For as long as I can remember, my dad was a tea drinker. As a kid, I loved having a cup of tea with him. He always added sugar, too much sugar, and I always added a little milk. It was like drinking a dessert.
Having a cup of tea with my parents became ceremonial for me as we grew older. I would call and say I was coming over and my mom would say “I’ll put on the water.” We would catch up and solve all kinds of problems over a simple cup of tea.
A few years ago, after taking my parents to an eye doctor appointment, my dad asked where we might get a tea pot like the one they use at P.F. Changs, a local chain restaurant. He liked the way the tea stayed hot in the cast iron enamel-lined pot.
We stopped off at a specialty tea store located in The Pearl District of Portland. Both parents just having their eyes tested and dilated, were wearing BluBlocker type sunglasses, a real sight (pardon the pun) for the shop owner. We checked out a few options and landed on a beautiful, burnt orange colored tea pot with 4 matching small cups.
I picked out some specialty tea as well that I thought was $18 in total, when it was really $18 per ounce. Someone needed their eyes checked and it wasn’t my parents.
Close to $300 later we walked out. I jokingly wished my dad a Happy Birthday, Happy Father’s Day and A very Merry Christmas.
They saved that tea for when I would come over to visit, calling it The Queen’s Tea.
This weekend, Greg, Meredith and I headed out to spend the day in Qibao, the ancient watertown located in Shanghai. As Kenny led us down the main food street towards the soup and dumpling shop, we passed the tea house.
This sweet, old, man came out and invited us in. He spoke very little english, but was able to say “Americans. Americans.” How could we resist?
We followed Kenny and this man into the tea house through tables of men of all ages enjoying cigarettes, a cup of tea and lively conversations.
He led us to the back where he cleared others away from a table and offered us the very small benches to sit as he served each of us our own pot of tea.
He joined us and through Kenny’s translation shared that he was 90 years old. That everyday he came to the teahouse to write out the current news in traditional Chinese characters. In doing so, he kept his mind crisp and could practice the art of writing.
He openly shared that he had lived in Qibao his entire life and proudly said he owned two houses. Kenny shared that he was a man of great wealth.
Over a cup of tea he answered my question about what led to living such a long life. He credited it to four things. Good food, good sleep, spending quiet time after lunch and walking at night after dinner.
He asked how old we were and pointed to Meredith and I, and said “daughter.”
He got up and moved towards another table where he began writing. I followed him to see his work and was greeted by a young girl and her grandfather. She immediately warmed my heart as I imagined how many stories this young girl has heard while sitting listening to these men and enjoying her ice cream.
As our new friend finished, he approached Meredith with his completed work. He gave Meredith the paper that read across the middle “Qibao Travels” and down the right, states “American Friend.”
As we all gathered around to see the gift, the little girl who was sitting a few tables away came closer. She stood next to me looking at me for a long time. I could tell she was trying to say something and wanted to share in the conversation.
After much time she said, “hello.” Her grandfather was bursting with pride. He said something to her in Chinese and she then said, “banana, apple, orange, pear.” She paused and continued, “mother, father, sister.” She wanted to share the english she had been learning in school. I asked her name and after a bit of a pause she said, “Sherry.” I told her our names and she repeated, “Rosemary and Meredith.” Kenny coached me on how to say “Xīnnián hǎo” which is Happy New Year. The lunar new year begins on January 31st this year. Everyone giggled at my troubled Chinese.
We had a great time at the tea house visiting, learning about each other’s cultures and sharing a nice cup of tea.
I lost my dad just over a year ago. I would buy him all the tea in China if it meant I could share this story and introduce him to my new Chinese friend.
Thank you for letting me share with you.