Skip to main content

Bonding Over Teh Tarik

She is a family person, always has been. She believes that a family is a man's first and last stop in life.

Having somewhere to go is home,

Having someone to love is family,

Having both is a blessing.

Family can merely be people of different personalities for some, a bunch of identical faces for some others, and people you go to at the end of the day to many. Also, it can be something important to a few, but to me, it’s everything. I could never imagine a day waking up alone without my sisters beside me and brother at the other end of the room (thanks to my dad for thinking we should all grow up closely together by placing us in the same room) or going downstairs to not find my dad reading the Bible aloud, or not asking mum what is for breakfast, or even the loud music not blasting each morning in the house. None of us can. The day I wake up to see these blessings gone would possibly be the worst day of my life.

But in life, not all days are good. Some days are rain and the others a bright sun. Like it or not, rain is a part of nature.

To my family, nothing matters more than our daily late-night Teh Tarik (the main reason why most of us at home are tea addicts).

Teh Tarik is milk tea which is a famous drink all over the world. In Malaysia, it is more than tea; its a lifestyle. People from all over the country, regardless of ethnicity and custom enjoy late-night gatherings with friends and family from roadside stalls to high-end restaurants to talk for hours over a cup of tea. The Indian Muslims (also known as Mamak's) are known to make the most famous tea in the country. As times changed, almost everyone can make tea as good as the Mamak's and still enjoyed after centuries.

Gathering at our table way past bedtime every single night, even on a school day, with a cup of tea each is a necessity, to which no one has the right to say no. Just one cup of tea and loads of bonding. Some days, it’s laughter and making fun of each other while some are all strict with new practices being enforced and an earful for things left astray, sleeping in every weekend, the same lecture. That’s just how our night at home went for the past 21 years of my birth and probably will be, for the rest of eternity.


The Conflict

Then one day, the worst storm of our lives came to split us apart, happiness by happiness. Mum’s health had a breakdown at the end of the year 2018. Two surgeries and it was home and hospital for us ever since. We barely saw each other, finals, work, and Christmas to add up the pain. Never once in my 21-year-old life had I saw Christmas as a disaster till that year. We took turns taking care of mum who was in unimaginably bad shape. During the shifts, we had time to go home, say “Hi” to the remaining ones at home, and back to the hospital, me and my sister. Dad was barely alive, traveling around, with no proper food or sleep; the most affected one among all of us.

Remembering those dark days, there was once when I got home from college (I was in my third semester of Form Six, which is a Malaysian pre-university program), all tired and ready to crash, when my younger sister was on the couch, all alone. When I got to know that the rest of the family was at the hospital and she was alone waiting for me, I asked if she had eaten. Her reply shattered me, though it was just “There’s no food”. Never going hungry is not a surprise if you are one of us. Dad always made sure we have food in the kitchen, so did mum. With tears in my eyes, instant noodles were all I could make, with a heart aching for everyone to be home and things to go back the way it used to be.

There were also days when I used to study for my finals in the hospital hallway. I could study inside, but mum would be there, going “I’m sorry, this is all my fault. I’m such trouble to all of you.” That would only make me feel horrible. Of course, it was nothing but a delight to look after her. It was a custom for me to pray before beginning any exams, to ask God to give me the wisdom to answer the questions and let His will be done in my results, as per taught to us since we were born. As usual, I entered the examination hall for my final semester’s General Studies paper, eyes swollen, and still yawning. I had been in the hospital, looking after mum the day earlier before coming home around midnight to start studying for the paper in about a few hours before the exam. When the invigilator announced that we could start, I did my prayer as usual, but to my surprise, it was not for my paper, but for mum (that morning she was to go for her CT scan), hoping everything would go well. It happened like an auto-pilot; a reflex action. Without realizing, I was tearing, catching the attention of the invigilator. I couldn’t help but cry when I taught of how scared she would be during all her scans and this one was very important. I wondered how she was doing the whole one-and-a-half-hour paper. That was the first time I sat for an exam, praying for my mum.

There's Always Sun After The Rain

After months of tears and prayers, Mum finally came home, safe and sound; just the way she had been. Everyone was so happy, especially mum. She hadn’t seen home in months. Weeks later, after many adjustments and changes of routines here and there, things were finally on track. Our missing late-night tea sessions were restored, laughter back into our gloomy house, and all evil darkness was cast out. Oh, the joy I felt. It cannot be compared to anything, not even a straight four flat. After that, like magic, everyone was surprisingly extra-warm towards each other. Recent events did affect all of us emotionally, though no one showed it. I could only thank God all the more for giving me a nice family, remembering all those who are less fortunate.

Sometimes we often misjudge the worth of every small act, behavior, and detail. It’s not the big things that matter, but the small, tiny ones we look past every day. Who would have thought that a cup of Teh Tarik could tie us up so close? I learned to care less about hunting for remedies to my anger issues, extreme level of mood swings, and the lowest range of self-esteem anyone could possess because the past days molded me to a state of mind that family doesn’t care about your weakness. All that I saw was a show of care and kindness that all the side effects of being me started to reside, one after another. That was when I thought, “Who cares what others think? I don’t think of them. All that matter is what my family thinks of me because they are the ones I see at the beginning of every day and go to the end of it.” That was also when I realized how important these souls were to me. I did complaint about cramping up on the same bed with my sister and about the importance of having separate rooms due to the noises of chatters every other night since all of us are in one room. But to think, my parents were smart. Put me in a single bed now and I would turn a thousand times to find my sister. That’s just how we are.


© 2020 Priscilla John