Another Afternoon, Another Teahouse


The light in one of the glass displays is flickering consistently and sporadically over tubs of I’m not sure what and shrink-wrapped who knows what that could be. Dried cuttlefish, seasoned jerky, dehydrated fruit slices sit unassumingly in large rectangular tubs behind more glass counters.

Chinese candies and snacks sit on top of the counter–higher than I could possibly reach–equally packaged in plastic tubs and heavy duty ziplocked baggies.

Overhead the ceiling fan is whirring in sync with the low rumble of the refrigerated displays. Beside me the bakery owner is silently folding paper containers, snapping them deftly into shape. The middle-aged woman manning the dried foods is busily sorting and packaging, keeping a shrewd eye on customers as they walk in and out.

Young people walk straight back to the tea bar–one third of this three in one establishment. A suited businessman in an olive green dress shirt has his laptop and his headphones plugged in, working away as though he were at the office and not in a split personality Chinese deli of sorts.

The store background music is just as varied as its offerings, a rotating playlist of Cantonese, Mandopop and Japanese pop hits.

I lean back in my sturdy plastic bright red chair and take a deep sip of my cream topped green tea: number 2 on the teahouse’s top five drink list. I’m not using the straw or mixing the cream sitting on top of the amber green tea, just like the tea barista instructed me.

The smell of the salt on top of milky cream actually repels me at first. It’s strangely pungent, almost sickly salty and sweet, and fills my nose, and I swear I’m going to get a cream-stash by the time I actually get to the tea. But the tea is sweet and mixes well with the cream; I’m satisfied.

It’s worth the disconcerting couple seconds each sip to reach the tea through the cream and feel them come into flavor harmony. I think life is like that a little bit; sometimes we have to learn to tolerate the strange, foreign or uncomfortable things before we can get to the substance beneath, and then we feel satisfied with the refreshing mixture and richness they add to our lives.

A lame and poorly constructed metaphor, but the only one that happens to come to mind under the circumstances. Right now I feel lethargic and my body aches all over. My head feels heavy and it took all my effort to stay awake and drag myself out of the house.

This time that I have to myself, it’s precious, and sometimes unreal. Just like the times I’ve been alone abroad. Unreal and beautiful and part of a life I long for and remember not well and want to find again.

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