When I was a child pouring the tea was “playing mother”. What does it mean? Probably only that typically the woman of the house poured the tea… but does it also indicate servitude?
When I was in China, the Japanese teachers there demonstrated for us the Japanese tea ceremony. It was beautiful – gentle, quiet, graceful, and the sanguine softness of the lovely pale green beverage was deliciously soothing. But the two Japanese teachers (both women) showed such respect, almost subservience, to the people to whom they offered the tea. I wasn’t sure if I liked it or if I found it rather uncomfortable.
At the Cha Guan (Tea House) we often attended in the town in which I lived, it was also a ceremony of sorts. And as far as I remember, the people serving were again all women. I loved it there. The chairs were wicker with soft cushions. There was usually quiet, traditional sort of music playing. The server would bring the lovely wooden tray with its delicate assortment of ceramic cups, pots, etc to the table and sit on her low stool. If asked, she would tell us about the tea ceremony in the most elegant and musical putonghua (Mandarin) you can ever imagine. I thought of it as the song of tea. As she spoke she would pour the tea with slender wrists moving so beautifully – like a ballet among the cups. And then we would take our first ceremonial sip and the liquid would blossom from hot water into glorious floral aroma and taste on the tongue. And then, the ceremonial part was over, and the group of us would set to chatting in the cigarette smoke and air conditioning. We could stay there for hours, only our bladders interrupting the flow of conversation and tea.
Today I found myself wondering what sort of mother I hope my children see me as. Ensuring my children know I love them was at the top of my list and it was this image of tea-pouring that came to mind as a simple procedure, a simple ceremony indicating love and care.
I think, having written this out, that not everything needs to be reassessed and re-evaluated for the twenty first century. Some things are just simple human actions, for one’s self or for others. I love drinking tea so it certainly is no problem to pour it. And maybe “to play mother” simply means to show love and care and simple human kindness.