Thursday, May 18, 2006

Tea Culture?

Simon made his way to Taipei for an exclusive tea exhibition. It was so exclusive; it turns out, that he could not get in. Having made the trip, he decided to spend his time sipping the day away in one of Taiwan’s most ornate tea houses. Dang Fong “Block the wind”, the winner of the 1990 Taiwan’s National Tea Brewing Competition, opened a tea shop just off of Taipei city’s Da An Street in one of Taipei’s more upscale areas. He runs the tea house out of the first floor of his four story house. This tea shop differs from most because it does not sell tea by the glass nor does it sell food. As far as selling tea leaves, it also does this in a different way than most tea shops. Upon entering the large wooden doors that lead into the garden courtyard one is overcome with a feeling of calm, a great contrast to the thriving hustle bustle of Taipei’s nonstop hectic pulse.
Upon glancing at a book in the tea house of his younger brother, San Fong “Dodge the wind” could not help but laugh. "Tea Culture," he smirked referring to the books title, "Who would dare be so bold?" He said while picking up the book for further inspection. "Oh, Puer Tea Culture, that is more like it." He continued on, rattling off a monologue for the better part of an hour. San Fong was not a lonely man in the physical sense. There were always people around him that loved to listen to what he had to say.
With relatively little encouragement San Fong has been known to head into a monologue for the better part of an afternoon. So on this day, as he began, nobody dared to interrupt him, “What it is that I am interested in is promoting the sale of Taiwan’s tea culture. This is much more profitable than the sale of some arbitrary amount of tea leaves. By just selling the leaves we are left with profit of course, but it is such a small amount of money that it is hardly worth mentioning. When we sell tea culture, the profit is greater and the economy of Taiwan will benefit on a larger scale. People that come to Taiwan with the intention of experiencing tea culture will purchase an airplane ticket, a hotel room, transportation around the island, tea leaves, tea ware, books, tea shop fees and more. In this way all of the people involved with tea culture will benefit.”
What Simon learned from San Fong’s monologue is that the culture of tea is simply too big to put in just one category. There are so many different schools of tea drinking even within Taiwan alone, that by making such a broad and overriding statement such as defining “tea culture” one is really saying nothing. Simon observed tea culture in Taiwan to be very broad. In fact, it permeates all levels of society and all aspects of life from what Simon called “everyday tea” to those individuals who see themselves as the representatives of tea culture itself; i.e. the tea teachers, the tea artists (including the potters) and the tea culture promoters to name a few. Everyday tea is an expression that Simon used to describe the way tea is used by most people in Taiwan. It is the old men brewing and drinking tea in the park, it is the dirty tea sets that have been stained through day after day use. These sets seem to be free from owner, and at the end of an afternoon of tea making, they are replaced into a cart, made for this purpose and pushed over to the side, against a wall, beside a bench, out of the way. No particular value is given to these sets, other than their function. Those that belong to the everyday tea cultural segment don’t necessarily live their life for tea, but they sure would find it difficult to keep on living without it.
San Fong, Dang Fong and Lunar to name a few, are examples of people who live there life for tea. It has surpassed the importance of an everyday activity and passed into the realm of a lifetime obsession. They dedicate their lives to researching, understanding and appreciating tea. The individuals mentioned above have a combined knowledge of 118 years of tea experience.

No comments:

Post a Comment