Tea Ceremony

The tea ceremony, in it’s many forms, captured my interest a few years ago. It brings together a two aspects of my life. I love tea, and take a hobbyist’s interest in collection, proper storage, and correct brewing. And when I began to study and practice meditation, I found it in many iterations as a meditation form, from the dizzyingly elaborate Japanese tea ceremony to the simple sharing ceremony practiced at my Sangha’s retreat.

Two days ago, I was overjoyed to be permitted to attempt to perform a Taiwanese Gongfu Cha.

First, I watched the instructor and host run through the entire process twice. To the best of my memory (and with the aid of some notes):

First, boiling water was poured into a clay vessel with a lid and spout. Then, this was poured from the clay pot into a line of tall porcelain cups, lined up neatly with ornaments facing the guests. This “warmed” the pot and cups.

While the cups warmed, dry tea was poured into a wooden trough to measure the proper amount. A brass stylus was used to push the tea from the trough into the clay pot. This was covered with more boiling water, lid replaced, and left to sit for forty seconds (according to the tea variety we were using.)

During this forty seconds, the warming cups were emptied into a receptacle with a decorative, perforated lid. Each movement was graceful and deliberate, but not slow. Movements to the left of the host were performed with the left hand; on the right, with the right; the unused hand rested on the edge of the table. The cups were twisted slightly, the clay pot given one firm shake, to empty them completely. Each implement had it’s proper position on the table, to which it was returned after use.

After forty seconds, the pot of steeped tea was poured into a small, lidless pitcher, which gave it an opportunity to cool down slightly. From this pitcher, it was distributed among the tall cups once again, all in a row, and placed in front of the guests one by one with the slightest bow of the head, and the host served herself last.

The tall cups were used to breathe the scent of the tea, and then each guest poured it into a small bowl on a saucer. The tea was consumed from the bowl in three sips. We were encouraged to “chew” the tea in order to taste it properly.

After watching this twice, I took a seat as host and gave it a try.

Our host studied the tea ceremony for twenty years with several different teachers, and to my eyes at least she was flawless. I forgot steps, forgot my hands, and spilled tea all over the table. But attempting to keep in mind proper posture, motions, process, and placement was indeed a meditative focus. And smiling encouragement of my teacher, as well as the honor of participating in the tradition, was an absolute joy.

Week one is done

I am amazed my travel companions have found so much time to post. We have been so busy! They are more connected than I am, as I’m having trouble with my phone, so I’ll just blame it on that (and not at all on my needing a wee bit more sleep than they do.)

So week one is done, and it has been even more wonderful than I had hoped. Each and every person we encounter is kind and generous to us. We’ve had a wide variety of experiences and oh so many new foods. We each learn a little more Chinese, or Taiwanese, every day.

My favorite parts of the trip so far… every meal is like a celebration, especially if someone brings beer because then people are constantly toasting one another. (I know the celebrations are largely for our benefit, I can’t imagine families eating like that every day.) Night markets are wonderful, like a cross between a carnival and a farmer’s market. Many people have studied in the US and are eager to find commonalities between places we’ve been. At a Zen monastery, I met a nun in the garden. She spoke almost no English, but she led two of us on a quiet walk around the grounds. That walk alone was worth the 30 hour travel time.

Happily, however, there was so much more. I’ve tickled baby goats, dressed like a traditional Chinese bride, asked the Buddha for guidance at a temple, learned an astonishing amount about minimizing waste and pollution in paper production, snapped a million photos of flowers, played with drug-detection puppies in training, listened to a heart-stopping Hakka singer, and had the best tea latte of my life.

Not surprisingly, another highlight for me has been the library visits. We visited a University and public library in Taichung, and both times our guides were full of information and patient with my many questions. What classification system do you use? (A chinese one with a long name, but very similar to DDC.) How many volumes do you have? (Over a million at the University; 200-250,000 at the public.) How do you get a job at the library? (Apply through the national government.) How do you get people to visit you? (Innovative spaces and events.) What’s the book sanitizer for? (SARS.) Is it OK that those people are sleeping here? (Yes, that’s what the bean bags are for.)

Libraries in Taiwan and the US share many things– a trend toward spaces for the user instead of the materials; maker spaces; bookmobiles and outreach; cultural events; a public perception that google is all anyone needs. What an honor to have made new library friends and learned so much.

Today’s itinerary has been changed up a bit, so beyond meeting the mayor and having lunch, it will all be a surprise to me. I can not wait to see what today, and the upcoming three weeks, have in store.

The Itinerary

This week we received our itinerary! Our hosts have clearly put a tremendous amount of effort into planning a thorough and multi-faceted experience. Museums, temples, schools & universities, parks, farms, municipal offices… and the Wednesday before we leave, an entire afternoon of shopping. They thought of everything.

Today we received the heaviest snowfall of the winter in our area. I (Lisa) was grateful for the snow day and extra time to prepare– and am quite looking forward to the subtropical climate.