The following is an attempt to capture the experience of my most recent tea buying trip to Taiwan. I know that many of you haven't been to Taiwan. It’s a beautiful, vibrant island. Yet there remains a huge cultural gap that is not easy to navigate. People have different ways of knowing and doing, so there is a lot of room for disconnect. The tea table is a place where connection is established regardless of these cultural differences. At the tea table, we begin to understand each other, if for nothing else, to normalize our own experience. To tell a joke, to laugh, and to drink tea together; life doesn't get any better than this...
This is the result of one to two decades of work: learning, exploring, recording, meeting people, forming and maintaining relationships. This all takes time and much of it can't be rushed... at the risk of missing it.
So let us begin on a little adventure I'm going to call “gutting my memory.”
Entry into Taiwan
As I step off the plane, it’s approaching 6:00 am in Taipei, Taiwan. At this early hour, there is no need to hurry, so I buy a bus ticket headed south to Tainan, the old Southern capital. The bus trip requires two legs, with a transfer in Taizhong. Upon arriving in Taizhong, I decide to make the stop worthwhile by searching out a traditional breakfast and visiting tea friends. After the long trip filled with icky airplane food, I was starving. I can almost taste the steamed buns and fresh soy milk. I remember a great breakfast place next to a tea shop that I want to visit so I take a cab from the bus station, hot on the trail of steamed buns... and they did not disappoint. They were so good that I ate two servings, and walked around the corner to my friend’s teashop. As soon as I stepped in the shop, the room started to tremor. In the chaos I heard someone say, “Earthquake!” The shop owner started to chant some Buddhist scriptures as I felt the floor sway underneath us. The walls swayed to and fro and the owner’s wife moved toward them to make sure that none of the expensive tea ware fell from the shelves. It was all over before it started, but what a welcome! I spent the morning selecting tea and tea ware and before long it was time for lunch. After lunch together, I continued my journey south. This earthquake was most severe in Nantou County. Well, this trip has already started out with a bang and I couldn't help but think that it promises to be a good one.