Putting the Boba Life on Hold

Last week, my boyfriend and I were pondering (yet again) what we were going to do for lunch. Our fridge was still relatively full, but my tight meeting schedule and his lack of desire to cook culminated in us deciding to venture outside and get takeout somewhere. As I hemmed and hawed over what “somewhere” would be, my boyfriend said the fateful words:

“Want to get Urban on the way?”

Me:

In this context, “urban” stood for Urban Ritual, a tea and boba cafe that opened last fall in the downtown area of my neighborhood. As skeptical as I normally would be of modern, hipster-sounding places that seem designed just for millennials, the drinks at Urban Ritual soon won me over. It took a lot of self-discipline on our parts to exercise restraint and not stop by every other week.

With all the craziness in the world going on, treating ourselves to an Urban drink felt like a refuge, a small part of our lives that we could make a choice about and control. Once we finally decided on a place to buy lunch, I walked out into the sunshine, feeling like the day might actually get a tiny bit better.

How wrong I was.

On the way to getting lunch, my boyfriend made a detour to the pharmacy, so I arrived at Urban Ritual first and was greeted with a sign on a closed door. I looked at it long enough to spot the words, “COVID-19” and “heartbreaking moment” before I fled. With a pit in my stomach, I texted my boyfriend to let him know and tell him I’d be walking home first.

Over the last week and a half, I’ve thought a lot about why this affected me so much. Sure, I was a regular customer and enjoyed their drinks a lot, but it wasn’t like I had a personal connection to the shop or the owners. It was the silliest thing in the world to be mourning, when people every day are fighting for their lives, compromising their own health to help people, and endangering themselves to keep the community from completely collapsing. So why the hell was I acting like a fundamental part of me had been taken away?

Perhaps it was only because I really missed being able to get boba whenever I wanted. Or perhaps I felt sad that a small, independent business I frequented had finally succumbed to the economic consequences of this pandemic. Whatever the real reason (if there is one), what I do know is that boba has played a significant part in making me feel a certain kind of pride, knowing that it’s an unabashedly Asian import that’s become a widely accepted and sought-after phenomenon here. In a way, the evolution of boba and tea drinks in the U.S. feels to me like a nod to my experience growing up as a first generation Asian-American, trying to carve out my own unique identity in a society that likes to remind me of my minority status.

Asian immigrants and Asian-Americans are the ones who’ve propelled boba into the status it has in the U.S. today. So to see local boba businesses like Urban Ritual and Boba Guys having to close their doors indefinitely, juxtaposed with increasing reports of targeted violence towards the Asian community, has, in a very convoluted way, made me feel like my personal identity is being threatened. It also doesn’t help that our current president has opted to use language that only serves to emphasize difference and encourage xenophobic sentiments.

I realize that this all sounds pretty melodramatic. And to be honest, I’ve never really given boba this much thought before either. But I guess the old adage of, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone,” rang particularly true here, and what started as a thought exercise has clearly gone down a whole psychological rabbit hole that I’m not sure I can extricate myself cleanly from at this point.

In any case, I’m making do for now by stocking up on tea leaves and brewing my own tea at home. It’s not quite the same as a freshly shaken tea drink with fun toppings, but it gets the job done and reminds me to be grateful, above all else. I hope everyone is staying home and staying healthy, physically and mentally. These are unprecedented times but one way or another, we’ll get through this together.

9 thoughts on “Putting the Boba Life on Hold

  1. I can relate. One of my favorite stores had an employee come down with the virus and they closed down until they could disinfect the entire place and safely reopen. I instantly felt slightly crushed, but since I know a lot of the employees, my next thought was, “No one should have to be sick or die so I can go back here.” Now I call places or check their new hours, just in case.
    Some things really ARE part of our culture and we’re attached in an indescribable way. We don’t have to be there every single day, but times like these put a lot into perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I completely agree with you. I felt guilty for how I felt but after thinking about it, realized that the store probably meant a lot more to me than I was giving it credit for. Perspective is key.

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      1. We get used to our specific places being open and being “right there”, so it’s incredibly creepy at the moment to see a ghost town. Even the employees who are handling pick ups for restaurants are in gloves, masks, etc. I’m still trying to get a few things delivered (actual groceries), but got in touch with someone earlier who is making masks locally. It can’t hurt to be more cautious since I will inevitably have to go out either tomorrow or this weekend. I dread it, but getting anyone to deliver right now is really hard. I should have done it weeks ago to ensure a regular spot, but I genuinely wasn’t thinking ahead too much. One hour at a time is all I can do right now.
        Hope you’re doing okay.

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  2. One of the few boba places in my town is also closed and I felt like this the other day. We are filled with so much unknown and fear in the world right now, something like this feels like “the last straw” that breaks our hearts. It feels like a part of us died, and here is an actual proof. I hope you are finding ways to still enjoy other things you love. It’s a time when simplicity and creativity shines 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad you could relate and that I’m not the only one. It really does feel like a part of us died, however silly it seems from the outside. Hope you are hanging in there as well, as much as you can!

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  3. I’ve been hit in a similar way when I’ve seen CLOSED signs these days. It’s sad; sad that despite our love of their product, and their passion for running that business, it couldn’t survive this pandemic. With any luck, some of these places will make their way back. Sooner rather than later, I hope.

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  4. I’m really saddened to hear that xenophobia is increasing along with the coronavirus. I read an interesting article in The Atlantic (https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2020/03/coronavirus-covid19-xenophobia-racism/607816/), which pointed out the link between disease, fear and discrimination. It’s easy for political parties and the media to whip up that fear and use it for their own gain (like in Italy, where right-wing parties are blaming immigrant populations).

    By the way, I can also relate to the feelings you mention here — it’s hard to see our favourite places closed down. Hopefully it won’t be too long until we can visit them again. In the meantime, your homemade tea sounds great. Will you try making your own boba tea?

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    1. I might if I really get a craving for boba! The balls are a bit labor intensive but it could be a fun weekend project to tackle since I have loads of time now haha.

      Thanks for linking that article! It’s so unfortunate how so much of this situation has been politicized. But we just have to do what we can as individuals and wait for all this to pass. Hope you have a good week ahead!

      Liked by 1 person

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