In the previous post, I focused on drinking alcohol. In this post, I focus on drinking tea.
My mother raised me with the attitude that a drug is a drug, whether it’s legal or not, and both alcohol and caffeine counted. Actually, she emphasized caffeine and tobacco more than alcohol or any of the illegal drugs. She never explicitly forbade me from using drugs, she simply assumed that I would have better sense than to get into them, which in a way was more effective than an explicit ban would have been. Most importantly, she set a example, making sure every beverage was caffeine-free before she would drink it (she occasionally would drink alcohol, demonstrating to me as a youngster that caffeine was worse than alcohol).
Yeah, it was odd being the one kid who never drank cola beverages. I once found a caffeine-free Coca-Cola at a party, and drank it so I would finally know what a coke was like without having any of that yucky caffeine in it. I have never drunk any cola beverage since. And avoiding caffeine was never an issue for me socially – at least, not in the United States.
Then I moved to Taiwan.
Taiwan consumes more tea (and by tea, I mean the beverages derived from camelia sinesis) per capita than any other society on earth. That should give you a clue about the importance of tea in contemporary Taiwanese culture.
And tea contains caffeine.
I once wrote about my mother’s attitudes towards caffeine/tea and its impact on me in Chinese, and then posted it online. I think that is one of the most read/commented upon things I have ever written in Chinese, and the comments were along the lines of “Tea is so healthy, you should drink it every day, your mother is so ignorant and silly” (okay, the comments were politer than that).
I tried to avoid tea in Taiwan – at first. But I quickly discovered that this would make my social life more difficult, particularly if I wanted to interact with Taiwanese people rather than other foreigners. In Taiwan, refusing to drink tea stirs up a much bigger reaction than refusing to drink alcohol or coffee.
Well, I caved in. I went against how my mother raised me, and started drinking tea.
In the beginning, I did it only for social reasons. However, an early encounter with Taiwanese tea was with the kind which is rapidly becoming popular around the world – the sweetened and with little black tapioca balls. As it so happens, I had developed a taste for beverages with the tapioca balls years before in San Francisco, but in there such drinks were generally available without tea (I say ‘were’ because it’s getting harder to find shops offering tea-free tapioca drinks). Thus, this kind of tea was more familiar to me than the more traditional kinds of tea. And though I eventually learned which kinds of “tea” in the Taiwanese tea shops were caffeine-free, I didn’t know when I first arrived in Taiwan, which meant, to scratch my itch for tapioca drinks … I had to order it with tea.
Then I got used to drinking tea, and I didn’t notice the horrible effects of caffeine (tea only has low to moderate amounts of caffeine).
Then I started to like tea.
Then I became obsessed with tea – by American standards (I am *not* obsessed by Taiwanese standards). I can compare Muzha Iron Goddess tea to Dayuling Mountain tea (Muzha and Dayuling are both places in Taiwan – a true connoisseur of Taiwanese tea knows which town, or even better, the specific plantation, where the tea was grown) (Muzha Iron Goddess is better, but some Taiwanese people disagree with me).
And now, I drink tea – real tea, where my mother can see me. Her opinion of tea hasn’t changed, but since I’m an adult now, I am free to indulge in drugs as long as it doesn’t become a destructive habit.
So, does it mean that it was a good thing that I had that social pressure applied to me? I liked the results after I caved in, right? Why not cave into other kinds of social pressure – say, the pressure to drink alcohol or have sex?
Well, I have four responses to that:
1) Even without the social pressure, I would have noticed that tea is a big deal in Taiwan. I would have probably become curious and tried it anyway, thought it might have been a much slower process.
2) My life was satisfying before I got into tea, and I imagine I could have had a full and satisfying life without ever discovering the goodness of tea.
3) What if I had had a medical reason to avoid tea?
4) Tea is relatively low-risk compared to alcohol and sex. Tea does not impair my judgment or motor skills. Being a teaholic isn’t as potentially harmful as being an alcoholic. Tea cannot get me pregnant or infected with an STI. Tea doesn’t have the same potential to spoil my relationships with other people that sex has. I caved as easily as I did partially because I was, intellectually, aware that drinking tea was a low-risk activity.
You may be wondering what asexuality has to do with this. Well, there is the parallel between compulsory tea-drinking and compulsory sexuality. I also wish to bring asexuality into a different angle of this discussion, which will happen in Part 3.
FUN FACT: The word ‘tea’ originally comes from the Taiwanese language (okay, it comes from Hokkien, but Taiwanese is a dialect of Hokkien). In fact, ‘tea’ is the only English word I know of which originates from Taiwanese/Hokkien.