I leave the comfort of the hotel and sweat starts instantly pouring out of my pores. I sweat from pores that have never been used before. We go to Old Town Shanghai and the buildings have the architecture for which ancient China is known. There is a famous tea house that sits in the middle of a pond full of koi of all different sizes and colors. It has a wonderful zig-zag bridge that leads to it that causes you to linger to see the koi and the beautiful lotuses. There are fountains with water flowing out of them and a misting machine that creates a specter of smoke over the pond. It is awe inspiring. The tea house in the center has traditional Chinese architecture and stands five stories above the crowd. This is our destination for the day.
We enter the building and the beautifully carved door shuts behind us and the crowd noise is no longer. An oasis amidst the tourist throngs. We are directed to the narrow steps that climb to the second floor. The room is an octagon of windows looking out at the pond and the throngs. The quiet is amazing. You can find solitude if you were alone here. But even with my companions a stirring of solitude speaks from a distant corner inside of me. Hot Chinese tea to soothe the body and soul is the stuff of legend.
We await the waitress. She is tired, speaks no English. Which means I have to resort to my cave man articulation methods of pointing and grunting at the menu items I want. She gently corrects me when I order four sets of tea for the four of us and politely raises one finger to let me know one is enough. I look at the prices and decide she is a wise woman.
We sit at a teak stained African drum-like stool with a table that is similar in style but larger. We are looking forward to the tea. We look out at the crowds on the zig-zag bridge and beyond. We are feeling a little superior as we sit in the calm of the oasis of a tea room. I see our host crossing the room with our tea and accompanying food. We are breathing the thrilling anticipation of the process of having tea.
She noisily places the teacups on the table. She looks at me and assumes I have no clue how to use a teacup and wags her finger at me as she demonstrates to me how teacups are used. She again looks at me and no one else at the table to show how the pitcher of hot water is to be used. She walks off with a sigh as if to say she needs a new job.
We discuss the various food that has been placed in front of us. We are vegetarians; we have no clue what anything is. Some of it would be challenging to any of my meat eating friends. We spend the next ten minutes discerning what each item may be. One is boiled quail eggs our egg-eating fiend of a child looks at me to say I am not eating that. The other is busy, politely as possible, spitting out the less than delectable food she tried. I have diagnosed one of the items as tofu and dive in. The one whose name shall not be spoken eats an egg and cajoles egg eating fiend child to eat one. Child eats the egg and by the look she gives the one whose name shall not be spoken you can see a certain amount of trust has been lost.
But finally there is the tea. Tea-loving fiend child has found at last a tea she does not like. But she is a trooper; she will drink several cups because she loves tea and somehow must love this tea or her whole definition of self will have to be redefined. I am eating my tofu and thinking how silent the place is and how warm tea is so comforting.
We are having a let down from our anticipations of what we were expecting from this place. But after the initial let down the conversations start. We laugh at ourselves. We are enjoying the moment. It is here in this moment that I suddenly find myself celebrating and grieving. It is three weeks before the oldest leaves us to go to college and the youngest will be starting high school this year. We will never be family in the same way again. But this moment is us: we are very high minded and soulful but we are also very earthbound. We are able to take a disappointment and make it real and special. Changes are coming but the air we breathe will always be filled with the memories of earthiness and soulfulness we have shared. After a long stay we leave. We become immersed in the crowds keeping an eye on each other so that we are not lost.