teachings of taiwan tea masters #1

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Taiwan's revival of tea culture spans only about 30 years, since the early 1980's. Yet in that short time, several tea people have emerged as gatekeepers of the leaf on the emerald isle.

One such person is Shui Yun Li, a native of Singapore and teacher of tea culture in the capital city of Taipei who founded the organization "Chrysanthemum Teaism".  Her lovely venue for tea education feels as much Japanese as Chinese or Taiwanese, with rough "wabi" style furniture punctuating the dominant Ming and Qing Dynasty cabinets and tables that are carefully placed for both use and consideration in tea gatherings.

What is unique in Ms. Li's offerings are the public tea ceremonies that she coordinates with sponsorship and grant money from various tea merchants and other donors. Her students, many of whom are interior designers, architects, and film makers, are given instruction by Ms. Li about how people around the world create spaces for tea gatherings.  From this base of knowledge, Li's students create unique tea spaces that are used for public, outdoor tea gatherings, where tea is served and celebrated with dancers and other performers adding to the mystery and beauty of the gatherings.

Literature and art are invited guests as well. The concept of Indoor and outdoor space becomes blurred as they merge and bend to each other as gracefully as the dancers.

A slide show of events Ms. Li screened for me at her tea space brought back memories of how I felt when I first went to Spain and viewed Gaudi's architectural triumphs--buildings and landscape design so unusual as to inspire even the least creative person to expand all references to "reality" and "possibility" in art and in life.

The "tea room" designs created by the students under the direction of Ms. Li are sometimes very contemporary and at the same time in rhythm with centuries of traditional tea cultures found in Asia. Ming Dynasty tea bowls sit on brightly colored modern textiles laid on the ground as a tea "tableau" rather than a traditional tea table. Dramatic overhead lighting is screened through trees brought in to throw shadows on the scene and highlight the drama of the tea ware.  Dancers spin through the empty space like human mobiles or constellations in a dark and open sky.

I have yet to see anything similar to this being done in the United States, but we are ripe for this, I believe. Where are the tea loving dancers, writers, film makers, architects and interior designers with boldness and creativity? Come out, come out wherever you are!

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