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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 21 August 2018

The UAE social network: Chinese tea party brews better local understanding

The Chinese Tea Lovers’ Party helps residents network and learn from each other

Li Wen makes tea at Yao Yi Tea house in International City. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Li Wen makes tea at Yao Yi Tea house in International City. Chris Whiteoak / The National

While sipping hot green tea, a group of Dubai's Chinese residents meet to discuss issues from career development, how to handle VAT and the impact of President Xi Jinping’s visit to the UAE.

Members of the Chinese Tea Lovers’ Party gather every month in the wood-panelled Yao Yi Tea house in International City. The store is filled with tea sets of delicate, blue-and-white china with sturdy cast iron pots.

They draw up chairs around a server who brews the tea and hands it out in tiny cups, or in large glass mugs, depending on preferences.

The group began six years ago, with mostly Chinese nationals congregating regularly to gain a better understanding of the country they live in. Drawn from various industries such as hospitality, real estate, construction, media and academia, they meet in groups of between 20 and 25 people.

The meetings are conducted in Chinese, but are open to all.

The Chinese residents meet each month to drink tea and share local knowledge. Chris Whiteoak / The National
The Chinese residents meet each month to drink tea and share local knowledge. Chris Whiteoak / The National

“This is popular in China — we chat over tea. We wanted to do the same here so people could share their views and opinions. We keep it small so we have an effective exchange,” said organiser Shaojin Chai, the chairman of think-tank the Yap Centre for Blockchain Studies.

“It is a chance for people to get a reminder of our culture and to network. They get to know people from other professions and learn about marketing, business development, Chinese, Islamic culture, history, international relations — there is a sharing of knowledge.”

The tea club, which originally hopped between coffee shops and restaurants, found a permanent home at the Yao Yi Tea store in October last year.

On a recent evening, Mr Shaojin brought the meeting to order and announced it would be an open session.

Wu Chao, who works with a UAE property developer, attended with the specific purpose of using the meeting as a sounding board for his plans to return to China to study after his wedding in Jordan next month.

The group began six years ago, with Chinese nationals from various industries such as hospitality, real estate, construction, media and academia, congregating to bounce ideas off each other. Chris Whiteoak / The National
The group began six years ago, with Chinese nationals from various industries such as hospitality, real estate, construction, media and academia, congregating to bounce ideas off each other. Chris Whiteoak / The National

“My fiancé is Jordanian and wants to learn Chinese for her master's. I plan to go back to China to study, too, so we can both go back to learn.

"What I want to ask is what subject should I should learn? What will help me when I come back to Dubai?” asked Mr Wu, who goes by the Arabic name of Wissam when with friends and colleagues in the region.

One of the suggestions from longtime residents was to gain a deeper understanding of online shopping, which is booming in China and picking up in the UAE. Mr Wu has worked in a luxury hotel and at a mall over the three years he has spent in Dubai.

The conversation is animated, with laughter filling the room and glasses are kept topped up with green, white, black, yellow and oolong infusions.

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The sessions are free and the tea house lets out its premises to help Chinese residents interact, with tea and biscuits provided complimentararily.

Gatherings are usually addressed by a local or international visiting professor, business or community leader.

The topics are announced on WeChat, a popular Chinese mobile messaging platform. Subjects over the past few months have covered cultural challenges, such as ‘when East meets West’, personal and economic development, a dialogue between Islam and Confucianism, implementation and understanding the VAT policy.

At the recent meeting, the predominant discussion was the importance of President Xi’s visit last month.

“Following our president’s visit there is more interest in China among local people. They want to know more so the visit has been beneficial for us,” said Yiming Mao, manager of online group Seeniun Media.

He attends meetings to tap into the group’s knowledge for new ideas, and particularly remembers an earlier meeting where a speaker dwelt on the strengths of the different emirates.

“It helped me understand some of the differences, with Abu Dhabi focused on culture, politics, science and technology and Dubai on finance, the economy, entertainment and hospitality,” Mr Yiming said.

“I want to learn more because I must know everything I can about Dubai and the UAE.”

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