When I was in Malaysia, I discovered Baba Noya culture, a mix of culture brought by Chinese immigrants with local Malay customs. The result was not that Malays became Chinese or that Chinese became Malays, but rather a third and entirely new culture came out when the dust had settled.
In the same way, I’m finding that some of my thought and behavior are turning Chinese while other parts seem to be coming through in an entirely new Chimerican culture.
The best example I can think of this is my approach toward my new habit of drinking tea. I had never enjoyed tea prior to coming to China, but the great-tasting teas here were entirely different from the fake, processed flavors like lemon, peppermint, and blueberry that are common in the U.S.
But now I like to carry around a big coffee cup with tea in it and drink it casually as I’m relaxing or working at home. The problem, to my Chinese friends, is that I’m basically treating tea as though it were a bottle of Mountain Dew. So my Chinese friends find my tea behavior a little off-putting.
I’ve also been disappointed that there aren’t places to get tea-to-go in China. The US is full of coffee machines, coffee stands, and cafes where you can get tea to go. China, however, has only nǎichá, milk tea, available this way, which hardly bears any resemblance to real tea. Southern China and Hong Kong do have so-called “cool tea” available to go, but that’s not tea to be enjoyed; it’s bitter-tasting tea that serves as a sort of folk medicine.
I’ve asked my Chinese friends why tea-to-go can’t be found in China, a place where getting a baked sweet potato and chestnuts to go is a proposition far easier than a cup of tea. The response has been that tea is something that we should sit down for and properly enjoy. Sloshing it into a paper cup and running down the street with it is simply sacrilegious to the Chinese palette.
I think this gets to the heart of the attitude toward tea in China. I basically want to McDondaldize my experience of tea, making it as large, quick, and convenient as possible, in the form of tea-to-go. This would also explain why my large mugs of tea at home don’t appeal to my Chinese friends either.
Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps investing in tea-to-go booths is the next get-rich-quick untapped market in China. In any case, I’ll keep enjoying my tea McDonald’s style.