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72 segments Advanced Female
During a long day spent roaming the forest in search of edible grains and herbs, the weary divine farmer Shennong accidentally poisoned himself 72 times.
But before the poisons could end his life, a leaf drifted into his mouth. He chewed on it and it revived him, and that is how we discovered tea. Or so an ancient legend goes at least.
Tea doesn't actually cure poisonings, but the story of Shennong, the mythical Chinese inventor of agriculture, highlights tea's importance to ancient China.
Archaeological evidence suggests tea was first cultivated there as early as 6,000 years ago, or 1,500 years before the pharaohs built the Great Pyramids of Giza.
That original Chinese tea plant is the same type that's grown around the world today, yet it was originally consumed very differently. It was eaten as a vegetable or cooked with grain porridge.
Tea only shifted from food to drink 1,500 years ago when people realized that a combination of heat and moisture could create a complex and varied taste out of the leafy green. After hundreds of years of variations to the preparation method, the standard became to heat tea, pack it into portable cakes, grind it into powder, mix with hot water, and create a beverage called muo cha, or matcha. Matcha became so popular that a distinct Chinese tea culture emerged.
Tea was the subject of books and poetry, the favorite drink of emperors, and a medium for artists. They would draw extravagant pictures in the foam of the tea, very much like the espresso art you might see in coffee shops today.
In the 9th century during the Tang Dynasty, a Japanese monk brought the first tea plant to Japan. The Japanese eventually developed their own unique rituals around tea, leading to the creation of the Japanese tea ceremony. And in the 14th century during the Ming Dynasty, the Chinese emperor shifted the standard from tea pressed into cakes to loose leaf tea.
At that point, China still held a virtual monopoly on the world's tea trees, making tea one of three essential Chinese export goods, along with porcelain and silk. This gave China a great deal of power and economic influence as tea drinking spread around the world. That spread began in earnest around the early 1600s when Dutch traders brought tea to Europe in large quantities.
Many credit Queen Catherine of Braganza, a Portuguese noble woman, for making tea popular with the English aristocracy when she married King Charles II in 1661. At the time, Great Britain was in the midst of expanding its colonial influence and becoming the new dominant world power. And as Great Britain grew, interest in tea spread around the world. By 1700, tea in Europe sold for ten times the price of coffee and the plant was still only grown in China.
The tea trade was so lucrative that the world's fastest sailboat, the clipper ship, was born out of intense competition between Western trading companies.
All were racing to bring their tea back to Europe first to maximize their profits.
At first, Britain paid for all this Chinese tea with silver. When that proved too expensive, they suggested trading tea for another substance, opium.
This triggered a public health problem within China as people became addicted to the drug. Then in 1839, a Chinese official ordered his men to destroy massive British shipments of opium as a statement against Britain's influence over China. This act triggered the First Opium War between the two nations. Fighting raged up and down the Chinese coast until 1842 when the defeated Qing Dynasty ceded the port of Hong Kong to the British and resumed trading on unfavorable terms. The war weakened China's global standing for over a century.
The British East India company also wanted to be able to grow tea themselves and further control the market. So they commissioned botanist Robert Fortune to steal tea from China in a covert operation. He disguised himself and took a perilous journey through China's mountainous tea regions, eventually smuggling tea trees and experienced tea workers into Darjeeling, India. From there, the plant spread further still, helping drive tea's rapid growth as an everyday commodity.
Today, tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world after water, and from sugary Turkish Rize tea, to salty Tibetan butter tea, there are almost as many ways of preparing the beverage as there are cultures on the globe.
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  |  9165 learners#Culture #Stories

How many times have you heard someone say they want to make a better world? It is a noble sentiment, but very hard to achieve, right?

Well, actually, it’s quite easy. All we have to do is increase just one human trait. This trait is so powerful that it alone can make people happier without working on their happiness, and make them better – and by “better,” I mean more generous, more honest, more kind, more everything good – without a single lesson in morality.

So, then, what is this one almost magical thing? Drumroll, please.

It’s gratitude.

You can’t be a happy person if you aren’t grateful, and you can’t be a good person if you aren’t grateful. Almost everything good flows from gratitude, and almost everything bad flows from ingratitude.

Let’s begin with ingratitude. Here’s a rule of life: ingratitude guarantees unhappiness. It is as simple as that. There isn't an ungrateful happy person on Earth. And there isn’t an ungrateful good person on Earth. There are two reasons.

Reason one is victimhood. Ingratitude always leads to or comes from victimhood. Ungrateful people—by definition—think of themselves as victims. And perceiving oneself as a victim or perceiving oneself as a member of a victim group may be the single biggest reason people hurt other people—from hurtful comments to mass murder. People who think of themselves as victims tend to believe that because they’ve been hurt by others, they can hurt others.

And the second reason ungrateful people aren’t good people is that ingratitude is always accompanied by anger. The ungrateful are angry, and angry people lash out at others. If ingratitude makes people unhappy and mean, then gratitude must make people happy and kind.

And so it does. Think of the times you have felt most grateful—were they not always accompanied by a feeling of happiness? Weren’t they also accompanied by a desire to be kinder to other people? The answer, of course, is yes. Grateful people aren’t angry and they also don’t see themselves as victims.

The problem, however—and it’s a big one, is that in America and much of the rest of the world, people are becoming less grateful. Why? Because people are constantly told that they are entitled to things they haven’t earned—what are known as “benefits” or “entitlements.” And the more things that people think they should get, the less grateful they will be for whatever they do get. And the more angry—and therefore unhappy—they will be when they don’t get them.

Here are two rules of life. Rule number one: The less you feel entitled to, the more gratitude you will feel for whatever you get and the happier you will be. Rule number two: The more you feel entitled to, the less happy you will be. That’s why, for example, children who get whatever they want are usually less happy children. We have a word for such children: spoiled. And no one thinks of a spoiled child as a happy child, and certainly not a kind one.

The more that you feel that life or society owes you, the angrier you will get, the less happy you will be. As a result, we are increasing the number of angry, unhappy, and selfish people. The other way we are making people unhappy, and even meaner, is by cultivating a sense of victimhood. People are constantly told that they are victims because of their upbringing, because of past prejudice against their group, because of material inequality, because they are female, and for many other reasons.

Next time you want to assess any social policy, ask this question first: Will this policy increase or decrease gratitude among people? You will then know whether it is something that will bring more goodness and happiness to the world—or less.

If I were granted one wish, it would be that all people be grateful. Gratitude is the source of happiness, and the source of goodness; and the more good people, and the more happy people there are walking around, the happier and better our world will be. If you have a way of achieving such a world without increasing gratitude, let me know what it is.
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  |  9275 learners#Social #Essays

67 segments Intermediate Male
The Copperpod tree was in full bloom. Vibrant and vivacious it swayed gracefully from side to side, sending down a shower of copper yellow petals.

“Gosh, you’re beautiful!” exclaimed the other trees.

The Copperpod tree stood up straight and rustled its leaves, clearly enjoying the attention.

A gust of wind blew through the forest causing all the trees to bend westwards.

“Oh no…my flowers!” cried the Copperpod tree, trying its best to stand still.

Another gust of wind sent the trees swaying the other way.

“That’s enough!” said the Copperpod tree, as a bunch of flowers fell from its top most branches, “I’ve just about had enough!”

All the other trees turned to look.

“Now look here Mr. Wind, I refuse to dance to your tunes anymore! I wish to sway by myself! Not the way you want me to!” said the Copperpod tree firmly.

A gentle whisper broke out among the trees.

The wind stopped blowing. The din of dead silence rang through the forest.

A moment later the wind swept through the air again. It circled around the trees and made a whooshing sound. But it never touched the Copperpod tree.

The Copperpod tree watched the other trees giggle as the wind tickled their branches. Then it turned the other way and admired its flowers. Out of the corner of its eye it looked to see if any tree was watching. But they were all dancing with the wind.

The Copperpod tree tried to ruffle its flowers. But it couldn’t. It tried to shake its branches. But it couldn’t. It tried to lean closer to the other trees. But it couldn’t. All it could do was stand still.

“Gosh, you’re beautiful!” said the trees.

A few days later, the Copperpod tree opened its tired eyes with a glimmer of hope. But the other trees were looking elsewhere. They were looking at the Gulmohar tree, which was ablaze with fiery red flowers. It was scattering its petals in the air like tiny sparks of fire. The wind blew around it; tousling its branches and making its flowers flush an even brighter red.

Nobody paid any attention to the Copperpod tree which was all bent now. There wasn’t a single copper yellow flower on it. Dried flowers and leaves still clung to its branches.

The Copperpod tree let out a groan. Its trunk was hurting from standing so still. It longed to sway at least once! But the wind refused to even come near it.

“Alright, Mr. Wind, I’m sorry! The truth is that I need you,” sighed the Copperpod tree. It felt a slight waft of air near its side. The wind had come closer to listen.

“I know I’m a big beautiful tree, with lovely flowers and healthy branches and a nice strong trunk. But all that doesn’t matter, if all I can do is be still!” said the Copperpod tree.

“I want to sprinkle my petals over the little children that sit beneath me. I want to reach out my branches and kiss the sky. I want to stretch and protect the people that take shelter under me. I want to dance again. I want to be a living, breathing tree that sways with the wind!” the Copperpod tree hunched lower, unable to even stand up straight anymore.

A gentle breeze floated over the Copperpod tree. It started out at its roots, awakening them from their slumber. It travelled upwards wrapping itself around its trunk and permeating through its gnarled branches. It gave the tree a little shake, causing its dried flowers and leaves to fall away. It nuzzled the little flower buds which started blooming. The wind encompassed the Copperpod tree in a giant hug and swayed with it in a soft gentle dance.

The Copperpod tree threw its branches around the wind and danced like it had never danced before!
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  |  9782 learners#General #Stories
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