I visited China for the first time last June, and I certainly hope it won’t be my last visit. But I don’t mind saying my first visit got off to a bit of a rough start. For the majority of our time, I was in a remote area of Shandong province with my husband, who was training in martial arts. I figured with no distractions, I could use the time for a writing retreat and get some serious words on the page. At least that was the plan. Our stay on Daijishan mountain included room and board, so it should have been ideal for amassing a good word count. While the rooms were basic, the food was awesome. Their attention to basic Western caffeine requirements was, however, not so much.
China is seven hours ahead of the UK and it’s over a nine flight to get there. Jet lag was inevitable, but I travel enough that I usually get over jet lag pretty quickly and just get on with it. Not so in China. While hubby was off training all day and into the night, I found myself in the alarming situation of being unable to put two sentences together without drifting off. I felt like my head was full of cotton wool, and my body felt like it was made of lead. Not only was I unable to put coherent words together on my laptop, but I couldn’t manage more than a couple of paragraphs of the particularly gripping novel I was reading on my Kindle. There were over a dozen Westerners on the mountain with us at the time, but majority of the people training were Chinese, and the meals were catered to suit Chinese taste buds. Everything was served family style in the middle of the table on a huge lazy Susan. There was lots of food, lots of variety and not a Western morsel in sight. Being a pretty adventurous eater myself, I found the meals one of the highlights of the ten days we were there, and yet when I attempted to do anything beyond stuff food in my mouth, I couldn’t focus, and I couldn’t settle into work or leisure.
By the second day, I was beginning to get depressed, which is usually the first thing that happens to me when I’m under-slept. I couldn’t imagine how I could be under-slept though, when all I wanted to do was sleep. Oh, and I failed to mention that I was also getting just a tad bit grumpy. Though he was exhausted from so much training, funnily enough, my husband remembers my grumpiness. Can you imagine?
After lunch on day two, with me having finished a whopping two paragraphs worth of word count, my husband and I contemplated my problem, which was really beginning to worry me. At last, he said, thoughtfully scratching his head, “maybe you’re not getting enough caffeine. You haven’t had any coffee since we got here, you know?”
To which I responded in the fashion of a true addict, “but I don’t drink coffee because I need it, I drink it because I love it.”
He responded with that look, the one that says, wife, the only one you’re fooling is you.I think I might have flipped him off at that point, but no violence was done, quite possibly because I just lacked the energy. But he went immediately to the kettle and heated it up. Each room had mugs and a small canister of loose green tea. He made me a very strong brew that might have passed for lawn clippings, shoved it into my hands and fell into bed to snooze for the twenty minutes until his next training session.
That afternoon, in spite of not really caring much for green tea, I drank the stuff until I was floating, and then drank some more. The Westerners booked a couple of taxis for a trip off the mountain to the nearest town’s grocery store later that day, and with trembling hands, I pulled a jar of instant coffee from the shelf and clutched it to my rapidly beating heart. Oh the utter delight of knowing I could have my full dose of caffeine without having to drown my kidneys in tea that tasted like it had just been mowed with nowhere near enough kick to satisfy my addiction.
Soon after that, we discovered others training with my husband, kindred spirits, who shared my addiction to the dark brew. And while his routine revolved around training, I won’t lie, and I’m not proud of it, but my routine revolved around the blissful knowledge that my next cup of coffee was never far away. Every morning we started our day with a nice big mug of instant jove. I’m a coffee Philistine, yes, I know, but I’ll take it however I can get it, and needs must. I don’t mind telling you instant never tasted so good.
As it turned out, a lovely Australian woman, who trained on the mountain regularly and had endured the green tea daze before, came prepared with a cold press, a hand grinder and enough coffee to share. Oh, the delight! Each afternoon in the little break between training sessions, Mr. Grace and I met in the mezzanine of the hotel with like-minded addicts to partake of the obsidian elixir of life. After that my word count skyrocketed and suddenly the adventure of being in China became an adventure again, rather than an ordeal.
I’m not proud that coffee rules my life, but at least I’m no longer in denial of the facts. They say admitting you have a problem is the first step to the cure. Of course that’s assuming you want a cure. I assure you, I do not. Later, while in Beijing, we discovered that we could get both bottled tea and coffee cold, and while I would never add sugar to iced tea or coffee, it’s amazing how unpicky one becomes when feeding one’s addiction. Beijing also had coffee shops, which are just now becoming trendy there, though still fairly rare. Not to worry though, I found them. Even in my exploration of the Great Wall, the local shop had bottled caffeinated goodness, so my loins were well-girded and my courage was up for finding my way on the local bus. With caffeine, all things are possible. I did get to the point at which I didn’t mind the taste of green tea. I even found I could enjoy a delicious cup of hot water from time to time, but the true delights of China only opened up to me after once the caffeine balance was restored in my life.