by MIA NGUYEN
My mother grew up on a tea and coffee farm in Vietnam before immigrating to the United States. I learned about the importance of drinking hot green tea or chrysanthemum flowers on a daily basis. The calming properties within each hot mug are my safe haven. Mom told us stories growing up on how she used to hide stashes of tea and coffee in her knapsack in order to smuggle them into Saigon on her bicycle. These tricks were of course forbidden and illegal, but the important thing was that they worked.
A 25-pound bag of rice isn’t something that can be purchased at an American grocery store. After selecting the type of rice from the counter which is usually classified by type and year. The heavy sack is usually carried out with a dolly and loaded into a trunk. Keeping stocks of rice has always been commonplace in my household. Up until I was 8 years old, I thought families in my neighborhood kept an abundance of rice in their pantry for meals. The bag has its own closet and a large bin filled to the brim.
For the most part, grocery shopping is a cathartic and therapeutic experience. I find myself wandering into the produce section to caress the perfectly stacked apples, avocados, and the crates of blueberries. Dancing from aisle to aisle to search for something I’m not quite sure looking for always feels like dangerous game. Supermarkets and grocery stores are intimate and enticing.
Asian supermarkets are not a commonplace concept for the average American. There’s an art in maneuvering through the aisles. I’ve had to navigate my friends through the bakeries, gift shops, and food markets nestled in Boston’s Chinatown. The idea of going alone without any form of assistance was intimidating and taxing quest for my friends. I opened them up to world an entire world they might have not found themselves. They got to experience not being carded for Sapporo pitchers, fanfare of sushi making supplies, hot pot, drunken karaoke, and cheap produce. My entire college experience can be narrowed down to the summation of teaching people how to use my rice cooker as a means to prepare spicy ramen.
The tea aisle is a tantalizing and mysterious human experience. You’re stepping into a world of countless possibilities and combinations from strange herbal remedies to miso pastes and powders. Walking down the tea aisle of any Asian supermarket is especially daunting, mortifying, and exciting. I feel like an instant yogi looking for a euphoric buzz.
There are thousands of boxes neatly stacked with mystical clip art and questionable outrageous medical claims with little or no scientific evidence. I find my eyes darting in every direction with a strong anticipation of finding something special, maybe worthwhile, if I’m lucky. The cheap and affordable sachets of tea are appealing, and speak to any tea lover’s soul in an exuberant manner. There’s also a fair amount of self-control and caution that needs to be exercised if you don’t know how to read Chinese characters.
Menopause has the potential of being made “easy”, a good night of rest is guaranteed, weight loss is promised, and a clear voice can be achieved. The thought of achieving an ultra hot body and a good night rest is the ultimate dream and goal.
The strategic public relations and marketing method of tea lies within its reputation, which has been built on a utopia of eternal promises of beauty, youth, and longevity. The reassurance feels phony, and at times, comical. A part of me actually believes this stuff will work fully without any repercussions. Drinking tea is attractive and it makes you feel cool depending on your tastes.
My cupboard is currently filled with a plethora of tea including: matcha, chai, honeysuckle, green, oolong, rooibos, chrysanthemum, darjeeling, passion fruit, and many others. The abundance of boxes and flavors makes me wonder why I don’t welcome more visitors over. The rotation of tea depends on the season and mood I’m in; it means I am usually opting for oolong and green tea all year around.
My mom didn't fixate on finding romance until she was in her late twenties. When she met my father in Monterey Park, California in the early '90s it was one of her first dates. My dad bought her a carnation and she knew she was going to be happy for a while, but not forever.
"It's hard being with one person for the rest of your life," she said as we made our way through the supermarket. She believes it's going to be harder for me to find someone who is monogamous. My father has lost part of his hearing and that's what she struggles with on a daily basis, someone who doesn't understand or listen to the thoughts and feelings she tries to communicate.
Growing up I wasn't allowed to go out on dates, and my parents never met or found out about guys I saw. I was too ashamed of what they would think of me. My mom didn't want me to waste my youth fixating on this one thing that seemed to be the most important to me, finding mutual love and understanding with another person.
When I compare myself to her life choices, there always seems to be small things I carry from one event in my life to the next, especially when it comes to romance. My mom sees the possibilities of removing the abundance and starting over.
Mia Nguyen is the features editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Rhode Island. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.
"Whatever You Want" - Dot Hacker (mp3)
"First in Forever" - Dot Hacker (mp3)