Monday, December 7, 2009

A Cup of Tea

This past weekend, Chris and I have had the pleasure of playing host. Not being able to go home for Christmas this year, my parents decided to bring Christmas to Taipei and pay us a visit. It was a whirlwind weekend jam packed with all kinds of cultural experiences. Some were new to us (like Snake Alley – in a blog to come) and some were activities we have deemed essential to the Taiwanese experience (like ascending to the top of the world’s tallest building). But, if I’ve learned one thing during our time abroad, it is that the best cultural experiences are the ones that you don’t plan.

One such encounter began on Sunday afternoon. Chris and I had heard a lot about an area just outside of Taipei known for its hillside tea plantations. This district boasts scores of teahouses dotting the mountainside offering a wide range of locally grown tea and an array of accompanying victuals. With a spectacular view of the city, the best time to visit these plantations was supposed to be at night in order to take in the lights of Taipei. Figuring that there was no better time to drop in on these teahouses than when we had guests, we searched out a “good” house and set out on our way.
Having to wait for quite a while for the bus to come to take us up the mountain, I started to question my decision to lead my parents off into unknown territory. The bus finally did arrive, however, and we started up the mountain. I use the term “bus” loosely as our vehicle was actually closer to a twelve passenger van since the narrow, zig-zagging hillside roads often could only accommodate one vehicle at a time. Our driver steered and swerved his way up the hill, deftly asserting his bus authority in an incessant game of chicken. Meanwhile, a friendly English-speaking passenger informed us that the Maokong area was very large so if we gave the address of the teahouse to the driver, he could take us directly there. So, at an opportune time when I didn’t see any cars heading for a head-on collision, I handed the address in Chinese to the driver. I was then told by the same English speaker that the driver was not familiar with the address so we would have to find another teahouse.

As we discussed our options, some locals jumped on the bus and the driver started talking to them. Having been informed of our plight, a gentleman seated behind me started handing me business cards and telling me all about different teahouses in the area. I’m sure that his descriptions were informative and very helpful. Not speaking Chinese, however, all I heard was, “Blah blah drink tea blah blah. Blah blah you can see Taipei blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah.” Seeing as how drinking tea was really the only essential component, we figured we would trust our new friend to show us this teahouse. My dad remarked that he was probably taking us to his brother-in-law’s place, but we didn’t really care.

Stopping at the selected house, the friendly gentleman escorted us inside the establishment where he promptly announced that he was, in fact, the owner. Amused but not surprised, we sat down and viewed our surroundings. The walls were festooned with silhouettes of various types of monsters and cats – something we still haven’t quite figured out – and Bach played softly in the background. The waiter came presented us menus offering everything from Doritos to lasagna. We made our choices and, of course, selected the tea we would drink. The waiter brought it out and demonstrated the proper way to sniff and sip the infusion. We were a bit surprised at the Barbie-sized thimbles we were supposed to use to drink our tea, but we decided just to roll with it. While the dining room did provide a beautiful view of the lights of Taipei, we all agreed that the best view was one floor up from the roof-top squatty potties. After tea time, we hailed another “bus” to go back down the mountain. We held on for dear life as our driver zipped down the road, this time with the aide of gravity behind us.

As we settled in to our seats on the subway back home, we all decided that though the teahouse wasn’t exactly as we had planned, we preferred it that way.


Tori said...

a cultural experience

Abbey said...

Glad you got to spend time your mom & dad. How fun!