Philipp Neumann (Germany)
On November 14th a traditional tea ceremony organized by the Xicheng Tourism Bureau took place at a sìhéyuàn in the Dashiqiao Hutung in Beijing.
Fortunately I also had the possibility to participate in this activity with Jesse (foreign expert) and Selina (editor) of ebeijing. I had never participated a tea ceremony before, therefore I was really looking forward to this activity being excited about the upcoming events.
After lunch and armed with my camera and tripod the activity could start. Then, at around 2 o´clock we arrived at the sìhéyuàn where we met the owner of the sìhéyuàn called Wu Han, one of Xicheng Tourism Bureau staffs called Song Gengxin and other participants.
I am always talking about a sìhéyuàn but what exactly is a sìhéyuàn actually? Sìhéyuàn literally means a courtyard which is surrounded by four buildings and is a historical type of resistance in China, most famously in Beijing. The four buildings of a sìhéyuàn are normally positioned along the north-south and east-west axes. In ancient times, a spacious sìhéyuàn would be occupied by a single, usually large and extended family, signifying wealth and prosperity. Today, however, most remaining sìhéyuàn are used as mass housing complexes, and suffer from a lack of modern amenities. According to the Beijing Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage, there are over 3,000 "well-preserved" courtyards remaining in Beijing, and over 539 are in Cultural and Historical Conservation Areas. There are also estimated 7,000 to 9,000 residential courtyards left for sale in Beijing, and they are generally priced at 7,000 to 10,000 yuan or higher per square meter.
A traditionel tea ceremony at a sìhéyuàn
After all we started with the tea ceremony first. Everything was already prepared so we took a seat at the courtyard and began to drink tea.
A view at the courtyard of a sìhéyuàn which is normally surrounded by 4 buildings
Wu Han explained the different meanings and symbols of the tea set and showed us how to use them.
The 4 tea set pics
It was very interesting as in Germany we don´t have a distinctive tea culture and I know nothing about tea. I realized that drinking tea is both a good way to take a rest and to communicate. It creates a relaxed and peaceful atmosphere where you can talk with each other. At the same evening I had a two hour dinner with a good Chinese friend and we drunk about 3 cans of tea having a lot of interesting talks and discussions, so tea is definitely a communication medium :-). We really should drink more tea in Europe.
Later I found out that the tea we had drunk is called Da Hong Pao, a very rare Chinese tea which is originally made from the tea plants which grown in a cliff in wuyi mountain.
The tightly greenish brown twisted leaves of Da HangPao tea
Even after nine infusions, the floral fragrance still remain and last in your mouth for a long time. Due to this high quality and rarity, the real and original Da Hong Pao often reaches tens of thousands to millions of dollars per kilogram. But did we really drink the real Da Hong Pao tea ;-)?
As we finished the tea part the owner Wu Han showed us the whole sìhéyuàn and explained everything to us. Wow, I was really impressed how beautiful each room was! I really liked the big circular tables where you can eat all together and I thought: “I also wanna have one of these tables in my apartment :-)”.
A big table inside one of the buildings, Another room inside which is mainly used to have dinner
I noticed that every furniture and part of the sìhéyuàn possesses his own story, meaning and undertake the task of doing something in regard to the sìhéyuàn.
An old table from the qing dynasty, one of the magnificent cutlers on the table, another view of one of the colorful decorations on a table, an old stone looking like a map
All together it creates a place which offers space, comfort, quiet and privacy leading to a cordial atmosphere. Therefore I am sure that it would be a nice place to live. Unfortunately living in a sìhéyuàn would blow my budget :-).
Finally we were able to write some Chinese calligraphy. I had never done this before and even though Song Gengxin showed us the basic rules of writing Chinese calligraphy, for example the correct way of holding the brush, it was pretty difficult. I definitely need more practice ;-). In contrast in my opinion Jesse was pretty good actually.
However it was really fun and calligraphy is beautiful. Every character is getting an own art work.
A professional calligraphy writer, Chinese calligraphy
Therefore I hope that I am able to do it again to improve my calligraphy skills.
Afterward the activity was already over, the time passed so fast. The day was really exciting and interesting. I gained some totally new impressions and experience about Chinese culture and way of living. Moreover I really became addicted to Chinese tea :) and even though it was frenzied cold I returned totally happy to my apartment.