Apr. 5th, 2010

tempested_bird: (Tea)
My grandmother and I began to speak of intensely personal things over breakfast this morning. After we finished eating, I walked into the kitchen.

"Can you pour me some water?"
"Actually, grandma, I was about to put on the tea kettle."
"Ah, yes."

The Tea Ritual is an intensely important aspect of my life and has been for as long as I can remember. I've spent a good portion of my life experimenting with how to properly brew different kinds of teas, learning where certain teas come from, how differing teas interact with one another and with water temperatures. Most importantly I have spent a lifetime sharing tea with people who are important to me.

To that end, the most vital result of the Tea Ritual is the interaction and connection that results in the sharing of it. Of course, I do adore the taste of tea itself, so appreciation of tea does play a big part in such an interaction. I have always felt that drinking tea is an art. There is an art to brewing and appreciating it that I enjoy engaging with; I like the reading and the research that goes into learning about how tea is cultivated and prepared. I like meeting with Tea Masters and learning from them brewing techniques or talking to my fellow tea enthusiasts and trading ideas and techniques with them. I feel like one can learn a lot from a person by what kinds of tea they like.

I have my personal Tea Ritual for myself, and brewing tea is a meditation in its own right. The act of wholly devoting my attention and myself to the process of making a pot or gaiwan of tea is something that helps to ground all of my nervous energy. Even the more traditional methods and forms of tea brewing are symbolic for a person washing away all of their mental static and taking the time to enjoy and engage with the pure sensation of drinking. It is actually one of my methods of focus and grounding to help manage my OCD.

While my personal Tea Ritual is about silence and contemplation, the Tea Ritual that happens with another person present is something else. With someone else present, it is about acknowledging connection and being present together. This began with my grandmother. After my father died, my grandmother came to the US to help my mother raise me. Even before that, she was the one who took care of me whenever we were in Korea. Since I was young, if something bothered me intensely she brewed some tea, sat me down across the low lacquer table (which I still have), and we talked. We would talk about what is on our minds, she would tell me stories about our family, about what it was like for her growing up during the Japanese occupation of Korea, our futures, she would teach me about traditional medicine. She taught me how to properly brew the East Asian teas while I taught her the art of western tea. At that table, everything that needs to be said can be said and, more importantly, it will be heard.

In many parts of Asia, it was (and in many cases still is) considered extremely rude to invite someone into your home and NOT offer them tea. Tea was often served first at the beginning of business meetings, which allowed two people to get to know one another, give them a moment to assess the mental state of the other, to take the time to consider their answers before speaking or conducting the actual business at hand.

This is something I have taken with me throughout my whole life. When I invite people over to my home, I offer them tea. Whenever my close friends are distressed, we sit down and have Tea. And we talk. I feel more connected to the folks who engage in this with me, and it makes me feel like I'm passing along something significant from my family and culture. At the end of long trips that I take with friends, I take them out to Tea. It's a good place to shove off all the weariness that can come from travel. It's a good place to reminisce about the good and the bad stuff. It's a good way for me to remind people that I love them. After major projects or events, I often do the same. I need it, and I can tell that sometimes other people need that space, too. There have been many times throughout my life where I've run out of the house at 1 am or later because someone asked me, "do you want to get tea?"

My grandmother and I had Tea this morning, and it was good. It put us both back on the errands we wanted to run and the chores we wanted to do by two hours or so, but in the end, the time that is spent together is more important than a few chores. She's not going to be around forever, and this is something we haven't done in a long time. She needed it. I needed it. Besides, I completely forgot it was Easter, so all the electronics shops I needed to hit to get the parts I needed were closed, and the downpour limited the amount of yard work we could accomplish today anyway. It crossed my mind that she is 79 this year, which means we may not have that many years left of doing this together. A big part of me just isn't ready to accept this yet. Her company is something I treasure immensely, and taking care of her is 80% of the reason why I still live at home. She knows it is selfish of her to want me to stay while she is still alive, but at the same time, for her I would endure a lot worse. And in a lot of ways, she is really my strongest connection to home. With my family gone off the deep end the way they have this past decade, most of us are pretty estranged from one another. It has forced me to really redefine my relationship with Korea on my own terms this past decade.

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An Approximation of a Cosmic Daughter

October 2011

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