The Tea Shop
If I wouldn’t have wrecked my scooter, we might have still been down in the Southern part of Taiwan. My unfortunate accident had caused us to have a couple of extra days to venture around in the more populated Northern region. Our host Tanya was dropping us off at the hotel after supper. That’s when Laura decided to ask her one last question, “Where could we pick up a teapot?” She really likes tea, so we figured this would be the place to find a cool tea pot.
Tanya told us to jump in and we headed off into the night. The streets were rather crowded during the day, but since it was approximately 10 p.m., it was a little calmer and only a minimal swarm of scooters surrounded us at each stop light. Tanya made her way confidently to the specific shop she had in mind. To me, it looked like an old English shop from the outside and seemed kind of dimly lit. It was approximately 10 feet deep and probably fifty feet long.
The center piece of the room was a tea table, made of what looked like a thick slice of a large tree. It was heavily varnished but mostly covered with various articles too numerous to differentiate. Much like the shelves that surrounded the room, it was a sea of eclectic items. At first glance, it seemed like just a bunch of stuff. I had seen a table like this a couple of years ago when I visited the chiropractor named “Dr. Happy.” That’s another story.
Tanya introduced us and told them we were looking for a teapot. Actually, I don’t know what she told him. We were already busy looking for a teapot and I don’t speak Mandarin. After we picked a couple of teapots we were interested in, the man behind the table invited us to have tea with him. I had given up caffeine a couple of years ago but I sensed this was going to be an experience — so, I agreed. Laura and I sat down with our son, Jordan, who also speaks fluent Mandarin. I sat directly across from the unnamed man in the mysterious coffee shop and began to have tea with him.
Along with the constant supply of tea, the man began to share about his practice. I’m still not sure what it was – like most of the evening, nothing had a label. One thing I knew for sure is he felt it contributed to his youth and flexibility. He was 60 years old but seemed to have the dexterity of a much younger man. I desperately wanted him to give me a book or DVD about this practice, but it was obvious that wasn’t going to happen.
When the man found out that we are plant-based, he was happy because he and his wife were also vegetarian. He promptly invited us to share his supper with him. I thought, “sure this is what usually happens when I go to the store–we watch a guy tell stories and eat dinner with the store clerk!” So, I agreed – I don’t know why – I guess because ever since I wrecked the scooter we had been on an adventure.
Tanya helped negotiate a price for the teapots. She assured us it was a bargain. After that, he immediately began to macrame a little twine rope braid onto the teapots. It was a connector from the handle to the lid to keep it from getting lost. I don’t know if he did this for every customer, but it made me feel special. As he did this, he would occasionally spring up, then dart to some area of the shop and return with something in his hand.
The first thing I remember was that he brought us peanuts and then sunflower seeds. Again, I don’t know why but I got the sense that he was trying to make us happy. It was working! I was starting to feel a sense of connection with our host and a satisfaction with making the decision to venture out into the night. This was an adventure I was going to be glad that I embarked upon. The next thing I knew, he came back with a bottle.
Something the guy’s friend said made me think this was a special deal. I think it was the tone of his voice when he said “..and that’s a new bottle.” Tanya quickly explained that this was alcohol that usually wasn’t given to foreigners. This didn’t happen every day! The thought quickly raced through my mind about dying right there in a tea shop which had no name from alcohol poisoning. What would Laura tell the police? “It was a very flexible man with no name that makes good tea.”
It looked like grain alcohol and it tasted like grain alcohol! If you have ever had everclear or moonshine — that’s about the size of it. Holy rice wine – that was strong! Someone mentioned something about taste but I couldn’t feel anything in my mouth. I noticed he was beginning to fiddle with something else. This time it was characters.
He gave us some business cards with characters on them, then a sheet of graph paper with some characters he had written. Even Tonya was not much help understanding this writing. She said something like “I understand it, but it’s very hard to explain.” With that he began writing something for me. By this time, I was simply just feeling very touched. He seemed compelled to make me happy – whatever it took. This was beyond customer service – I think he genuinely wanted to make people feel joy.
Tonya told me later that he was abandoned as a boy and truly became a success story. I would categorize him as a village elder. When we arrived, there were three people in his store listening to him. He’s one of those people that others are attracted to, but I experienced him as just one of the most genuine people I have experienced in a long time.
He had time for me, he was interested in me and he took the time to make me happy!
There are probably a dozen lessons I learned that night, but I want to stew on them for a while. I walked out of the tea shop saying “What just happened?” and I have been thinking about it every since. I was hoping for an adventure and astonished that I found it in a tiny little tea shop with no name and an interesting little man that couldn’t speak my language.
I hope that I can learn to slow down and be the kind of person that I witnessed that night!
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