Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Tea-Monkey

Accompanying Xin to arty-farty events is not necessarily on the top of the list of things I like to do. It is not that the people there are in any way unpleasant, they aren't, and can be quite pleasant. It is usually that I don't feel at home or at ease in their company and they do tend to be cliquey.

Last night though I found my perfect role at an art opening: serving tea. Xin had been working on a project for a gallery she co-directs where they would make one room into a tea-house. I helped getting her a little information (how to write tea-house in korean, directions for some of the teas etc.) but didn't really stretch my imagination as to what it would be like.

Anyway, I turned up at the gallery and stood around aimlessly for a while, my only success being spotting a typo in korean on a sign. The tea-house, which was situated in one of the rooms of the gallery, was a bit disorganised. They were still hammering it together while people were coming into the gallery. I thought this was part of the plan - y'know construction being observed, but apparently the process leading upto the event was a little shambolic and there were some ill-thought-through points. Xin decided to start boiling water, so I sat down behind the tea-trolley and helped her. I thought we could start serving the tea, so when people came into the room for a look, I asked them whether they'd like a cuppa, and described the five varieties of tea we had on offer. This went on for almost three hours, but I didn't mind. In the tea-room, strangers would come in, enjoy the tea and chat. If I weren't there, I'd be standing around struggling to pick off some strangers for superficial conversations so I was happy in my work. So time flew and we went through a lot of tea.

Four of the five teas were very well received: Lapsahn-Soochong was the surprise hit, with Rooibos with Kawakawa, Barley tea and White tea all having multiple brews. The most conventional of an eclectic selection Earl Grey Rose went through a single pot solely to the few people who, like me, have a love affair with the Greys. Several of the people were a little overly-keen to get a source of tea leaves of their own. Lap-sahn Soo-chong in particular was one that several people were keen to procure.

Emerging from behind the trolley, all the directors (and several patrons) expressed their deep thanks for my help. Only later did I hear from Xin that they hadn't planned to have anyone serving tea; there wasn't any consideration given to how the attendees were going to actually get the tea! Practical elements aside, the aesthetics were cool. The fridge and water-cooler were encased in a box. The tea room had a minimalist feel in construction and the paper bags of tea were cute. I felt at home there.

Naturally the role of tea-monkey was one I was born for and one day it would be my ideal role in retirement (if there are still tea-shops then). I did have one slip though - I brewed one pot of the white tea for too long. I smelt it when I opened the lid after serving it to several people... That was a consequence of chatting while having several teas brewing simultaneously. I followed that mistake with a perfectly timed brew of white tea. After I gave it to a few people they said it was 'clean and pure'. I had to try it myself and I was stunned.

So overall, not a bad night considering I wasn't keen on going!

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