Previously in the story of PHatea®’s journey to America, Pha, the second son of a Hunan Tea Master, set out to find his fortune on the Silk Road. Unsure where to sell his tea, Pha meets Changpu, an experienced traveling merchant. Changpu suggests Pha might take his tea to Tibet where goods are scarce and bring a fortune by the time they get there. This is part 3 of the story of PHatea® on the journey from the Silk Road to America.
Leaving the wetlands behind them, Pha and Changpu prepare to cross the desert on the northern path of the Silk Road. Pha was happy to have Changpu’s company. Changpu knew much about traveling than Pha could learn. No longer did Pha leave each town with the vaguely uneasy feeling that he had just been fleeced of more than he should have been when he watered his animals and paid for sleeping arrangements for his servants and himself. For his part Changpu was generous in his teaching. Together they would fulfill Changpu’s long held-dreams of being an explorer. Pha would sell his tea, maybe even begin a trade route. Many nights the two men shared their dreams and talked about what they would achieve and the sites they would see.
Early on the morning they were to begin this next phase of their journey, Changpu checked his gear. All was strapped down. All was tightly bound. Pha was less eager to get started and was still in his blankets. No matter how much Changpu assured him that the desert in front of them could be crossed, that their maps reflected the oasis towns where water could be had, Pha was afraid. In his gut, he knew something wasn’t right.
Changpu nudged the already awake Pha and teased him to get going. “Check your gear, lazy boy,” Changpu told him. “The tiniest crack will fill with sand. The slightest gap will pack hard and rub your camels raw.” Pha did as he was told, checking how his men had loaded the animals. He made an adjustment here and there. He tucked in the largest box of tea and felt something wet on his hand. A dark drip ran from the box and disappeared into the camel’s fur.
With a cry he pulled the box from its ropes. Inside his greatest fear was realized, the tea was dark and wet. They had had rain two nights previously. The tea must’ve gotten wet. He felt a rage he had never felt before and turned to his servants. They shrank at his wrath until Changpu, impatient to start the day came to see what the problem was. He assured Pha that this was nothing but a minor setback. He urged him to check the rest of the tea and Pha would see that all was well except for this one box.
Pha and his servants checked the bricks of tea. One by one they pulled them off the camel’s backs. And one-by-one they cried out in dismay. There wasn’t a single brick of tea that hadn’t been at least dampened by the rains.
Even Changpu, ever the optimist, was silenced by the sight before him. The young tea merchant on his needs in the sand, dark tea in boxes and cloths spread about him. “There is nothing to be done,” Changpu said. Pha looked up at him. “Nothing to be done,” he said again. His face broke into a smile, “but to lay out the tea and dry it. With the heat of this day, it will dry fast.” Changpu gestured to the gathering sunrise in the clear sky. It promised to be the perfect day for the task.
Pha wasn’t convinced and sat dejected while Changpu and the servants tended the tea. Changpu donated a large porous cloth to lay over the tea to protect it from burning in the hot sun.
“We will wait,” Changpu said. “A day or two.” He began to unload his animals. Pha was silent. He wasn’t convinced this would work. He was looking at the ruin of his life. He had nothing to sell and would never be able to go back home.