“Oh how many travelers get weary bearing both their burdens and their scars? ” —from Out Among the Stars by Johnny Cash
More often than I’d like to admit, I feel a bit traveled-out. It’s the sum accumulation of all the stresses and excitement, the highs and lows of being on the road that build up inside into an exhausting weight on the psyche. I’m probably not about to lose my mind, but if I squint, I might see the faint outline of insanity off in the distance. On a sunny day, the feeing is dramatically reduced, but with gray skies a day can feel like an eternity, like a dog struggling on a bumpy car ride trying to find a comfortable position and wondering if it can find it at all before the vehicle comes to a halt.
I hadn’t been in Chengdu for a whole day yet when this feeling began setting in. After a day of wandering around and getting my affairs for the coming week in Sichuan together, I was already worn-out by this business of travel. Hours and hours of keeping a foot steadily pressed on the gas brought me suddenly to rest in a tea garden in front of Wuhou Temple. I hastily ordered a tea and waited, unpacking all my travel uncertainty and anxiety like a tangled ball of yarn and examining the confusing knots.
The attendant returned with a tall, clear glass filled with to the top with boiling water with green tea leaves resting at the bottom and a kettle with boiling water. I breathed in the light aroma of the tea mixed with the small white flower petals floating on the surface and began taking heavy sips from the tea. Shortly thereafter, perhaps halfway down the glass, I took notice of the sound of a handicraft-maker lightly and consistently hammering a piece of Sichuan silver at the opposite end of the plaza. Then, I began observing the contents of the glass as the tea darkened into a wise golden, green hue, all while the singing of silver echoed around the tea garden.
I kept adding hot water to steep the leaves and with glass after glass of tea, I eased more and more into my seat as the sun began to set behind a thinly overcast sky. This was an extremely Chinese moment. I smiled as I slipped into the outfit of my cliche. Here I was, my first day in China, letting hot tea slowly dissolve my troubles and recalibrate all of my inner metrics while I stared up into the sky. While I listened to the steady strokes on silver from across the plaza, like upon a blank canvas, memories of past places and people that I had forgotten about at some point through the years began to surface in the sky like images projected upon a cinema screen: laying in the grass on a sunny day in Golden Gate Park with that first group of hostel volunteers in San Francisco, shaking up cocktails for guests at the rooftop bar in Lisbon, and biking along the Caen Canal in Normandy on the anniversary of D-Day with a pair of WWII fighter-planes zipping across the blue June sky.
Perhaps one day, years from now, I might sit down and take another break during my travels and this moment, like the ones that brought me such comfort and gratitude at the tea garden in Chengdu, will swim out of the ether and play just as sweetly, like an old, beloved record pulled from a dusty crate after years of being tucked away in the attic.