“I am starting to understand that love requires ability, practice, and perseverance. Love is a lifelong practice. Until the end of life, you cannot say you have turly loved.” – Jenny Yang
Last November, I celebrated my birthday in a simple yet meaningful way by having a cozy campfire in the backyard. Gathered around the fire, and we sang “Happy Birthday” with my children. The next morning, I embarked on a visit to Jenny, the eldest sister of the Yang family, marking the beginning of an extraordinary project called Zero Distance. While it may seem like a mere task-oriented endeavor, its true purpose was to rekindle connections and continue the bonds with friends and acquaintances who once held a significant place in my life.
If you were part of the vibrant Chinese and Taiwanese community in Austin during the early 90s, the name “Hunan Palace” would undoubtedly ring a bell. By day, it stood as a haven for authentic Chinese cuisine, and by night, it transformed into a lively Taiwanese-style karaoke lounge. During my college years, I had the privilege of working there as a DJ, orchestrating memorable nights filled with music. Jenny’s parents, with their unwavering kindness, treated me like family, offering solace to a homesick soul in a foreign land. It was in that welcoming environment that I first encountered the radiant Yang sisters, Joyce and Annie, who captivated the hearts of countless young suitors with their charm. However, during that time, Jenny was still in Taiwan, and it wasn’t until one of my visits back to my homeland that I had the pleasure of meeting her in person. She exuded a fearless spirit, donning a sleek black leather jacket that matched her vibrant personality. Eventually, due to lease constraints, Hunan Palace had to close its doors, leading Joyce to establish Austin’s first pearl milk tea shop, Coco’s Cafe. During its humble beginnings, I had the opportunity to assist Joyce in designing various elements such as the logo, business cards, posters and menu. Little did I know that over two decades later, after returning to Austin, I would have the chance to reconnect with the Yang family, continuing our shared journey by assisting Coco’s Cafe in revitalizing its brand. Jenny, being the first old friend I encountered upon my return, held a special place in my heart.
At first, the Zero Distance Project resembled a structured interview, where we could engage in meaningful conversations over freshly roasted coffee. I imagined documenting those heartfelt moments, capturing them on video to preserve and share with others. However, I understood that not everyone felt comfortable being in the limelight. Jenny, known for her understated nature, was no exception. Often seen tirelessly working behind the counter at Coco’s Cafe, her quiet dedication extended even to her involvement in various charitable endeavors organized by Tzu Chi. Thus, I paid her a discreet visit, relishing the simple pleasures of roasting coffee, sipping coffee, and engaging in an enriching conversation that deepened our connection. Although I won’t disclose the specifics of our discussion, I would like to share the message I left her and her heartfelt response after bidding her farewell. I know it took me more than 6 month to get this post out, but hey it’s better late than never!! That day, while reminiscing about our past, Jenny unearthed the photos I had once sent her, marveling at how she had retained her timeless beauty while I, in the blink of an eye, had transformed into a middle-aged old man…
Message to Jenny
Hey, thank you so much for today!
It was wonderful chatting with you. In this digital age, friends often get caught up in their busy lives, and our way of caring for each other seems to be limited to social media updates. However, being online means that 60% of what we see is an illusion. People like you, who prefer to stay offline, or your sisters who aren’t on social media at all, it’s almost like our communication ceased once I left the city.
Remember that first week when I moved back to Austin, due to the pandemic, I was hesitant to reach out to any old friends. But my kids were craving pearl milk tea, so I took them to Coco’s, and coincidentally, you were on duty! You can be considered the first old friend I saw upon my return. Although I feel a bit ashamed to call you an old friend… Apart from the “old” part, which is true, we aren’t actually close. We did have a deep conversation once, back in 1994 when we first met. We went out with you and your friends, returned to your small apartment’s living room, drank beer with your roommate, chatted, and slept on the floor for a night. After that, our acquaintance hit the pause button. The subsequent encounters were friendly greetings, but our lives rarely intersected. Later, I left Austin, and on the other side of the Pacific, I heard about your wedding, your happy family, and also your loss…
Today was a great day, but as I wrote in the article above, “Many times, you never truly get to know the people around you because you’ve never had a meaningful conversation with them.” Today’s gathering pressed the play button again between us. Even though it was just a few hours of casual conversation, I feel that we all need more of these kinds of dialogues, with our family and friends alike. The coffee today was aromatic, the emotions ran deep, the smiles were genuine, and our hearts felt warm.
In the course of life, we all experience loss, but it is through these losses that we learn to hold onto the people around us more tightly. I don’t know if tomorrow will be better, but at least today we are still striving, living with purpose, and loving with all our hearts, and that’s good enough.
Responds from Jenny
AhBoga, It’s the first time I’ve known your Chinese nickname,which shows how unfamiliar we truly are! I was surprised when you took the initiative to invite me for coffee and share delicious moments. Apart from my family, due to the pandemic, I haven’t invited any friends over to my humble abode for a gathering, so…thank you for being “proactive.” It felt like entering a time tunnel, accompanied by the aroma of coffee. All relationships in the world are determined by fate. When I was temporarily unable to come to the US with my family from Taiwan and living a lonely life, I received a call from you and got to know you. Even though it was only for a short two or three days, your lively, optimistic, and cheerful personality left a deep impression on me and my friends. Later, I received a “thank you letter” you sent from the US, which made me feel honored to have met such a well-mannered young person. Finally, being able to come to the United States and reunite with my family and meet you again, you have transformed into a carefree and rebellious college student (at least that’s the impression I have), and then, as you said, our paths diverged.
I have always considered myself lucky. From childhood to adulthood, everything I wanted, the heavens granted. However, I have never expressed gratitude or cherished it, always taking it for granted, until the day when He took away my most beloved person suddenly… It made me realize how selfish and ignorant I had been! I am grateful to my family and friends for accompanying me through the painful ordeal. Thanks Rick for giving me the most flawless and beautiful moments of my life.
During the pandemic, it was heartwarming to meet you in the store with your three adorable and lively (mini Alan) children! I am touched that you have never forgotten about us, and I am grateful for the serendipity that allowed us to resume our connection. Thank you for yesterday’s sharing, whether it was about coffee or life philosophy. “Your pain, only you understand.” “Everything has its price, and everything has its proper place in life.” It’s not shameful to shed tears. I admit that I haven’t fully healed, but I am starting to understand that love requires ability, practice, and perseverance. Love is a lifelong practice. Until the end of life, you cannot say you have turly “loved.” Is Love really that easy? Just like becoming a saint or a Buddha, it is something that requires dedicating your heart, mind, hands, and feet throughout your life.
Sharing this with you~
Coffee of the Day:
I’ve had the incredible pleasure of roasting a rare dry process coffee bean from Honduras for Jenny. It’s got a rustic, earthy flavor that perfectly matches Jenny’s and my down-to-earth personalities. The bitter sweetness of each sip takes me back to the stories we’ve shared together.
Life may present its fair share of challenges and heartaches, but it is in these moments that we find solace in the little joys that surround us. Grab a cup, savor the flavor, and let it remind you to treasure those precious moments that make life special. Cheers!