Loose-leaf tea, Mandarin collars, century old eggs, congee, and tofu help me balance normality in my life. Yet, twenty years ago, I didn’t like them. I actively avoided them. And I certainly didn’t waste any time reflecting or writing about them. Life works to compliment our existence, but only when we are ready.
Growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio, I saw not many of the articles above. Yes, there were Chinese restaurants, but tofu on the menu, I don’t recall. Leaves slipped from the teapot occasionally, but I would fish them out with my spoon. And Mandarin collars in the land of button downs, blue blazers, and prep ties, pleeease!
Proximity alone is not enough. I moved to Beijing two decades ago. Yet, with apologies to Dr. Seuss, I refused to eat century old eggs. If tea was served, I produced my own bag. When tofu was offered, I politely declined. I was confident in my new surroundings, just not crazy. Or so I thought.
Appreciation is key. Congee, alone is pretty boring. Cook it slow enough, add the right amount of water, set an egg in the right way, add some picked ginger, peanuts, scallions, add a dash of soy or chilli sauce, and voila, you’re in business. Yet, pleasures, likes, and vices all come from somewhere. It starts with a story here, a recommendation there, or an introduction from a friend of a friend. Rarely do we find them just waiting around for us. Appreciation plus willingness equals change, especially when the process is repeated over time.
Passion is crucial. It plays a starring role and is referenced continually. Someone shows us a way. We talk, we learn, and we connect. To you, it’s a game of straining tea with your teeth and politely spitting. To others it’s the process. How leaves open, float and sink. What the flavor is like between pots. Or possibly it is not the tea at all, but rather the social dynamic of the undertaking. Passion with a dose of imagination brings creativity.
Risk, failure, and resilience feature prominently too. Not all century old eggs taste the same. You can’t buy a Mandarin Collar jacket off the rack. Well, not at Brooks Brothers. If you want something to work, it’s going to take energy. Visit a tailor, order a mystery dish, live on the edge and try some loose-leaf tea. Will you get it right the first time, probably not? For me, it’s always that third fitting at the tailor when you hit it big. Yes, we possess a finite amount of energy, but what else are you going to do, with it?
I get it. Teas is for drinking, not grazing. Rice is great when fried, not as soup. And tofu’s lack of texture creeps people out. Remember it is not about you. It is about seeing greatness in small things. These small things restore normality in an ever-changing world, even if only for a short time. Change happens with or without you. So, why not enjoy the ride?