Scene : Meizhou Island, Fujian. December. Low season for tourism on the island.
Stinky and I had just gotten off the ferry and made it to the hotel, where we were waiting for someone to pick us up & take us into town so we could eat. It’d been a while since breakfast, and we were feeling a little bit of the low blood sugar. Being pretty much the only guests at the hotel / on the island during low season, the proprietor sat with us & prepared tea. He didn’t talk to us, just kept refilling the gaiwan & pouring into these tiny, tiny cups. It’s like he knew what was coming…
Not that I dislike tea, but we were hungry, and we still had the giant temple complex to go explore before sundown. We went through several rounds of tea before I got up and wandered towards the street, but nobody was there. And I really mean nobody – the place is practically a ghost town in the low season. So I shrugged and went back to the tea.
When I say “tiny, tiny cups,” I mean they were almost too small to be practical, I’m talking 20-30 ml at best. That’s not even a mouthful, and if you’re used to American-style mugs / drinks, it’s basically non-existent. I was used to sipping tea (though not out of cups this small), but the size of the cups and the forced waiting taught me one really important lesson : laying claim to my own time.
Unable to do anything but sit & drink tea, we had little choice but to try and make the most of it. Mind you, it was delicious tea (which is a different story for perhaps another time), and the guy’s setup was pretty intense – he had a stone table which had a canal carved into it for the runoff. He had a pretty large gaiwan, which he’d pour into a fairness pot to distribute between us. Nothing about the setup was gaudy, and it contributed to me sitting back and letting everything else fall away. There was us, and there was the tea.
As for the size of the tea cups, imagine you only have a sip of whatever you’re drinking. When all you have is a sip, you tend to really scrutinize the flavor. Depending on what it is, it could have a lot of really complex flavors you’re normally missing out on. Sure, not every drink is gonna fall into this category, but for those that do, you might discover new things you like or dislike. What’s certain is that if you do this, it’ll likely take longer, or maybe MUCH longer than usual, to drink.
You might be asking, “But who has the time for that?” And in today’s busy world, that’s a valid question. When I first sat down to have tea on the island, I was a little annoyed that lunch was delayed, that our trip to the temple was delayed, that we weren’t in motion towards “the next thing,” etc. Yeah, I get it – we’re all busy, we all have a million other things screaming for our attention, things that need doing, things that need cleaning or making or whatever. Internet arguments need to be won. Sites need to be browsed, memes viewed, laughed at, re-posted. Social media – let everyone know what you’re having for dinner. How much of all this is really *your* time?
This was the universe telling us, “Sit down. Relax. Enjoy the tea. Taste it – like really really taste it. Enjoy its floral aroma. When will you be here again?”
So we did our best. We sipped the tea out of the tiny cups, took in its heavy orchid-like flavor, its floral aroma and the hella green tea leaves, the beating of the ocean against the shore, the emptiness of the island, the lazy Fujianese afternoon, because when would we be there again?
And that, my friends, is the real question you should always ask – not “who has the time for that?” but “when will I be here again?”
Tea time on Meizhou Island was an investment in ourselves, and time spent doing that is ALWAYS “your time.” Once back in the states, we turned tea time into a regular thing, and have expanded our tea collection tenfold, complete with a mismatched set of teaware we picked up in Taiwan (some of which was cheaper because it was deemed “defective” by the crafter – a post for another time). I got us an inexpensive gongfu pot off of Etsy (anyone who says gongfu teapots cost you an arm & a leg hasn’t done their research. Sure, teaware made from real Yixing clay is expensive, but all of this is yet another post for another time) and within a couple weeks we were downing all sorts of pu’erh, weird Taiwanese oolongs, tieguanyins of varying quality, all sorts of stuff. I started to think, “I could get a travel set & take the tea ceremony along when I’m out & about writing.”
Here’s where we take it to the next level : that idea is a bad idea.
You probably didn’t think I was gonna go that direction, did you? If you’re passionate about two things, why not combine them? Well, because in some situations, it’ll diminish your enjoyment of both. I can’t imagine being really sucked-in by writing only to stop and try to savor the tea. Maybe you guys have attention spans that can split in multiple directions in such a way that you devote 100% of your faculties to each, but I don’t, and I’ll wager most people are like me in that regard. What would probably end up happening is I’d either pay almost no attention to the tea, or almost no attention to the writing. In either case, I lose.
When I strap my laptop to my back & bike out to a coffee shop / deli / designated writing area, my intent is to WRITE. Sure, there’s often food or mediocre iced tea involved, but that’s for sustenance / hydration purposes. Everything is secondary to getting writing done. Likewise, when I sit down to enjoy tea, I’m doing that one thing and devoting myself to it.
But when I’m trying to do two things at once, I’m basically trying to cram those things into the same moment, and that usually means one of them suffers. It’s sort of the same thing as shorting yourself so that you can keep moving towards “the next thing.” Yes, we should keep growing / progressing / etc. but not at the expense of the things we enjoy.
So what this kind of comes down to is laying claim to your own time and spending it how you want, not according to the world’s demands. I’m not saying, “don’t ever multitask,” just don’t expect to multitask two or more things you really enjoy and get maximum enjoyment out of both. Despite what the world says, there’s no shame or laziness in setting everything else aside to focus on something you’re really passionate about, engaging it fully and with no distractions or other serious projects. When will you be here again? Turn off the TV, put away your phone, fire up the laptop and get some writing done, or dive into a book, or enjoy a tiny, tiny cup of tea.