Lonnie is my mother-in-law. We lived with her prior to getting married to save up for a house. We got a house, and then she moved in. We renovated, moved out of our house, back to her house. When renovations were completed, we moved back to our house with her. We then moved her out of our house into her own place. Each time, I carried a large jar of orange peels. “Ma, they are just orange peels. Why to you keep them?” Lonnie responded, “Very valuable, grown in Xin Hui before too much pollution.” I would sigh each time and dutifully moved the orange peels, and the jar of bees, and the bags of herbs, muttering horrible things under my breath about her wacky values. Over the course of 20 years I must have moved that jar of orange peels ten times. Orange peels, really? They are not even fresh, they had to be from the late seventies at least.
On the way back from Wenlou, we stopped on the outskirts of Xin Hui at the Chanpi Village, a whole village dedicated to all things chanpi. It was hot, I was sweaty, and I had no idea what we were doing here. I didn’t see a gas station. There were some restaurants in a large building inside. I braced for another meal. I had eaten more in the last few days than I usually eat in a month. “Please no” begged my stomach.
Kylie was game. “Dad, can we get ice cream!” I do not know where that child puts her food, but she can pack it away.
And then I started to see jars and jars of orange peels. Tall, small, wide, and some in plastic bushels. Store after store was selling orange peels. It was an orange peel mall. I was confused.
I bought ice cream for everyone. One auntie said: “Come in side, have some orange peel tea.”
The tea was not going to help me beat the heat, but having the tea meant going in one of the shops that had air conditioning. A prudent political win-win move, I thought to myself.
The young tea server unwrapped two brightly colored wrappers revealing what can only be described as a brown-crusty-round-puff-ball into a large cup. She squished it a little and poured hot water in and covered it. All the while talking about the types of orange peel, their fruit, and their healing properties. Six tiny kungfu tea cups were produced that would hold no more than five bottle caps worth of tea. “Am I really paying for this?” I thought to myself. The Aunties and cousins just treated us like kings, so what could go wrong with a little tea?
Some peanuts appeared before me: “Try”. The peanuts were like nothing I had ever had before. They were lightly sweet and citrus-like. “Sharleen, you should try this. They taste really different from our peanuts.” “They should, they’ve been soaked in orange peel tea and sugar.” That explains it.
The tea server poured the orange peel tea and and added more hot water. Meanwhile she sloshed hot water around each of the six cups. She then poured the second batch of tea out. “I’m pretty sure it is to get rid of the bitter strong first batches.” I told Sharleen, who seemed befuddled by all of this pomp and circumstance over tea.
Sharleen explained that what was in the tea cup was a dried mandarin orange that had been hollowed out, dried, then stuffed with tea leaves. The guarantees the maximum infusion of the orange peel into the tea.
As we drank thimble sized cups of tea, young girls would walk in and out delivering different “products” to try out. There was a orange peel infused chocolate nut. (I didn’t like that one). Orange peel infused black jelly. Orange peel infused sunflower seeds, plum candy. An orange peel infused life-saver-like breath mint. “We use this after drinking the Chinese herbs that are bitter. It erases the bitterness.” The flavor exploded in my mouth and the flavor stayed with me, much like that of an antiseptic mouthwash. The pace was fast and furious as Kylie could not stop shoving all the yummy things in her mouth, to the delight of the sales people. In gratitude to her Aunties, Sharleen bought each a bag of chanpi sunflower seeds.
Then I looked around at the orange peels on the shelves and my eyes started to twirl:
- 2017: $37 USA Dollars for a half kilo (1.1 pounds)
- 2016: $42 per half kilo.
- 2015: $51 per half kilo
- 2014: $65 per half kilo
- 2013: $75 per half kilo
- 2012: $111 per half kilo
- 2006: $257 per half kilo
- 1998: $685 per half kilo
To be clear that is the converted dollar price with current exchange rates.
Lonnie’s Chanpi was from the late seventies. If the rate of increase was linear (which is is not), her Chanpi would be worth over $1200 per half kilo!
I stepped outside and saw row upon row of shops just like this one, with burlap sacks on the walkway covered with orange peels drying in the sun.
I tip my hat in the direction of the person who convinced the world of the value of orange peels. In an evening call to her mom, I asked Sharleen to tell Lonnie I’d never make fun of her orange peels again. Lonnie’s chanpi may become Sharleen’s inheritance.