Spend Chuseok with family, tea

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Spend Chuseok with family, tea


The world may be troubled, but the seasons come and go. The air is breezy in the morning and evening, and a warm cup of tea is desired. This time of the year reminds me of the late Yang Ham-ki, who taught me the joy of tea. He was a student at Joongang High School in the 1930s, when schools were closed in protest against imperial Japan. Hyun Sang-yun, the principal of the school at the time who was one of the 48 leaders of the March 1 Independence Movement and later became the founding president of Korea University after the liberation, encouraged him to continue studying, saying, “The country will have a future when elite students are educated.” Yang studied in Japan and became a doctor. He told me a tale from his childhood.

“My grandfather lived in Hamyang, South Gyeongsang, and every spring, he set out with two cows and his servant. I accompanied him. He would first stop at the tea fields in Hadong and purchase tea after checking the process of harvesting and roasting the leaves. Then he would give one of the cows as the price for the tea. Then he would cross the Seomjin River and visit Mr. Heo, an artist who painted Mount Mudeung. He would share the tea, compose poems and write calligraphy for about a month. He would bring back a few paintings, and present Mr. Heo with several boxes of tea and the remaining cow. Then the three of us would walk back home. I can still visualize the servant carrying the paintings and climbing Mount Jiri.”

Fortunately, I got to have three memories related to tea this year. In June, I had a temple stay at Buseok Temple in Seosan, South Chungcheong. The head monk Ju-gyeong offered me a calming green tea. He said, “The first cup is enjoyed for its aroma, the second for the taste, and the third is enjoyed with the heart.” The taste of the tea at the temple became a comforting memory, along with the long twilight in Seosan.

On a rainy day in August, I encountered the silky fermented tea at the Dasan Chodang in Gangjin, South Jeolla. Thanks to the tea offered by the resident instructors who teach tea ceremony, calligraphy, traditional manners and Silhak tradition, I could recover my energy. The trips to Seosan and Gangjin were not planned properly, but I am grateful that I took the journeys, thanks in part to the pleasant memories of the tea.

Recently, a friend offered a chance to enjoy traditional tea made by the venerable Myodeok, a master monk of “the nine rounds of roasting” method. The tea not only stimulated my appetite but also made me happier. I was amazed by the tea, and thought tea may be the tradition, culture and identity of Korea.

Yesterday, I went shopping for holiday gifts for relatives. I was looking for a nice tea set, but the selection was limited. The sales clerk said that coffee’s popularity has overwhelmed the demand for tea. Perhaps, it’s not just the tea but the traditional culture and mental relaxation that are being pushed over. This Chuseok holiday, I want to present my friends and family with traditional tea to enjoy over sweet conversation.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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