRD” I’ve focused on Yunnan, and I’ve focused on Puerh, but we haven’t really gotten into : How do you brew tea, right? The “Gong Fu” brewing style. We haven’t really gotten into the teaware; like what are the cups, and what should we be using? But [I’m] excited to begin that journey, [and] I’m lucky to have a great guide in Don, who – although he’s too humble to ever say he [is] an expert – he’s been on the path for long enough that he can certainly point me to a few things that might help me in my own exploration.

 

Don : Thank you. Yeah, absolutely. [There are] so many more things to talk about, and as anybody who embarks on the “teahead” journey discovers, it’s a world of absolute acceptance of flux.

 

Hunter : [laughter]

 

Don : [laughter] Right? So get ready for everything I say to be contradicted in the next moment. I know you can handle that.

 

Hunter : Yup! [We’re] all going to have to handle that, because that’s the world that we live in. All the old certainties are gone.

 

Don : [laughter]

 

Hunter : [Also] , there are some people that I want to connect you with, because I think that there’s enough of that similarity. I think it would be great for you to talk to Tony Molina, it would be great for you to talk to Mark Schatzker, and I think you’d really appreciate talking to Jenny Aguilar. That’s really a big thing that we’re going to be doing in 2018, is trying to really facilitate “idea sex” where we bring together great, fun combinations, and just watch that exchange of ideas, back and forth, happen. So thanks so much for coming into the dojo, Don. I feel like we can now more comfortably use that term than maybe we could before…

 

Don : [laughter]

 

Hunter : .. [laughter] which is exciting. Plug yourself shamelessly. Where can everybody find everything that you do?

 

Don : The best place to go is search out our channel on YouTube – “Mei Leaf” ( https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCaHBABJFMRAtnKhQp2Cu5BQ ) – search for us on YouTube, and then you can begin your exploration into the world of tea. Just dip in [and] dip out. You’ll find things, I’m sure, that interest you. If you’re interested in Chinese medicine then Acumedic.com is the best place to go.

 

Hunter : Yeah, and I think – that’s the other thing, too – in terms of, as we start to help people realize they’re “wet”, [food and drink] is such a great first point of contact, because once you start to develop an appreciation for those things then it becomes much easier to get into the literature, or to get into the philosophy, or the spirituality, or the religion. So, in general, let’s shamelessly promote all the food and beverage, and maybe then people will realize that it’s not just food, [but] it’s also medicine. [laughter]

 

Don : Absolutely.

 

Hunter : All right. Take care Don.

 

Don : Thank you so much, Hunter. Take care.

 

Hunter : Bye.

 

Hunter : Well, that was Don Mei, and I was so inspired by that conversation with Don that I decided to create a special sub-group of “Mixed Mental Arts” called” “Mixed Medical Arts” where anybody who is interested in figuring out what a truly global medical system – that is the product of “idea sex” between Eastern medicine and Western medicine – would look like, can come, talk, share experiences, [and] figure out how to move these ideas both in the Eastern world and the Western world. So you can find that group, “Mixed Medical Arts” on Facebook, and there’s actually a very interesting new sub-group set up by our own Isaiah Gooley, “Mixed Musical Arts”. So if you’re interested in finding out about the music of different cultures, how they’ve blended, [and] how they’ve learned from each other, there’s that opportunity to go [to]. So thanks so much for listening, and remember, on Facebook : “Mixed Mental Arts”, “Mixed Medical Arts”, and “Mixed Music Arts” .

 

Announcer : I’d like to let you know how you can engage in “idea sex” with us by joining our online communities. If you’d like to help support us, please consider becoming a patron by visiting our Patreon page, where you can get access to behind-the-scenes content, early podcast episode releases, and much, much more. You can find our website at http://www.mixedmentalarts.online to sign up for our email newsletter. For Facebook users, you can find our Facebook page with the URL Facebook.com/MixedMentalArts . From there you can join our Facebook discussion group, or you can give us feedback about the podcast, or engage in discussions with our community members, including Hunter Maats. We also have a Reddit community at “R/MixedMentalArts”. Subscribe to our YouTube channel at YouTubecom/MixedMentalArts for video podcasts and weekly live streams, where you – the audience – have the ability to participate in our discussions. Last, but not least, please follow us on Twitter at “”@MixedMentalArts”, and [the same on] Instagram, to get our latest updates. Join the “Callenphate”, and replace that cognitive dissonance with some “cognitive coitus”. Thanks for listening.                                                                      

 

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