Happiness is a warm gaiwan

Happy new year! I hope you started it happy and healthy and with good things to look forward to in the year ahead. Happiness is a warm gun, according to the Beatles. I say happiness is a warm gaiwan, full of delicious Chinese tea and shared with friends.

I’ll have my tea with sparks, please

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A few days ago I returned from a wonderful but hectic month in the Netherlands. For the first time in two years I saw family, old and new (tea) friends and people from my professional cultural network. I had a great place to stay in Amsterdam, with friends and their super cute mini sausage dogs Loulou and Szasza.

The Netherlands was in lockdown but I still enjoyed my days – including a visit to the sea and a tour of Eindhoven’s grafiti art, curated by my longtime friend Wladimir M.

Before returning to Plovdiv I spent a day and a half exploring Sofia – my first visit to this beautiful city. On most days I was meeting with people and talking almost non-stop. The return to mostly solitary days in my quiet house in Plovdiv is a drastic but welcome change and I’m slowly finding my feet again. Not in the least because of yoga classes with my on-off but longtime teacher Shirley.

Plans

Looking at the year ahead, I plan to focus on my cultural programme in Yunnan and on developing something tea related in Bulgaria with a partner. Both plans are shaping up fast so more on that later. At the same time I’m working my online job which provides my base income. Here, I’m also getting more interesting work writing original blog posts. I’m looking forward to settling into my new home and exploring everything that Bulgaria has to offer. My boxes from China finally arrived and one of those contains my bicycle – I’m very excited about cycling in the mountains and spending nights outside in my tent.

I brought a lot of things back with me from Amsterdam. From my parents’ attic I got books, clothes and shoes, I bought a small stash of tea from Chinese tea heaven MoyChay… and I picked up a pretty nasty case of Covid-19 so work is on the back burner for a few days.

Happiness is a warm gaiwan

I’m still quite ill, 10 days after the onset of symptoms. A couple of days ago I lost my sense of smell and most of my sense of taste. Not a good thing for a follower of the way of tea. Also not a good thing because I am alone, isolating and recovering at home. My daily tea ceremony brought me joy and calm during these grey days spent indoors.

This morning however, I decided to pick up my practice of keeping daily notes of my tea ceremony again. I let it slide a bit during the busy days in Amsterdam and I missed it. It felt a bit crazy to take notes on tea I couldn’t smell or taste so I approached it somewhat cynically, but I needed to do something. I wanted to restore a healthy habit and regain a sense of control while sick at home.

As I performed a simple tea ceremony and wrote my tasting notes, I did notice I could smell and taste a tiny little bit. The fragrance of the tea was like the faintest echo of what I used to smell, but I was so happy to smell something! The taste wasn’t at all what it used to be. Some tea now tastes really metallic and flinty. Imagine drinking the extract of rusty nuts and bolts with some pebbles mixed in. Funnily enough I’m temporarily using a chemistry beaker for a gong dao bei 公道杯 or fairness cup. I broke my usual one on my last day in Amsterdam. It goes really well with the weird industrial notes I now taste in most of my tea.

I could still taste when I had overbrewed and the usually caramelly dianhong 滇红 became bitter. Then I discovered I could still enjoy the deep warm red colour of the brew. I can feel the effect of L-theanine and other tea leaf compounds on my body. I can focus more on the more ephemeral effect of cha qi 茶气 on my mind and soul. With the loss of two senses came the sharpening of other senses. And, a shift in focus.

This was the best discovery of all: despite the loss of two important senses I can still enjoy the tea ceremony. Framing a moment in time where I can sit still and reflect and find something of value. Happiness is warm gaiwan, indeed.

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