This story was from my traveling in Medan, North Sumatra.
Hi, where are you from? Indonesia? Which Part? Java? West Java? Ah yes, so you are familiar with teh tawar, plain tea. Like most people in Java,we are tea drinkers, as many others in other areas in Indonesia. We are tea drinkers. And tea for us is like water, we drink it plain, morning, afternoon, evening…around the clock. I am not really tea drinker, I am more a coffee drinker, but when I take tea, I take plain, without sugar. When I take fatty food, I usually take a plain tea to accompany it.
So this story came from Medan, a city once I stayed for quite some time, 5 years, back and forth. But this happened in my early months of staying.
In an afternoon, with some local friends, Batak, I went to a small kedai mie, noodles house, near Pajak Baru. They said the noodles are very nice! And yes, their mie pangsit is very nice.
The amusement started when I order for my drink:
Waitress: what drink for you Kak?
Me: Teh Tawar (plain tea). You have?
Waitress: Yes, sure, we do. Teh Tong kan?
Me: What is teh tong?
Waitress: teh tong = teh kosong (literally means empty tea)
Me: OK (noded, thinking that must be the way they call it)
In a few minutes the waitress came back, but alas…she brought me a glass of plain water.
I had some arguments with her, but she insisted that was my order. My batak friends were just quiet, did not know what to do. Only after some time they told me that teh tong is plain water. and they asked me what I really wanted. I told them I wanted tea (teh tawar), plain tea, not plain water.
The waitress insisted that they do not have plain tea. They only have sweet tea. I was a bit annoyed because just to make them understand what teh tawar/plain tea was very difficult. So I asked on how they make a sweet tea. She explained:
You poure the tea in the glass, add sugar, stirr it well, waala…sweet tea is ready.
So I said: so you have the teh tawar. because you make the sweet tea from the teh tawar, then you sweeten it with sugar.
She said: do, we dont have teh tawar. We only have sweet tea.
Annoyed, I asked: Can I ask a sweet tea without sugar, then (Indo:teh manis tanpa gula)?
Waitress: Oh of course!! is that what you wanted? teh manis tanpa gula? Ahhh soo, you should have said that from the beginning!
she left…disappeared. In less then 3 minutes she came back, smiling, with a glass of teh manis tanpa gula, sweet tea without sugar, for me!!!