Wednesday, March 04, 2015
I remember some years ago as I sat in a veranda facing the road towards Genting Highlands, and someone said, “Good morning, how was your sleep, shall I make you tea? Right, I'll make the right tea for you,” and he disappeared into the charming little kitchen of the hut in Kuala Kubu Baru. That was how I got introduced to Teh Tarik, so sweet, so heady, I thought I could never get over it, in fact, I was crying uncontrollably on the airplane weeks later when it was time to go. I called the Teh Tarik the Malaysian counterpart of the Filipino coffee, which is sweet and creamy, and speaks something about our relationship with either Spain or America; the Malaysians, of course, had their British; and that explains their right-hand-drive cars on the road. I said, we, Filipinos, are coffee drinkers; we rarely drink tea, except when we're sick; and that explains why, traveling by land from Davao to other parts of Mindanao, I always find myself asking the stores in every bus stop for tea, a cup of hot, bitter, sugarless tea, preferably piping hot; because when I travel I endure some discomfort that only the taste of hot bitter tea can ease. But to my dismay, not one of the sarisari stores at the terminals is selling tea. I said, Filipinos are coffee drinkers; some want their coffees pitch black and very strong; some style themselves as real coffee connoisseurs, buying their coffee beans on e-bay from as far as Yemen and developing appropriate drinking rituals to heighten the effect of their every sip. But others like me, want our coffee sweet and creamy, to make us dream and forget the bitterness of life, which in one way or the other is brought about by the convoluted history of its arrival to our shores. But back to you, Tea, you are the love of my life, your benign flavor, your soothing effect, even the sound of the tinkling silver spoon against the dainty cups. I love the shape of teapots, reminding me of some rich godmothers forcing us to take the obligatory afternoon naps. “I have fallen in love with Malaysia,” I once told our Malaysian professor as we inched our way into the jungle called Quiapo, years after Kuala Kubu Baru, hunting for pirated rare DVDs. “I thought you said you fell in love with a Malaysian,” he said. I said, I love the sound of the Malaysian names, it gives me the feeling of deja vu. But it was you, Tea, that I was talking about. I love you, Tea.