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Four Approaches To The Tea Room

Article: He Jiansheng

Inspiration from a teapot inscription

I have long since been in possession of a Limao style teapot inscribed with Nan Wengmei's famous line: "Tea is brewed the rain falls hard outside, a bamboo hat appears: it is Su Changgong." Twenty years ago, this inscription caught my eye, and I have always thought that the words on this teapot should have gone on to say, "Inside the tea room, the tea is brewed, a figure under a bamboo hat emerges from the rain, at first glance, it is clearly Dongpo." And what next, after guest and host meet. What words are exchanged? It quickly became clear to me that a poet, a man Article: He Jiansheng of letters majestically constructs a space with the words that he uses, the goal of such writing is to influence those who read his words, causing the reader to unconsciously jump into the space constructed by the writing, then joyfully go about their own affairs.

Once these words have created a contextual space, their work is done, all that remains is for someone to come and jump in. When someone jumps into the space that the words have created, this can be seen as a secondary creation, a cooperation between words and reader. Whenever I think of the inscription on this teapot, I conjure up an image of a screen: it is as if a film is ending on the screen; tea is brewed and the tea bowl is still steaming. Outside, relentless spring rain falls, beating a pensive rhythm through its natural symphony. A figure, cloaked in a straw rain cape, face obscured by a wide bamboo hat emerges from the distant rain. The host rises to welcome the visitor, an enlightened, rare fellow. The scene inside gradually fades out, and the film ends, yet the conversation between host and guest has just begun, leaving the audience with space to infinitely ponder their words that follow.

People today, wittingly or unwittingly want to enter these spaces in order to realise their dreams. Actually, the distance between dreams and reality causes people to continuously seek a fitting, peaceful space for their souls, a different space than the spaces discussed by architects today. This space is hard to name, but I will tentatively call it a "Tea room." Tea is not a pre-requisite of the tea room, but if there is tea, all the better, for the more tales we may share.

The tea room as a summoner

We should say that different rooms create different contextual fields; these different contexts emit different tonalities and different tonalities attract different people. Constructing a room is similar to brewing a good pot of tea by Chinese style teapot, it is a creation that should summon. This summons us to put our affairs to one side and enter a space which is a part of ourselves. Among the chaos of the world, we are able to find ourselves, A space such as this summons learned people. On carefree nights. or leisurely afternoons, a scholar may run into another scholar in such a space, so in constructing a good tea room, all one must do is situate oneself inside a space where one is likely to run into the right people, "The right people can be expounded to mean people" of the same kind. The best way to find people of the same kind is to attend scholarly gatherings. Without attending such gatherings, how would one know who these people of the same kind were? Without a tea room, it is as if the spirit is without a body, and the gathering without a place.

The tea room is just a facade

How can we regard all tea rooms as facades? Actually, people care about the ability of the tea room to summon and embrace all people and things.

The four main types of Taiwanese tea room

There are many fine tea rooms in Taiwan, some of these are quite private places, unadvertised, a fortuitous opportunity is required to pass through their doors. According to my observations, there are four types of tea room in Taiwan:

1.The first type of tea room is one created by tea lovers whose lives are closely connected to tea drinking; their tea rooms naturally grow with their daily lives. Similar to a study, such tea rooms are tranquil and restrained, neither spacious nor luxurious, but always able to amaze. The essence of these tea rooms is different from the perfect loneliness of Japanese chashitsu, where the tea room is a space of unreality, adorned solely with a vase of camellia flowers, a calligraphy scroll, and the essential tea utensils.

This type of tea room may be messy, but there will be order within the mess. There will be books, cabinets and collected ornaments, naturally, topics of conversation will veer towards old stories. With our moods elated, if we then brew a pot of old Puer or Dongding by Cast Iron Teapot, all the better! The only shame is that such tea rooms are mostly the reserve of small social circles; without an invite or a close friend in the know, there is no way to find such places.

2.If, within our living spaces we have no tea room for friends to gather, we must seek out the second category, which may be called open tea houses, commercial spaces where people come and go. Tea houses of this type are innumerable in Taipei, and for the most part are bright, clean spaces. The furnishings of such spaces are meticulously designed, with window displays facing into the street. Since the demise of traditional Taiwanese tea houses at the end of the 1990s, tea lovers have flocked to this variety of open tea house. This type of tea house may be found nestled among antique shops in small alleys; representing "New Teaism," these small shops effuse quality and the fundamentals of tea that tea lovers cherish. These boutique establishments follow a different management strategy; no matter if the winds are howling and the rain is pouring down, the host is always waitings preparing the tea room for the arrival of visitors. Furthermore, some of these businesses offer simple meals and musical entertainment, while others specialise in selling teaware and ceramics as well as providing tea classes to students who often dress in charming antique style clothes. Such establishments include the few remaining traditional tea houses, they can light up our imaginations and help us to realise the idealism of contemporary tea houses. Although such tea rooms have special charm, they are still business premises. In tea houses where payment is required, as with other spaces of business, interruptions may arrive unannounced; these are not spaces where one may eternally linger. The fiscal and temporal constraints of these tea houses do not furnish us with the steadiness that we may desire.

3.People delight in talking about the third category, fictitious spaces. Cultured tea gatherings are currently fashionable in Taiwan. The biggest difficulty in hosting such gatherings is finding an appropriate location. Fittingly, a so called "Magic hand" is required in the construction of spaces for tea. This "Magic hand" is the ability to decorate an everyday room with flowers, cloth, paper, lights and potted plants, transforming the room so that it appeals to tea lovers' sentiments. Jian Xun refers to this ephemeral existence as "Mayfly construction" in one of his books, a brief and brilliant aesthetic construct.

I cannot help but ask, why abandon reality for a construct? Why must we abandon reality, seeking comfort in an artificial place? Can this be a good thing? Is it that we aren't satisfied with the spaces we truly inhabit, or that we cling to the trappings of a fictitious space? In these spaces, we indulge ourselves in decorating the space with elements we believe to be most suited to the occasion, creating a consummate reality. Alas, in real life, many great tea masters opt for extreme minimalism in their construction of spaces for tea, and this is a shame.

4.In light of the three aforementioned styles of tea room, there are those who are not sated by such spaces: our experiences shape our opinions and goals, and some individuals have already turned their hands to installation art for their tea displays.

The National Palace Museum Cultural Creativity Series - Tea Ceremony Exhibit in 2008 showed us that the art of tea installations had already found a model.

This so called installation art used the interplay between sound, light, shadow and other materials to display the intensity of the concept. Although this concept was a temporary creation within a designated space, its experimental and convenient nature helped the project to quickly find its feet, furthering the potential for diversity while serving as an inspiration for further developments within the tearoom.

Tea has long since been something that Taiwanese people have learned about through their own experiences, hence everyone develops their own opinions; it is fruitless to presume that our ways of presenting tea have already reached a point of maturity. The day is still young new paths will present themselves.