Of course, this is a story about Thai milk tea, and not about Thai milk tea.
It’s a story of finding and the magic of people.
“Can I have a cup of Thai milk tea, please?”
I had been to many Thai cuisine shops in the vicinity but I never found the version of Thai milk tea, the version I loved so much while I was in Singapore.
Perhaps it wasn’t really about the milk tea, although I was truly disappointed every time I spent $3 on a cup, and tasted something unfamiliar.
I was tired, dispirited, disheartened, and I desperately needed a break.
My friends from Singapore made plans that weekend. I was determined to explore the less familiar areas, and make a nuisance of myself by forcing my local friends to be hospitable to me. I was determined to find free lodging for 4 days. (#cheapskate)
I was lucky.
4 days. 4 days of my magic carpet ride.
I traveled to Hsinchu, imposing on the hospitality of my classmate J. He brought along another friend, also a J, with him. We were going to his house for a stayover. My day started out very interestingly – I was accosted by a shopkeeper at the local market, who insisted on informing how great Lee Kuan Yew was. She was a great fan of everything Singaporean. My knowledge on political terms, coupled with my mandarin vocabulary, on Singapore’s sociopolitical conditions was severely tested. Our journey continued. We explored J’s old school hangouts. His family was the best – his adorable mother asking me if I’d like to change my entire travel plans to follow them on their trip down South for the annual Qing Ming. It’s a pretty /big/ thing, to be asked along for their ancestral worship, and a really /big/ invitation, given that it’s really a extended family thing. I was invited to be included. I left the J’s with a bag of fruits, “you might get hungry later on your trip”, a new friend, and a newly-strengthened friendship.
I was picked up in Hsinchu (by car), by P’s family. This time, I was headed for Miaoli.
P was a new friend I made, out of school, it was really by amazing luck and chance that I could join him on his trip to his grandparents’ home. (a home facing their piece of agricultural land) I think P deserves the greatest thanks on my entire magic carpet ride because he friggin brought me around on the bumpy scooter, along various mountainous roads, in pitch darkness. I was horribly useless at the back of the scooter, which made for a lousy passenger. There was once when we were just terribly tired, GPS was leading us to strange routes, the only light guiding us was our headlight and phones. P was truly a long suffering guide. (thank you!) There was just so much goodness. The scooter was a loan. His mum and a lady/neighbor who rented a room on the premises, gave me free access to their fresh produce in the garden, and invited me to join them in their garden patch. (The following week after my magic carpet ride, I received a bag of freshly-picked aloe vera). Another gift of friendship.
I was on my way to another part of Miaoli this time. I had hours to kill before I met my next host. I foolishly decided to follow my best friend – GPS, to check out a really cool temple. I walked.
As I walked under the hot sun, and along dusty highways, I regretted my bad decision.
I think I walked for more than or nearly 20 minutes, fatigue made worse by my heavy backpack. When I finally reached the temple (which was gorgeous), my first thought was “How am I going to make it all the way back?”.
After nearly getting blown off the roof at the temple, I decided to ask around with the aunties, if there was a bus. There wasn’t. They began to gesture to this uncle, Mr C, and told me “He’s the committee member. Follow him, follow him!”.
Always be wary of getting into the cars of strangers.
I threw caution to the wind:( Everybody seemed to know him, and reassured me repeatedly that it was safe. He was an Important Person. On the 5 minute (can you believe I walked 20minutes) car ride, Mr C asked about my travels and asked me where I was going to next. I told him about couchsurfing, he told me how people have died and been abducted.
I told Mr C that my grand plan was to meet my couchsurfing hosts at an open location and bribe somebody into pretending to be my friend, then saying goodbye to said bribed person.
Mr C repeatedly told me that he was a Committee Member (Important Person) and that I only had to call him if I ran into any problems. He took down my number and told me to drop him a message to let him know if and when I met up with my hosts.
I was meeting my hosts at 4pm. By the time I met up with them and boarded their car, it was 4.10pm.
My phone rang. It was Mr C, calling to check if I’m safe.
I told my hosts about him (always give the impression that you have friends everywhere). The whole time, I thought Committee Member was (Temple) Committee Member. Apparently, it’s (Electoral) Committee Member. Mr C was Important.
My lovely hosts, a newlywed couple, but mainly this wonderful lady who hosted me at her childhood home. The lovely couple drove and brought me around to this lovely coastline, to their local Sunday night market, and introduced me to local foods.
That night, there was a knock on my door.
This amazing lady, C, asked me if I’d like some hot tea, new tea leaves she received from a friend overseas.
It was Thai Milk Tea.
Yes, the Thai milk tea finally made an appearance.
I was honestly stunned for a moment. I had bought so many cups of Thai milk tea but then the real original Thai milk tea is delivered into my hands for free?!
We shared the most amazing conversation over tea, and I shared some of the struggles/negotiations she had. We were two different people, of different cultures, of different experiences, but sharing similarities. I’m not sure if this is weird, given that we met through couchsurfing – it assumes that we have similar dispositions, but it was a really special and uncanny experience. While I expected to walk/take a bus, C surprised me with her goodwill and hospitality again, by driving me around everywhere.
That cup of Thai milk tea made me realise that, we could search and search, but sometimes, maybe through our own self-discovery and growth, we’d realise that the miserable search was unnecessary. This is a thought and belief I hold in every regard.
Thai milk tea is happiness – you can search and search all you want for it elsewhere, but at the end of the day, you’ll realise that you can’t force happiness and that happiness doesn’t really last/come easily from external sources. And maybe, if you are happy with yourself, with what you have, appreciate and make the most out of your experiences, Thai milk tea might decide to appear in your life naturally even before you realise it’s there.
From a spiritual perspective, I believe that the entire cosmos aligned itself and transpired to let me meet such good people and that there are greater forces at work. From an egoistical perspective, I really believe that similar hearts attract one another. Aside from fortuity, I think our previous choices, disposition, interests, actions, have led us to meet the same type of people, to be able to receive so much kindness and love. I do think that I’m undeserving of such goodness, and I don’t think I’m as kind and beautiful as these people. However, I feel like, ever since I let go of my struggles and problems, and focused on self-centric happiness, life has been kinder and there has been more reasons to be happy.
Of course, there must have been some universe conspiracy because how else can I explain the series of kind and fortunate events? These good people are people that still warm my heart and define so much of my experiences in Taiwan. I can only thank, and thank them somemore, and send them happy vibes and wishes. They’ll probably never know what their kind actions meant, or how I truly felt when I choked up at the cup of Thai milk tea.
We find the hearts we think we deserve, and we find the hearts which are like ours, and we find the same hearts we give to others. Our hearts also become like the hearts we meet – that’s why always surround yourself with good, kind people only. I’m grateful to have had the chance to meet such beautiful and kind people, who opened up more than their homes to me. Finding these ‘hearts’ has grown mine and added a depth to my entire experience in Taiwan. I will always look back so fondly at my time.