In 2017, we visited the UK, the US, Denmark, Norway, Thailand, Japan, India and Hong Kong. Boy did we accomplish a lot. Such as...
In 2017, we realised that our favourite restaurants in Tokyo were Chinese or Korean as shown to us by my sister and brother-in-law, and many of our favourite teas were oolongs (we also learned their correct name is wulong). For the sake of research, we taste-tested sakes at a tiny festival in northern Japan, including sparkling sake, and ate a startling smoked whelk which did help remove the sake flavour if nothing else. For a reward, we visited an extensively-stocked whisky bar in Tokyo and drank silky 18-year-old malts with a grilled cheese white bread sandwich and olives (their pairing).
[Caption: Fish flags and cherry blossoms near the sake festival and fresh river fish on a stick; both in Hiraizumi, Japan ]
In 2017, we had a 1.5m-long bright green-and-red striped flying Paradise tree snake (native to south India) fall on our car when it was parked with the windows open and Vien was asleep in the back seat. Much panic ensued but the poor snake did survive, though I imagine it was a bit battered after the board and rock attacks from bold onlookers who put their tea down in the adjacent café and came to the rescue. We learned that moon lizards poo a lot in the house, and this faecal matter can sometimes fall from great heights when one is reading. We also developed an almost-personal vendetta against the tiny ants in our walls in Kochi; the balance of power remains in flux at time of writing.
In 2017, we avoided eating scorpion on a stick in Bangkok and have been only mildly cheated by auto / tuk tuk drivers; even then it was when we couldn’t be bothered to haggle. I stopped worrying about an argument or looking serious and found that laughing at a driver’s price quickly brought the cost down to normal. We also now make a habit of always carrying very small notes so we don’t need to wait for change; we are still waiting for change from one auto driver in New Delhi from last July’s visit.
In 2017, we mastered several languages.* We are now basically fluent in Norwegian (we say ‘Hallo’ and ‘Takk’ very convincingly), totally at home with Thai (‘Sahwahdee’ and ‘Kup khun’), and practically native in Japanese (‘kon'nichiwa’ and ‘arigatōgozaimashita’). In Japan, we also learned our new favourite words: ‘yakunitatanai’ and ‘hidoi’. They mean ‘useless’ and ‘awful/horrible/how cruel’. Very yakunitatsuya! (Useful).
In Hong Kong, in only five and a half weeks we mastered Cantonese: ‘Nǐ hǎo ma’ and ‘m̀hgòi’, with the additional words of ‘please’ and ‘excuse me’ (m̀hgòi). Handily, we also learned how to say 33: ‘Sam sap sam ho’.
In Kerala, our Malayalam is exquisite: ‘namaskarem’ and ‘nani’ for hello and thank you, then ‘venda’ (no thank you), ‘renda chai’ (two teas), ‘nala samosa’ (four samosas), and ‘hotel-ah’, ‘right-ah’, ‘straight-ah’, ‘left-ah’, and ‘okay’. #Fluent #Hyperpolyglots
* Note: The only words necessary in any language are ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’. All the rest are extraneous and therefore excluded when considering fluency.
In 2017, we were taught how to eat soup dumplings by my nephew and explored the various ways to burn one’s tongue on all sorts of dumplings in both Hong Kong and Japan. Vien also learned how to make them and wear frying sleeves on a birthday cookery course with family. We discovered the Minnesotan joys of tater tot casserole and finally ate at a White Castle; this has been on the Bucket List since watching ‘Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle’ many years ago. We ate moose tartare in Norway from a moose hunted and killed by our hosts and drank unhealthy quantities of Thai iced tea (or I did anyway) in Bangkok and Koh Phayam.
[Caption: Frying sleeves are both useful and stylish; dumplings are delicious]
In Copenhagen, we enjoyed our eight-hour-layover eating smörgåsbord with smoked herring and a big bowl of Danish fries. We warmed up with both matzo ball soup and corn on the cob grilled on an upturned shopping trolley under a subway overpass in New York City, and cheered on the Patriots to an astounding SuperBowl victory while eating wings and chips and salsa with my parents in Vermont. In the UK we stuffed ourselves on roast dinners, much like a squirrel on nuts before the long winter. Thailand continues to win hands-down for sweet-sour-spicy food and making our mouths burn. And in Kerala, we remain devoted to dosas, Meals and idlis.
[Caption: Thai street food and the traditional Sadhya Meal in Kerala]
In 2017, we achieved a new record for the worst food poisoning either of us have ever had, again thank you New Delhi. The hard lessons learned included: don’t trust raw vegetables no matter how upmarket the restaurant or how close it is to the Presidential Palace, and ask to change your hotel room if there are no windows. Four days unable to move (apart from between the bed and bathroom) in a small dark closet were too much. However, if you must be in a small dark closet for four days, both of you should read ‘Sphere’ by Michael Crichton (author or Jurassic Park). You will add new dimensions to your fever dreams, which is great fun.
In 2017, we re-confirmed that we enjoy sweating more than shivering. Even getting caught in a monsoon downpour is much more pleasant than being stuck in a blizzard, and there tends to be less shovelling afterwards. We also realised that tea is at the centre of our lives and our days are guided by its gentle ritual. We dramatically expanded our tea collection, and transformed from people who don’t know what a gaiwan is into people who own one. It’s a travel version, with its own cups and carrier bag and soft cloth and everything.
[Caption: This travel gaiwan gave 2017 meaning]
Although we arrived in India with two carry-on suitcases and two day-packs, we will be leaving with a large checked bag simply to carry more teaware and teas. To be accurate, though, the teas will come with us in the cabin and unimportant things like the rest of our worldly belongings will be checked.
[Caption: These are the newest additions to our tea collection - by no means exhaustive]
In 2018, we have plans to launch multiple businesses in 2018 including a few tea-based ones, and so hope to bring the wonder of leaves in hot water to the thirsty masses. We also cannot wait to continue travelling for tea and sharing it with all of you.
Thank you for being such loyal readers and happy New Year! We hope your 2018 brings everything you desire and everything you need – which of course may or may not be the same thing.
Happy New Year's from Travelling for Tea!