trip to tong-land
Road trips. Or train journeys. Ok. Here's a quick multiple choice question quiz as to what's the best part about such sojourns, be it cruising down the roads in your car or chugging down the railways of our country to some far off, distant place.
Yes, yes. I know. Some of you might claim that it's the beautiful sceneries that zip past the windows. Music aficionados might sing off-key praises about the importance of arranging all the amazing and 'feel good' music in your mp3 or your car's CD collection-the ultimate 'road trip' or 'train journey' playlist. Alright, I admit that these have to be a quintessential part of the whole traveling experience but aren't we forgetting the one thing that is absolutely unique to our country? Any guesses? Anyone? No? Sigh! How can we leave out or survive without our tong er dokans. They should have reached a cult-status by now…
One has to admit that once you start feeling all the cramps and aches and pains down your legs and back it feels like absolute heaven to stop the car by a quaint, little roadside tea stall and get down to stretch a little.
The creaking, wooden benches, permanent appendages in front of the stall, somehow feel way more comfortable than the seats of your car and the tiny cups seem to be just the perfect size for holding the right amount of tea. Talking about the tea…the guys who run these places seem to have making sickeningly, sweet dudh cha (milk tea) down pat. But strangely enough, they don't taste sickening on these trips. In fact, they seem to morph into the best damn tasting tea ever made on the face of this planet. The rong cha (raw tea) tastes equally good with the water taking on this interesting, slippery texture due to being simmered over the stove non-stop in a metal pot.
As for the proprietors I just mentioned, well, somehow my dad, or my uncle, or my brother-yes, it's this guy thing-always seems to end up striking up with them what seems to be the most riveting conversations this side of a cocktail party. Must be something in the tea.
The road trips aside, the train journeys have their own perks when it comes to these tong er dokans. There's not a lot of walking you can do inside a cramped train and not surprisingly the stopovers en-route to your destination feels like mini-trips within your big trip. The tea stalls bear gratifying similarities to their roadside cousins, thank God, and the best part about such stops is that there's always this little drama involved of making sure one doesn't miss the train. Yes. Run, baby, run.
For those of you who're completely in the mist about what I've written so far, I'd recommend that you ask someone within your circle of friends who's a road trip or train journey connoisseur, to take you on one. After that, if you don't re-read this article and go “Ah!” then I should take up another career like say…traveling. Hear that rapid-fire tinkle of a spinning spoon inside a tea cup? That's a tong er dokan calling out to me to do just that.
Want to go for a ride?
By Simin Saifuddin
Photo: Zahedul I Khan