Post1Just the other day I was at a newly opened tea shop – yet another transplant from Asia. There was only one other customer ahead of me. I could customize my drink to my satisfaction, I thought.

“Chrysanthemum Pu-erh Tea. Please add grass jelly, coconut jelly, lychee jelly, taro. No boba… Wait, mini boba. 25% sugar. Little ice. Maybe 10%?”

Without raising her head, the lone shopkeeper punched a few keys on the register, took the $5 bill from me, then proceeded to prepare the drink. She did not care if my choices of teas and toppings concoct a nasty combo, of course not. Is 10% ice even a legit request?

So I waited and waited for my order. The shopkeeper poured, mixed, and shook one cup after another; her movement was swift, adept, but her facial expression revealed tension. She ended up making twelve drinks, I counted, and none was for me.

The shopkeeper hastily placed all twelve drinks in a big plastic bag and signaled the other customer who then took the cups out of the bag to peruse the labels. Why did he even bother? The drinks had all been sealed using that not so environmentally friendly machine – there was no way for him to examine each concoction’s actual content or to demand a refund. Within a few seconds, I realized that he merely wished to ensure the shopkeeper had correctly placed his humongous order; he dreaded hearing any complaint from his co-workers back in the office.

How did that customer get assigned this most tedious errand? Someone must have volunteered him. As depicted often in cinema, interns learn to endure this type of “mistreatment.” Placing an order at these tea establishments is a much more complicated chore than organizing an office lottery pool. The menus contain myriads of items, and the choices of toppings may drastically affect each beverage’s final price.

Back in the office, the teas were probably delivered to individual offices or cubicles. It’s extremely unlikely a session to critique the drinks was held at a reserved conference room. There was never time.

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