They were not my real grandparents.
My real ones were apart in a different world and time, somewhere in Vietnam. They remember me but I do not them.
I have wanderlust. Not of the kind afflicted by ethnic diasporas though. I have never been confused about who I am. As a child it was the same. I was a person with a reference point more important than a name or other things given to you without choice when you're born. That's just how it was.
Borders are always imaginary. If they exist it is for reference. It's an abstraction for thought, so other people can know how to manage their worlds more easily. In the same way, I knew who my grandparents were. Those over the sea that could not be with me, and those that could, the ones that watched over me as I played in their cucumber garden. Doted me with time. Dote children with these giftwraps. Make the paper red. Or have the painted detail the very color. Deeper is okay too.
Twenty years ago when my summers still had not ticked to ten the old woman and my mother talked the evening away until they could no longer see the other’s face in the darkened kitchen. Through the window were other outside lights coming faintly inside. Short light. Light that forms soft shadows. When you have those conversations, you forget if there is any or no light at all, and if you were hungry before, you forget that too and want instead stories. But finally, the lights came on and the old woman disappeared down into the basement stairs below. When she re-emerged, her small wrinkly mouth was bent. In the glass blow was a strange creature.
“It’s alive,” grandmother said. Wrapped between layers of moistened linen, she slipped the creature into ziplock bags. What’s alive exactly? I said. This thing. I don't understand. You don't have to. Just believe. Hah. Adults are funny. Old people are funny, maybe a bit crazy too. And you what? You eat it? You drink it. Kind of. Maybe this is not for you, kiddo. You don't like fetal duck eggs either.
And so we took the creature and gave it a home. My parents tucked it next to the fridge, the side that never touched light, a place that you could squeeze into during summer or winter and be comfortable in only your naked skin.
They were quiet. They grew quietly. And I found out that they were not one, alone, but many to start. They were community. Already a culture.
One day, I peeked into the tea pitchers. They were translucent, sponge-like, laced with creepy filaments floating atop a sea of eye-stinging brown liquid.
Man, Asians are really weird, I confirmed.
This was in 1990 or so. Word-of-mouth home-brew basement cults. Pre-Web 2.0.
So this still weird SCOBY will mature and turn the tea pungent, sweet and sour. Then I will dump in a cloud of chia seeds and a wee bit (just the right amount) of hot yuzu drink mix, and bottle my own brand of health tonic. No, I'm not gonna sell it. The truth, I don’t even care about that bit about tonic. Any effect seems anecdotal anyhow (though I do enjoy stories). But one has to ask, knowing my grandmother, why she has survived into eldest age and is still rummaging about her cucumber and squash garden, beastly things as large as my forearm. Neither do I care about the novelty, which it isn’t. Kombucha is eye-level accessible in supermarkets.
You want to talk about sports drink? Kombucha. Want to get drunk off of weirdness? Kombucha. If you get the chia seed kind, they remind me of the basil seed drinks that are slippery and fun to chew through though its supposed to be a drink. Drink fuzzy seeds for your future. If you're a boba tea fan and don't think tapioca pearls are too strange, then this is your gig. Do you like animals? Okay. Organisms. If you’re interested in having a moderately low maintenance pet that doesn’t bite back or chew up upholstery, consider raising microorganisms.
Consider, Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast.
Story by HVH