Sunday, July 3, 2011

A Tea Ceremony

The tea ceremony can be greatly ritualized, depending on who and how you are entertaining. The highly ritualized ceremonies were those of gisaeng, Korea's geisha. Even today there are highly ritualized ceremonies but they must be conducted within the aura of the traditional and not in a hotel cafe or brisk place of business. The ceremony is to be conducted with soft soothing music and to be contemplated upon. Having a tea ceremony within the precincts of the traditional palaces with their heavy red pine timbers and polished wooden floors and clockless mulberry papered walls are perfect for the aura necessary for quiet contemplation and the giving of regard and esteem to the person being served.

On holidays, weekends, and for cultural teaching of the Korean young, foreigners, and particularly the foreign wives of Korean men, conducting tea ceremonies has become a popular cultural event. Wandering around in Kyungbokkung Palace between rain-drenching clouds, I happened across such a ceremony; this one aimed primarily at foreigners who wandered far back in the royal precincts and also for the Korean youth. Some couples were in attendance enjoying their couple-time together and probably the 이차 or second dating event of the day (coming to Kyungbokkung was their first as it wss still well before noon when I wandered around), and with more dating events to take place as the day progressed - such is the strange modern and rather materialistic dating culture of the present-day youth.

On a table in front of a palace pavilion with awning stretched above were rows and and rows of tea service trays with white ceramic pots and matching handle-less cups that can easily be nestled in the cupped palm. The services were ready for a multitude of guests to take their tray and sit on designated bamboo mats within the pavillion.

A lady dressed in hanbok conducted the ceremony by explaining the ettiquette in detail ... "at this time pour the tea but smoothly and do not spill a drop", "fill your counterpart's cup before yours", "cradle the cup with your right hand flattened beneath and slowly look into it, enhale its essence and then take a small sip", "do not swallow hastily but enjoy the rich flavor" ... Parents guided children and gave additional instruction. I was too late to participate but watched with some interest a father guiding his 10-year-old daughter in proper tea ceremony conduct and was amused that now the fathers are participating in raising their children as women can hold jobs, and the majority do, after marriage. Of secondary interest were 3 types complimentary rice cakes which I would loved to have nibbled on as I wandered further in the recesses of the palace.

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