Wednesday, 27 April 2016

An old calligraphy scroll

Many years ago, an old uncle who is my father’s friend seeks my help for legal matters and I happily obliged.  After I’ve assisted him, the uncle told me that he heard from my father that I am a big fan of Chinese calligraphy and paintings. He then took out a scroll and gave it to me.

When I opened it, uncle explained that this scroll was written by a calligrapher by the name of Wong Wing Sum (Cantonese Pronunciation). Who is he? I’ve not heard of this name but I was instantly mesmerized by the beautiful calligraphy in four different fonts. Uncle then went on to tell me that Wong Wing Sum 汪永深 was a famous calligrapher who crisscrossed Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaya in the 50s and 60s, writing for the rich and famous.

Who is the man behind this 55 year old calligraphy? 
Then, I saw已卯秋月 and 星洲on the scroll which carries the meaning that calligraphy was written in the autumn of 1961 in Singapore.  I told uncle that it is too precious and I cannot accept it. He insists that I must have it. Finally, he told me to help him to be the next keeper of this scroll and I agreed. Since then, I hang this precious this 4 and ½ ft over 1 and ½ feet calligraphy near the entrance to my bedroom in Kuala Lumpur.

Fast forward to 2013, when my friend Frances Tay visited Kuala Lumpur, over lunch and tea, we talked about Chinese calligraphy and the name Wong Wing Sum was brought up. Then, when Frances was in town last week, we talked about Wong Wing Sum again. It ignited my curiosity about this calligrapher but not much is known about him by present day collectors and calligraphers and Google don’t yield any result. Again, who is he? Who is the man behind this beautiful calligraphy that has been hanging near my room for years? 

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Chinese tea setting - the journey 茶席之行

Since being introduced to Chinese tea setting by the masters from Chanoyu Tea Art in Kuala Lumpur, my friend Queenie and I have taken a great interest in studying the every details of it. We ask plenty of questions that came across our mind. We probe every possibility of making the Chinese tea setting artistic yet pleasant and full of fun. And of course, we took a lot of photographs to gauge our learning process. Amidst these, we then realized that learning Chinese tea setting is not as simple as putting  the purple clay teapot here, the cups there and some utensils in between. It is actually a journey……

Queenie and I have just taken the first few steps into this journey, and we welcome you to join us alongside the tea masters from Chanoyu to discover the true art of Chinese tea setting, its history and wisdom.

For fun, Queenie and I did some Chinese tea setting at home. After trial and errors, we are pleased to present our humble work of art as well as the master's work for comparison. 

The tea master's work - simple and elegant Chinese tea setting. 
Now, take a look at our creation, please don't laugh, we are still learning....

Making use of what I have at home. 
I used a calligraphy practice sheet in lieu of table cloth or mat.
Queenie's Chinese tea setting art: 

Making good use of her beautiful old porcelains.
Another of Queenie's more simplified Chinese tea setting

Friday, 15 April 2016

Chinese tea setting 茶席

Recently, gastric, the surge of workload and planning for overseas assignments have taken too much of my free time that little is left for me to indulge in tea, books and blogging. Sometimes ago, I’ve promised my friends from Chanoyu Tea Art to blog about a new concept in tea setting; how the Zen and minimalist concept are incorporated into the new art of Chinese tea brewing, hence I am glad that today, I am able to deliver this long overdue blog.

Chinese tea setting for six - a plate, pot, poker, cups, a little green and tea mat.
When I was introduced to Chinese tea art (茶艺) more than ten years ago, I was told that I must first own two medium size purple clay teapots from Yixing with a few porcelain cups. Then, I must have a tea tray and a tea utensil set with a unique name of “six gentleman (六君子)” which that consists of:

1. a spoon/scoop to place the tea leaves in the brewing pot.
2. a funnel to facilitate pouring tea from the brewing pot into the sharing pot/teapot without spilling.
3. tweezers/tongs to lift the drinking cups and savour the tea's fragrance when they are too hot to handle.
4. a scraper to remove used tea from the brewing pot after use.
5. a poker to remove leaves that might have gotten caught in the spout of the brewing or teapot.
6. a needle to clean out the brewing pot. 

The next to have is an electric kettle or traditional alcohol purple clay stove. Then, add in the tea caddy, teapot brush, tea strainer and fair cup. For good measure, a tea pet made of purple clay in the form of auspicious figurines must be added to adorn the tea tray. With all these items, the Chinese tea art set is complete.

A tea setting for four, arrangement done in accordance with one's whim and fancy.
However, for the past year or so, a new type of Chinese tea art known as 茶席 or loosely translated as “Chinese tea setting” started to gain popularity and in come the minimalist tea setting that made do without the tea tray. The tools that are needed for tea ceremony are no longer being displayed in full within the confine of the tea tray. It can now be placed according to one’s whim and fancy of the day, as seen in accompanying pictures. And for replacement, a little green took over the role of tea pet's  in adorning the tea table. 

Calligraphy, arts and tea - always the perfect match. 
Besides that, one can include some beautiful fabric, tea mat or even a piece of rice paper inscribed with beautiful calligraphy or some casual painting to function as a table cloth. Since time immemorial, the combination tea, calligraphy, painting and poetry are inseparable.

In conclusion, the very essence of the original tea drinking art and its association with the literati class dating back to Lu Yu who wrote the Tea Classics (茶经) are brought back and reintroduced through this new arrangement. 

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Home doctor, silk cotton tree leaves and gastric

Since returning from Perth, I’ve been working from home after two bouts of terrible gastric attack that happened out of nowhere. The attack made me confined to the bed most of the time. It even made reading a little impossible.

Silk cotton tree leave from mom's backyard
Seeing that my condition doesn’t improve after popping pills prescribed by the doctor, mom started to be the “home doctor”. More often than not, she will mention that this or that plant have curing effect on a host of illness or prevent cancer or heart attack and blah blah blah and the sceptical me will listen with without even bother to register anything in mind. Sometimes, I will retort that all those are scientifically unproven. To cure gastric, the home doctor prescribed that I should drink the water from the boiled silk cotton tree leaves.

When asked how effective the silk cotton tree leaves are in curing gastric, mom gave a list of friends and relatives that was apparently cured not by doctor but by drinking this water for a few days. No harm trying, I told myself. I then asked where the silk cotton tree leaves can be obtained. “The garden next door,” she replied, referring to the little planting spot next to our house where the maid and she plant a host of unknown trees and herbs.

Silk cotton tree drink - pleasant drink

Miraculously, within a couple of hours after drinking the boiled silk cotton tree leaves, the pain started to subside. I was told to treat it as drinking water and I duly follow.  The drink is not bitter and it doesn’t come with a strange smell like the traditional Chinese herbs. After drinking it continuously for 5 days, I am glad to announce that I am fully cured. 

When I share this with a friend, he said that I should blog about this silk cotton tree leaves that can cure gastric for the public’s benefit. Interestingly, when I Google “silk cotton tree leave”, I came across articles that glorified it not just for curing gastro related illness but for treating erectile dysfunction as well. On another website, it is listed as being used for contraception! Aha…the herbal Viagra and herbal contraceptive pill!! I am yet to find out.....volunteers, anyone?