12 comments

Jan 28, 2021

Asian American Friendship Happy

From the drop down menu I find the “hot teas” section. Click.


The first option is “chai latte”. Click.


Change the size to venti, 4 pumps chai, modify regular milk to soy milk. Click, click, click.


“Thank you! Your order will be ready in 5-7 minutes. Please give the barista your name.”


---


The weather is perfect outside so I am going to take my computer out to the back porch and set up for a morning of responding to emails, browsing social media and maybe even do a little online shopping. My first sip of the creamy, cinnamon, spiced black tea is absolute perfection and the entire drink is gone in a matter of minutes.


This has been my Saturday routine for years now. Five years to be exact, back in 2015 when I first moved into this house. I had stumbled upon this street a few years prior to that and absolutely fell in love. Overhanging trees line either side of the road and throughout the entire year have delicate twinkling lights buried inside their branches. Nighttime on Skyland Drive is just magical.


Every house has a different color door, mine is pale yellow. The neighbor to my right has a deep purple door and the neighbor to my left painted their door a mossy green. The man with the green door just moved in about a week ago. He seems very nice but keeps to himself.


If I am being honest, he is actually part of the reason I enjoy my Saturdays a little bit more nowadays. Each morning he has this strange ritual that I have grown to love. If only I knew what he was doing.


I have it timed perfectly. The moment I sit down on my long, wooden bench seat and set up the computer on top of the farm table it is 8:03. By 8:04 I have taken my second big chug of my chai tea latte and out he comes from his white french doors.


My computer screen just barely covers my face so that I don’t come off as blatantly staring at him but I can easily shift my eyes over top to watch in awe of this hobby, or religious activity or whatever it is that he does.


This thing that he does is not always the exact same. Well, the equipment isn’t at least. The elegant choreography in each of his movements is always mesmerizing, though. Today he took out a light colored stone bowl, something that looked like a huge toothpick with one curved end, a small brown whisk, a pot of steaming water and a tin of something bright green. He laid out these peculiar objects on a small decorative blanket and he sat with his legs crossed on a small pillow.


The choreography, as I mentioned, is something I have never quite witnessed before. It's 8:08 now and I have almost finished my entire cup of tea already. He has just taken the toothpick to scoop the first of the green stuff into the bowl and next he’ll take another scoop. A small amount of steaming water is poured into the bowl. The next part is my favorite. He whisks the water and green stuff furiously together. Sometimes whisking in fast circles, sometimes scrubbing the bottom of the bowl side to side with great speed.


At the end he adds more hot water, takes a moment to himself and then drinks it straight from the bowl! I wave over to him as I toss my empty cup into the garbage pail behind me. He smiles and waves back and continues to enjoy his strange concoction.


---


Yesterday his set up included another pot of water, the tiniest little teapot that could fit in the palm of even my small hand, and four equally tiny cups. Two of the small cups were tall and slender and the other two were short and wide. The taller ones fit perfectly into the small ones, almost resembling nesting dolls.


All of his tools seem to be of high quality. All stone, porcelain, crystal clear glass and clay from what I can tell. This set was definitely clay. I could tell by the barely audible scratchy sounds they made when they touched. No clinking or tinny noises but instead a really satisfying scraping similar to using sandpaper on a hard surface.


Now this one was really a big show. All of his items were placed on a large wooden tray with slats going through it horizontally. He poured the hot water all over the entire set this time. That’s right, all over it!


A thick, bamboo spoon disappeared into a silver tin and when it came back out it was filled with beautiful dark green leaves that seemed to tightly coil around themselves. The little pearls were then shoveled into the world's smallest teapot and more hot water was rinsed over it.


After multiple rounds of filling the teapot only to immediately pour it all over the tray he finally filled the teapot to the top, waited a few moments and then poured the liquid into the tall cups. One last strange transfer and the liquids went into the smaller cups.


The man with the green door took a big sniff of the tall cups and the joy on his face was unlike anything I have ever seen. The only thing I could think to compare it to was when I smell a really great candle and just get lost in the scent. It wouldn’t be totally fair to compare these two though. The emotion and connection to the scent and the ritual was something I did not experience when just sniffing candles. 


But the real telling moment was when we finally took a sip. This entire process takes close to 7 minutes for the world's smallest cup of tea and yet when he finally takes that sip of his creation it’s like you can see the whole world around him just melt away. His entire body physically relaxes and settles into the ground he is sitting on. It’s like I am watching the tea heal him within an instant from my porch.


That was it, I had decided. I was so in awe and in that moment I decided that I would allow myself to snoop one last time the next Saturday but after that I would ask him what in the world he was doing.


---


So the final snoop day is today. After I threw out my empty cup of chai and offered a wave I slowly made my way over to his porch that was surrounded by shrubbery. I was finally going to figure out what the man with the green door was doing!


“Excuse me, neighbor. Hi.” I said with a smile, tentatively inching closer. He looked up from his bowl of green stuff and gave a kind nod inviting me closer. I can now see his wise old wrinkles and sun-spotted, shaking hands. “I have been watching this beautiful thing you do for that past week and I just have to ask, what is it all about?”. A sudden burst of excitement lit up his face almost more than his first sip did.


---


With that one act of curiosity, my entire Saturday routine has changed. Since that day I have completely ditched the app on my phone that allowed me the quick and easy portal to tea. The man with the green door opened my eyes to all of the different traditional ways of brewing tea and the centuries-old way to enjoy and respect it.


The ceremony that I stumbled upon a few weeks ago was that of a Matcha tea ceremony. Something I am now well acquainted with and make on my own most mornings. Matcha is traditional to the Japanese culture where my new friend is originally from.


We have also brewed using the Gongfu cha method, traditional to the Chinese people. This method involved the countless pouring and emptying and rinsing with the tiny teapot and wooden tray with slats. What I once watched in wonder and confusion I now do all on my own with the man making sure every movement is perfectly executed. Making sure to respect the process and have patience.


I have learned so many ways of brewing tea just in these few short weeks and I know that this is only the very beginning. Walking into his house is like walking into a tea heaven. Everything is of stunning quality but you can tell it has still been well used and well loved. I have enjoyed every process and every cup of tea no matter how small the cups are. I truly don’t think I could ever go back to the way I used to have tea.


This Saturday in particular, however, the man with the green door is teaching me how to make a traditional Indian chai.




*Writers note: I would love to know how readers envisioned the main character/narrator as you read this story. Male/female/non-binary, skin color, hair color, body type, age. Anything that your mind pictured to complete the visual of the character!*

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12 comments

14:23 Feb 05, 2021

Lovely story, I really enjoyed this. Making tea is such a soothing activity and I could feel that soothness while ready your description of the different tea-making. Thank you for sharing :) As for your question, I imagined the main character as a female in her late twenties/early thirties, tall and with brown hair. It is most likely because you wrote in the first person and this is how I look.

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Kathleen March
00:31 Feb 04, 2021

I thoroughly enjoyed this story. Assuming it is accurate, it is creative nonfiction, perhaps. I myself write a lot of stories that require cultural learning on the part of the reader. The history of tea is fascinating. Thank you for your gift!

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Kelly Ellen
14:29 Feb 04, 2021

Thank you so much for your kind words. I absolutely love all things tea and have multiple different traditional brewing equipment. Although I have never been to Asia to actually experience these ceremonies I watch countless videos of them online and used to be a manager of a tea shop where I learned a lot too. Thank you again!

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Kathleen March
15:20 Feb 04, 2021

Your knowledge and interest really showed, and yours was the type of story we need more of. If you don't know this book, maybe it would be of interest - at least the part on tea: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3872.A_History_of_the_World_in_6_Glasses

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Kathleen March
15:20 Feb 04, 2021

Your knowledge and interest really showed, and yours was the type of story we need more of. If you don't know this book, maybe it would be of interest - at least the part on tea: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3872.A_History_of_the_World_in_6_Glasses

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Kelly Ellen
15:25 Feb 04, 2021

Thank you for the suggestion! The book is in my shopping cart now :)

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Kathleen March
15:33 Feb 04, 2021

Wow, that was quick. I have the audiobook and it was great listening while commuting to work. If you like food histories, you might know or be interested in, Nathaniel's Nutmeg. https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/giles-milton/nathaniels-nutmeg/

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Cathryn V
21:21 Jan 28, 2021

Hi Kelly, thank you for this beautiful story. I’m not Asian but feel calm after reading your tea making description. Regarding your question, I can only picture the neighbor as older, male, Asian. I don’t know if he’s frail or heavy but he’s likely frail/slim. The main character is a female, young, respectful, Asian. I have a suggestion for your story if you’re interested. Sometimes it’s hard to hear critique at first. I have to add that I love your bio! Keep writing and have a happy day.

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Kelly Ellen
21:28 Jan 28, 2021

Thank you for your kind words! And I would absolutely love the critique, that is the main reason I joined this site was to get critique to become better. Thank you again!

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Cathryn V
22:35 Jan 28, 2021

Please know that anything I say is purely from this reader's brain. I've taken years of writing classes and if there's one thing I know for certain it's that the author is the creator and not right or wrong. To draw the reader in, you might try adding tension and conflict. Without conflict, a story comes out a bit flat. Character, context, goal. you have this one nailed down except for the goal. Does she want freedom from anxiety? Does she miss her grandma and long for a slower more present existence? Obstacle that keeps the character f...

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Cathryn V
21:29 Jan 29, 2021

Hi Kelly, I hope you're okay with my suggestions. You're a good writer with loads of sensory details that draw the reader in. Thanks for writing.

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Kelly Ellen
22:06 Jan 30, 2021

Hello! Yes, I really appreciate it. Life got really busy this week so I was unable to get back on here until now. When I wrote it I strayed from adding too much background on the characters to make it a sort of strictly "here and now" experience. I absolutely see your point in lack of climax and as a reader that is very important to create a gravitating story. Thank you so much again!

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