Pick Me for Tea: The British Museum

We all have our lists of our must-sees when we go to a new city or destination. One of Jeff’s was The British Museum. Aside from the Rosetta Stone and the Greek Parthenon remnants, I was not familiar with what was all being held in the building.

2014-01-19 12.50.53First off, we were blown away by the sheer size of the space. Everywhere we go in this country, the space and the buildings are huge, which makes sense because England sure has a lot of history to have on display. When you walk in, you’re greeted with white walls and a lot of people. There is a large staircase in front of you cascading upwards to the third floor. But before you can go upstairs, you walk through the ancient history, specifically Egypt, Greece, Rome, some Asia and the Middle East. 

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Off to the left, the first thing you see is the Rosetta Stone. Once the large crowd of picture-taking  tourists parts, you can finally get a close up look at this ancient language tablet. It feels surreal and not even real when you look at it because it is difficult to wrap your head around history being so old. I know Jeff and I have talked about this a lot, since America doesn’t have the level of the past as the rest of the world, it’s humbling to see something that is hundreds upon hundreds of years old–and preserved for that matter.

By the way, the Americas are in the back of the building, and not surprisingly, there isn’t a lot there to have on display.

But the things we were able to see that had survived the tests of time and continue to stand to this day inside of a museum not withstanding pillars from Ancient Egypt and sections from the Parthenon.

2014-01-19 12.21.01This was interesting: The British Museum actually houses more sections of the Parthenon than Athens. But I did get a little disenchanted when we read description after description saying the word, “replica.” It made me think: how many of these things are replicas versus witnesses to the Grecian terrain? It takes the magic out of it for me and almost cheapens the entire experience.

When I look at things discovered from excavations, I like to try and picture someone using the pot or painting the vase hundreds (or thousands) of years ago and then imagine what that item has gone through to get to where it is today. If I knew it was just created out of a mold and slapped up on a wall, how does it become history? Anyone with a 3D printer could do the same thing.

Trying to not take myself out of the experience, I put faith in the fact that most of the displays were authentic. We made our way around the about 80% of the museum. It was so huge, and we both felt as though we mentally could not take anything else in. We even found ourselves rushing through just to be done and come back another day to restart the intake of information.2014-04-11 13.57.40

Well, I did make my way back last week for The Way of Tea demonstration in the Japan wing.

As I made my way in that direction, I realized we hadn’t gotten close to the Japanese area during our first trek. In the front of the exhibition, there was a small replica of a bamboo tea house with about thirty people crowded around it. I was surprised to see so many people there at 2p on a Friday for this demo, but then I realized it was UK spring break.

The other thing staring me in the face was “no pictures or filming.” How was I to document this show for this blog?

A Japanese man came out of the back room with his assistant and began the demonstration. He asked for volunteers to the ceremony with his assistant. What a perfect chance to experience this and be able to write about it. My hand shot up before my thought fully formed itself.

I removed my shoes and followed his assistant through the tiny door opening to the house. How he described the use of the tiny door was interesting. The house was designed to be very plain and without decoration on the exterior. In Japan, the house is very rarely surrounded by flowers, but instead rocks. The tiny opening, signifying the birth canal, opens into a new space where you are to find peace and serenity, sometimes decorated with a single flower.

2014-04-11 14.27.37I sat on my knees and copied every movement of the assistant. When another gentleman came from behind a bamboo door, we bowed down in an almost child’s pose in yoga. The man continued the ritual of preparing the tea. Before him were two large bowls. One contained cold water while the other was a kettle of boiling water. He brought with him a small bowl full of green matcha tea, a brush, a ladle, and a drinking bowl.

He wiped each dish ceremoniously not to clean then (they were already cleaned) but to purify them. Then, he poured some of the tea in the decorated bowl and poured some of the hot water over it. With the bamboo brush, he stirred vigorously to mix it well.

The assistant went first to show the American how it was done. The man put the bowl to his side with the pretty side facing her. She scooted toward him on her knees and picked up the bowl. There is no way to stand, and of course, that would be rude. So, like a three point turn, she scooted back, placed the bowl down, scooted back, and finally returned to her spot. She rotated the bowl around since the decorative part needs to always face out, and drank the tea.

She returned the bowl and bowed to the man and then nodded for me to follow suit. The man made a fresh bowl of the tea for me. As I watched, the woman handed me a tea cracker or biscuit. I had half a mind to ask if it was gluten-free, but I figured that may be rude. I ate the smooth, slightly vanilla-flavored cardboard and when the man bowed toward me and placed the bowl in front of me, I played the scooting game and retrieved the tea.2014-04-11 14.27.51

It was quite interesting. Matcha green tea is not my favorite. It was very bitter and tasted very green. But, I finished the tea and returned the bowl wiping my lips with a piece of decorated parchment paper. I bowed to the man as he cleaned the utensils. He poured some of the cold water into the kettle and mixed it together signifying the replacing of the water consumed. Then he left and the assistant showed me how to get back out of the tiny space not without hitting my head on the tiny opening. I’m certainly not as graceful as my teacher. And that was the ceremony.

It was quite fun for me to get up and volunteer out of the blue with no hesitation and have this experience. I’m definitely going to continue to volunteer and put myself out there. The people around here don’t know me, so if I had spilled the tea or choked on the saw dust cracker, I would never see them again, and I could be a part of the story they would tell their relatives.

Thankfully, neither of those things happened, and I have something to relay to my readers.

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