Quilts and bubble teas

My first experience with “bubble-tea” was at a little hybrid coffee shop/ book store a short drive from my University town. My friends and I went there when we needed somewhere to pile in a car and escape to on Saturday afternoons. In between shelves of old books we sipped our bubble-tea drinks and marveled over the novelty of such a bizarre, tapioca-filled beverage. The tapioca balls were as big as marbles and the straws were rediculously large to accomodate them. They came in flavors like chai, thai-tea, and mango.
Since then, I jump at the chance to buy one if I ever find a bubble-tea for sale somewhere. Here in China it is hardly a novelty. The streets are littered with bubble-tea drink-stands. The trick now is not to find where the drink is sold, but rather to find where there is a picture-menu so I don’t accidentally end up with a cup of ordinary, hot green tea (as was the case this Christmas day.) Even the American fast food joints have tweeked their menus by adding the bubble-tea drink. They come in strange flavors and sometimes the tapioca balls are replaced with little sweet red beans. I ordered one today and suddenly my mind went back to that old coffee shop/book-store. I remembered always ordering the bright orange “Thai tea” flavor and hoping the barista would give me the purple straw so it would make a stylish clash with the orange. The flash-back felt strange. One second I was in Findlay, Ohio, and the next I was back in China…

Back in China my straw was pink.
Back in China, the gray sky was not letting up.

True, today was not an ideal day for biking, but a traveler can only wait on good weather for so long before restlessness kicks in. Chilly but eager, we set out with intentions of getting lost in the countryside, away from the noise and chaos of the touristy city of Yangshuo. My rental bike was a modest vehicle, but it carried me through the winding roads of the remote farm-land. We clanked over rocky dirt lanes and followed the strange contours of the fields and waterways. I watched the farmers walking about on the raised, dirt mounds that keep them above the level of plant-growth. They carried poles across their shoulders where baskets filled with leeks hung on each end.
In the countryside thoughts began to shuffle and shift in a way that only fresh air and motion can prompt. The mind can wander such odd places when one’s feet are moving. Biking past a pig farm I recognized the smell immediately, remembering the pig farm that bordered my grandparents’ log cabin in Pennsylvania. The world felt small for a moment. I looked up from the dirt road to see the looming mountains and the world around me was foreign again.
These moments continued to happen and my mind jumped back and forth between the known world and this new one. The chickens scratching about in the dirt at the doorstep of a house made me think of my Amish cousins back home in Ohio. The weathered and tanned old faces of the farmers we passed made me think of the faces of friends in Honduras. A wirey vine twisting up a fence post could be just about anywhere. Ireland. Holmes County. China. My mind has so many places to go.
I could not keep my mind out of other places. I could not keep this place feeling wildly new and strange and otherly. But that undulating horizon and the peculiarly linear, concrete houses could not feel fully familiar either.
Suddenly, the whole world felt very much like a quilted blanket. There are just as many vibrant contrasts that make these people and places different as there are common threads to hold them together.
We are different.
And we are the same.
These were simple-sounding discoveries my peddling feet were churning into my thoughts.
We are different, and we are the same. This much is true.

If I am ever in Findlay, Ohio again, I will order the thai bubble tea with a purple straw. This much is true as well.

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One thought on “Quilts and bubble teas

  1. Janelle says:

    O how I love bubble tea!!!! I didn’t know there was any place in Ohio the sold it. We loved going to coffee shops in Greenville,SC and getting a nice fruity bubble tea drink looking out over the Reedy River…. O this brings back many memorizes!! 🙂 Think about you guys lots….love reading you posts! 🙂

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