I am lucky enough to have a 'day job' that gives me the opportunity to travel the world and also earn a reasonable living. I was delighted to discover then that Wasps rugby union team had moved a game from their industrial estate bound ground in High Wycombe to Abu Dhabi, more so that it gave me a chance to escape the sub zero temperatures. I'm no sun lizard, my skin is rather opaque but my joints are getting creakier by the year and the sun is a marvellous tonic.
Our hotel and ground was at the very luxurious Palace Hotel, every inch an effort to demonstrate just how much money the sheiks have at their disposal but in reality a soulless monstrosity built by the hands of down trodden Indian and Pakistani workers. I have a real gripe with what you see behind the scenes in places like Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
Tucked away in one corner of the beach (resplendent with it's imported sand) was an opportunity to sample something missing from the rest of the complex, some culture! Even more surprising was that it was entirely free, not a room number request in sight. In an open sided tent sat a local man who spoke little english.
"Come! Come!" he said as he waved, "Sit, rest."
He surrounded himself with various pots, some tongs and a supply of charcoal and it was his job to brew tea and coffee whilst people waited to ride camels.
"Tea? Coffee?" was the cue for my face to light up and a few moments later I was the proud owner of a glass of tea. I no longer felt compelled to mooch about the hotel grounds and I grabbed my opportunity to sit back and read a translation with commentaries of the Nan-Ching (nan jing for those pin yin minded people) by the thorough sinologist Paul Unschuld.
The brew was exactly how I wouldn't prepare tea, sweeter than a sherbet fountain but despite this I enjoyed it immensely, vive la difference! My new friend seemed very insistent that I had some coffee too which was also unusual. It came in a cup not much bigger than my chinese tea cups and had a heavy flavour of mint through it.
A place must be a good place if you have no idea how long you spent there. I read my book (or as much of it as I could absorb, which isn't a lot when it comes to Unschuld) and drank several cups of tea and coffee. Along came an offering of a few dates and I found out through sign language that the man had a real interest in camel racing. Sign language doesn't take you very far and he went back to fanning his coals and brewing more tea.
I walked away feeling very content with the experience, it was genuine and enriching, a saving grace for the hotel that up to that point had little to offer anything beyond skin deep. I went back there again the next morning and saw my friend who greeted me with the same words and I watched him light his fire and prepare his drinks. Work intervened and I was drawn back into the hotel's grasp.
Drinking tea is becoming more about the moment of the tea as opposed to the tea itself, that is the true gift it brings me.