Fifty-Five Yuan Tea and Other Miracles
I came to this island, as I said before, on the quietest day of the year. I bought a box of 25 Lipton tea bags, at 55 yuan, from the redolent Family Mart a hundred paces away from where I was staying. I still have 21 bags, and that’s because I extract two or three tumblerfulls of tea from each bag, much like I do when I drink the 110-peso cup at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. At this store, the technique makes for 33 pesos a cup, which, considering how cool the ambiance is, is a low-budget experience.
I’m just continuing the tradition tonight. I’m drinking it in the evening from now on. I do have coffee – from your country. You know, one of those packs you gave me, the strong black coffee. I bought a whole box of them (surprise!) at the Philippine store in Taipei. I vowed not to tell a soul, because I did it as a sort of revenge for your not coming with me to Taipei. You said you wanted to laze around. In fairness to you, I was the one who invited you to come with me, so no real offense taken. But the coffee is good. I drink it almost every morning. I wonder why you give me coffee. And fruit. And crazy talk. And I wonder why you look at me like I was a new fixture of the forest – with amusement. My head is in place, but my heart is spinning like a trumpo, a top.
Happy first week, my dear flower. Of course, writing this openly becomes a little more dangerous for me than for you. I feel stupid, like a robot: I spout the kind of English I laugh at, which I normally laugh at myself for – but not in front of you. You will understand how this is when you consider that people behave discreetly in churches and temples.
I had no idea it would be fulfilled in this way – or I am just deluded. But when the priest back in my country said something about your country, mistaking it for “Taiwan” – I also can’t understand it, 粵南 and 薹灣 being as different from each other as fire and firewood, I corrected him. I corrected him, laughing. I’m not laughing now. The doctor in our city hospital said “Thailand”, and I would have corrected her, laughing as well. But all the laughter I have is already only just a shield. I am as nervous as a hen about to be slaughtered. In fact all the words have been just a shield. I roll my eyes and say, Here I go again, while noting that I didn’t quite know to where.
I came into your life on a day I learned to mark down as a simple Hallmark-card festival. A business festival – 買一個华子，買一個巧克力。I still do, of course. I don’t unlearn this kind of conviction. But I feel drained of the venom of bitterness. See – I’m speaking in parables too.
Today is the 21st. Well, the 22nd, but I had a lot of things to do yesterday, so.
I feel excited – 高高興興 – because it’s not like anything I experienced before. Because of you I nearly don’t touch the ground. I almost always float. I don’t feel gravity or hardship – well, the latter I still do, but it’s not a lodestone chained to my neck. I feel like nothing is the same AND nothing is different.
I’m sorry for the paradox and the parables – it’s part of me. I fully understand if you move away from me because of that.
It’s not me to go all sentimental on stuff like this. I operate on very definite – yet unspoken – rules. I do not kowtow to people, even when in love. I always say, it must be done this way and no other, whenever I must. Years of failure and striving taught me about this, dear flower. You look into my eyes, you see a well of tears – 億個泪珠的一個湖。But you must know that I do not enter into your life lightly and then leave. This much you must understand.
I live my life as a feather, but now I am fastened to the hair on your head, and I will be lost to you only if you take me out and throw me away. Neither the feather nor the person wearing it needs the other, but the person chooses to wear the feather, and the feather fits itself into the person’s hair.
I am the feather you fit on your hair, and you the flower I pin on my shirt near my chest.
The second tumblerfull of tea is done, and I am ending this little festschrift. Don’t worry, I will not transform into a block of lead tomorrow morning and hurt you.
The same priest who told this oracle about the country also told me that every day is full of miracles. How can I not believe it? There is proof: I saw it myself, and my questions and doubts have been stopped – possibly forever.
Image taken by Muhammad Mahdi Karim.