A metal cup, about as wide as it is tall, but small enough to wrap your fingers around, sits between a matching metal saucer and lid. It’s a completely normal looking trio. But strangely, it isn’t resting on a table. Instead, the saucer is perched atop a glass. The glass, with about the same dimensions as the cup above it, contains less than one finger of a milky liquid. They look a bit ridiculous in that setup — almost uncomfortable. Wouldn’t the cup be happier on the table, beside the glass, rather than precariously above of it? Wouldn’t the glass want that cup taken away, the burden of carrying it lifted? It’s as though both cup and glass have no idea how they got into this predicament, but neither can figure a proper way out. So they just sit there for a while, looking odd. And nothing happens.
And then: drip. One black drop leaks from the saucer, spins around the metal, and falls into the white pool below. Another drop follows the first, and then another, but their frequency is consistent and slow, as though each drop relishes in its own spotlight. Drip, drop, plop. It continues for a while. Eventually the drops have made their own pool, but have not integrated with the milky liquid. A black layer sits above the white, completely separate. When the black is about twice as high as the white, the drips stop. This is when you grab the glass.
The glass feels hot to touch and now has condensation on its inside. You lift the metal cup, with its lid and saucer, from the glass and place them on the table. You stir the coffee and milk together, still hot, turing black and white into a creamy brown. You pour the mixture into a ceramic cup with ice cubes, turning the hot to cold.
Cà phê dã — Vietnamese iced coffee. A unique flavour of the country and something I now drink every day. For me, it’s been a metaphor for so many things: the virtue of patience, the odd situations we sometimes find ourselves in, the impact of humanity on nature, the struggle between differences — of ideologies, of religions, of race. It’s as though everything I learn and do in a day can be symbolized through this coffee. Why has this afternoon ritual, one that I carried from back home and through all of Asia, suddenly gained new meaning?
I think it’s the wait. The fact that the coffee doesn’t arrive pre-made, that you have to stare at it for a while — to slow your day before it whirrs back up again. To think about what you’ve learned and how it affects you. Just, stop for a second and watch. That cup awkwardly atop that glass. And everything falls into place.