Puppets and Potions on Dong Ding
Now that I'm getting ready to leave Taiwan, I already miss my friend Mr Su. And I want to share another story that happened up on Dong Ding. 
Every night, around dusk, Mr Su would find me wherever I was and ask me if I want to drink his fruit concoctions with him. It was always a treat for me, the fresh mountain night air and the way their living room opens out to the street, glowing in the twilight. The drinks sweet and warming. The TV was usually playing some outdated Chinese drama with grainy images and over-dramatic acting.

One night in particular his niece and her boyfriend had come to visit, and we all sat down to share some drinks after a long rainy day. Mr Su was smiling from ear to ear with pride because we were all happily anticipating the potion he was mixing up. These concoctions are made of fermented, aged fruit and grain alcohol. The fruit is set in big jars and aged with sugar for a year or more, then bottled and continued to age for much longer. Then he would mix that sweet vinegar-like substance (not alcoholic) with high proof sorghum liquor. It's strong, so we would always have it with a cup of tea on the side.

He was proudly mixing away, revelling a little in the process of choosing the perfect vintages and combinations while we were all egging him on, complimenting and laughing. When he poured out the drinks they really were extra special that night. We sat down to drink, and to my surprise Mr Su reached for a small puppet that had been sitting at the side of his tea table for the whole week I had been there. I had seen it before but barely noticed it.

When he picked it up, he began to recite poetry and dance the little puppet around. The puppet came to life. And after he finished the poem, he began to sing. This feeling of goodwill and joy and togetherness showed up in the room then. There's this feeling that usually only happens when it wants to, when we as humans collectively enjoy a performance, really together. I've noticed it with music, I've noticed it with tea. It happened then, and everyone knew it. I felt like a child listening to dad read a story. It was an extremely beautiful experience, and although it's at the center of this story it's the part I really don't know how to convey. It was warm and bright and connected. Us watching Mr Su, all of us watching his puppet; the puppet dancing and fluttering and singing. A space showed up where we were all just right there. There was a texture to it.

It was a highlight of my trip to Dong Ding even though it wasn't directly tea related. I'm so happy I got to see that. I brought home lots of fruit concoctions and grain alcohol, so if you are ever in the shop and want to try it, please let me know. I brought a little bit of my friend home with me so we can make new memories together.

In a way that's what selling tea is like for us...
 
...but you'll have to catch me in a really good mood if you want me to sing for you ;)