It is now 3 years since the beginning of the COVID pandemic and since we started wearing face masks. Luckily, me and my family haven’t been infected till now. In India, most people didn’t take masks seriously to begin with. But now, masks are a mere distant memory of more inconvenient times. Which is why, it is such a culture shock to see how serious Thais still are about them.
In Thailand, it seems like masks are here to stay. Although, the government has removed the compulsions of masks, the Thais have decided to stick with them for now.
Almost every Thai wears masks, all the time, everywhere. On the streets, in shopping malls, at restaurants, in pubs and in offices. In offices, they wear masks even when sitting at their desks all day. When eating or drinking something, the masks are temporarily lowered for the bite/sip and then pulled back up. Basically, the exact opposite of Indians.
I assume Thais take off their masks when they are at home and while sleeping, however I have no evidence for the same. Overall, I think it is commendable how Thais are so serious about protecting their health and of those around them.
Of course, none of this compares with the Chinese, who have taken COVID precautions to whole new (crazy) levels. I still see people in full hazmat suits at airports everywhere and I know that when I look at their passports, they will turn out to be Chinese.
I love coffee. In fact I love it as much as I love beer. However, unlike beer, I need coffee. I need it desperately to start my day and function as a human.
Part 1: Cheapdisgusting Coffee
The earliest I can remember drinking coffee is during college, to stay up at night to pretend to study. Since we were poor, it was Nescafé Instant coffee that we had. It was disgusting, but it was stimulating enough to keep one awake. The cold coffee at Anna’s was slightly better, although he didn’t put enough of the powder in, unless you nagged him. Anna also used the same Nescafé instant shit, so there was a theoretical limit to how good it could be.
Now, I would rather have an injection of caffeine directly into my veins than drink this cheap shit.
For the real brewed version, we went to Café Coffee Day or Barista. My favourite drink at Café Coffee Day was Iced Eskimo, a kind of slushy which took a long time to melt and finish. At Barista, I almost always had a Vanilla Frappe. Needless to say, we couldn’t afford this regularly.
During the first few years of work, I alternated between Nescafé instant at home and the office coffee machine. Around this time I also went lactose intolerant so started having my coffee black (Americano).
Part 2: Switch to Brewed Coffee
Eventually, I bought my own cheap brewing machine. I used to buy beans from Barista and used a grinder to grind the beans. I remember once I got coffee beans from Brazil and they were amazing and strong. After I switched back to my regular beans, I had caffeine withdrawal for a week.
Soon, I started suffering from acidity from the strong black coffee.
I read about cold brewing and how it is easier on the stomach, so started doing that. The results were great, but the prep was too troublesome and messy.
I also stopped having coffee after noons, as it didn’t let me sleep at night. I also discovered that the Chinese don’t really drink much coffee and view it as an unhealthy drink; preferring tea instead.
Eventually, we almost stopped going to Cafe Coffee Day and almost always preferred Barista.
No prep required, all one had to do was mix and drink.
It was easy on the stomach, while still packing a punch.
For the next few years, Sleepy Owl poured over ice was all I had at home. I remember during the COVID lockdowns, I was once almost out of it and had to ration till I could get another box delivered.
My Sleepy Owl recipe (after a lot of trial-and-error) was:
2 cubes of sugar
75ml Sleepy Owl Cold Brew
I carried Sleepy Owl’s brew bags when I travelled, too.
During this time, I also developed a morning coffee ritual. I wouldn’t look at my phone after waking up. Instead, I would make myself some cold brew and then sit next to the window with my coffee, looking out. I would do nothing else during this time, except sip slowly on my cold brew and savour each sip. I would do this for up to an hour before I would check my phone and start my day. It was beautiful.
Alas, it was not to last forever.
Eventually I moved to Thailand, along with the last 2 boxes of my Sleepy Owl cold brew. They lasted over a month, but eventually I had to look for alternatives.
Part 4: Thailand andNespresso
I looked for Cold Brew in Thailand, but it was rare and not easy to get as concentrate. A fiend of mine suggested Nespresso; so I got a Nespresso machine. It combined the advantages of freshly ground coffee (pods are sealed) and convenience (just pop a pod in and press a button). To keep my acidity in control, I stick to pods with strength levels of 5 and below.
It is no sleepy owl, but at least it tastes good and I can have different flavours every day. My favourite pods are Tokyo Lungo and Shanghai Lungo. My recipe is:
2 cubes of sugar
A shot of Nespresso Lungo
There’s no Cafe Coffee Day or Barista here, but I love Cafe Amazon, a Thai coffee chain. I love their Iced Espresso.
My morning coffee is still the best part of my day. I can’t wait to return to India once again and get myself some Sleepy Owl & Barista.
In my last job, I had to travel a lot, and very frequently to China. All in all, I travelled to China 8 times, multiple times each year.
Although my Chinese hosts and colleagues have been the most hospitable people I have met, I couldn’t help but notice the unnatural (to me) behaviour of many Chinese people on the streets whom I didn’t know.
A bit of background – most Chinese do not have much facial or body hair. This is not racist, just a fact. Chinese men with proper beards are very uncommon, mostly because they genetically can’t grow beards. I not only have a full beard, I also have a shock of (mostly) unkempt hair, which makes my appearance definitely non-Chinese.
The first time I landed at China was at Xiamen., which is a cosmopolitan city with a lot of travellers and foreigners. Not till my second trip to China, when I left Shanghai Pudong airport to go to the railway station at Hongqiao, did I notice something odd: 2 old men openly pointing at me, smiling and discussing my appearance. I gave them a polite nod, smiled and went on my way.
Fast forward a few more trips later and I am leaving my hotel at Changzhou to take a walk around my favourite Xintiandi park. I hope there aren’t too many people there because I know what will happen.
The old men will openly point at me and comment at my appearance (among themselves)
The young kids will stare. Some will burst into tears, while others would keep staring without blinking till I am no longer in their line of sight. Their parents will hurriedly tell them not to stare.
The only people who don’t exhibit this kind of behaviour is young people between 18-40.
First timers to China will classify this is blatant racism. I, however, feel that this “racism” is borne more from ignorance and curiosity rather than bad intent, like in the west. I have had an old government official in Australia tell me openly that he didn’t like my face. I have had people ignore me openly at Vienna when I asked them for directions. This kind of racism is borne from ill will and hate.
I wouldn’t classify the Chinese behaviour in the same category. I believe most of them don’t know any better. Most of these people have never seen a full bearded man and it is genuine shock that they are experiencing.
The Chinese are a self contained people who don’t have as much exposure to western media (partly by choice, partly by force) as people from other countries. Also, these incidents are more frequent in the smaller (by Chinese standards) cities than bigger and more cosmopolitan cities. It is understandable that many will find my appearance odd and unnatural.
Overall, I can say that these incidents have not dampened my love for China and my desire to travel there again, in the near future.