I moved to Dagomys, a suburb area in northern Sochi. I could hardly forget the scenery throughout my 40-minute journey on a taxi: I looked at the sunlight vanishing in the sky and houses were getting less and less along the highway. I felt as if I was on my way to somewhere very remote, imagining a house hidden in a forest.
There was a Chinese legend that once a guy got lost in a peach garden, and he discovered a village, where the inhabitants were peaceful and full of harmony. He never wanted to go back to the city. Would my stay in Dagomys be another tale of the peach garden?
The street went dim. The landlady was called Lyudmila, literally meant “being nice to people” in Russian. She showed me the room and introduced me the neighbors. She even made an offer to wash my clothes. After the nightmare I had with Anatoly, my last landlord, Lyudmila’s kindness really warmed my heart. After all, one minor thing couldbe be very touching, especially for someone far away from home like myself.
My next-door neighbor was a Russian family, an old couple in their early fifties with a little daughter who was 9 years old. The man shook my hand, so firmly. Despite the lack of mutual language, we were still able to communicate with body gesture. The couple offered me a cup of tea, with milk, and that reminded me so much of the milk tea, a signature drink of my home town.
With the help of Google Translate, we had a brief chat over our first cup of tea. They were Russian but they had been living in Kazakhstan for several years. I showed them the pictures that I took in my previous journeys: the Netherlands, Ireland, Spain, Czech Republic, Malaysia, Singapore, and China… They looked at the screen with so much curiosity and perhaps such curiosity made this old couple stay young in heart.
It was a long evening, but a pleasant one.
The next day was full of works at office. I was back to the village around 8 pm, coincided with the dinner time of this family. The old man came to my room, knocked the door and invited me for dinner. The family also invited the children from other families for the big feast, with grilled pork, salad, bread and soup. That was the best meal I had in Sochi.
The children seemed very curious about my Asian look, as well as my inability to speak Russian. I used Google Translate and asked them in Russian: “What is your name, kid?” They looked so surprised, and I added, “I wish the voice of the translator would be a male voice.” My sense of humor was overwhelmed by the kids’ laughter. The old man offered me the second cup of tea.
“Black or green?” He asked. I chose the green one, and then he smiled: “A good one, from China!” The tea didn’t really taste Chinese but his hospitality certainly made me feel home.
I started to understand why the man who was lost in the peach garden didn’t want to go back to the city: he found some qualities of the villagers that had been lost in urban life.
The day after, I came home a bit late. After a shower, I was lying on my bed. The old man saw that I was still awake, and then he asked: “Coffee or tea? No?” We sat in the balcony, drinking my third cup of tea from him. He put a square sugar in the tea and the square vanished so quickly without notice. I use the translator to ask him, “Do you like music?” He nods his head. Then I play the songs in my IPhone, from Arabic to Chinese and Japanese. He also showed me his favorite by playing his ringtone.
It was another long evening, with music all around the world. I realized that the three cups of hot tea not only melted down the square sugar, but also dissolved the boundary between the two strangers, who were so different from each other.