Back to Nature (Published on - June 8, 2006)
The art of making tea applies when hurricanes are brewing
Photo by Rick Tremmel
We never know what life will bring, so prepare to live in the present. But be prepared for the unexpected, as experienced in Punta Gorda during Hurricane Charley.
Along my travels in life I was fortunate to reside, for 11 years, in a neighborhood affectionately referred to as China Town. Here is where I learned to play penny poker with my Laotian neighbor. Neither of us could understand more than a few words of each other’s language, but several nights a week we gathered our pennies and cards. We laughed, shared tea and special recipes and over time grew to care very much for one another.

Mani Chan was a gentle woman. I learned from her what humble meant and how to live in the present moment, a concept I need to remind myself of frequently. Our American culture teaches us to want the biggest and the best. As well, we have a hard time just saying a genuine, “Thank you.”

We feel we need to give something in return when something is given to us. Look at what we have done to Christmas. It is an honor to be gifted something. There is no need to reciprocate, but learn to accept graciously this kindness. It is often said, “Live for the moment.” This reflects our Western interpretation. All of us have the capability to understand what “Live for the Moment” means. Live for the moment to own a new car. Live for the moment to buy a new house, go out on the town and so on.

But think again about this belief slightly reworded, “Live in the present moment.” There is an enormous difference in these two concepts.

My friend Mani Chan taught me the art of making tea. While learning this ceremony I became to realize those concepts of giving, receiving, being thankful and living in the present moment.

Now Mani Chan was no fool. She prepared for life. She saved those pennies she joyfully won. Mani Chan knew that to live in the present moment it was necessary to make a plan and each day, each moment build toward this plan as it is with the art of making tea. You may think that microwaving a cup of water from the tap, then plopping a tea bag into the cup, wringing it out with a spoon a few times prepares a sufficient cup of tea for your tastes. But you have not mastered or been a part of enjoying the process.

From choosing the perfect tea leaves, to preparing the teapot, boiling the water, warming the pot, allowing the tea to steep just the right amount of time, so as not to be too bitter or too weak. Then to graciously serve this tea and sit in long silence sipping this artful brew, tasting, smelling, feeling the warmth of the cup against your hands, hear the silence, be aware of the presence of your friend, be aware of your own thoughts, taking a moment to be.

“Gong Fu Tea.” The earliest rituals involving tea came to Japan as a part of Buddhist meditation in the sixth century. The term denotes skill from practice – the idea being that expertise is derived not so much from learning as from experience, that is: practice (which we could say in this case does not “make perfect” but which is instead an end in itself).

According to Chinese mythology, in 2737 B.C. the Chinese Emperor, Shen Nung, scholar and herbalist, was sitting beneath a tree while his servant boiled drinking water. A leaf from the tree dropped into the water and Shen Nung decided to try the brew. The tree was a wild tea tree. Tea master Wong Sun Chun has been studying the art of tea making and drinking for more than 30 years.

If Mani Chan had not thoughtfully purchased the right teapot, carefully chose the tea, allowed the water to sit overnight and breathe, or made her preparations in advance to serve this tea, I would have never experienced this gracious gift from her hands.

No matter what we succeed in doing in life, it requires careful preparation.

Speaking of preparation, the State of Florida Division of Emergency Management “State Emergency Response Team-SERT” launched an unprecedented, multimillion dollar public education campaign to promote hurricane preparedness on May 26, 2006.

According to their press release; “For the first time ever, Floridians can access the new online, Interactive Tool to create tailor-made Family and Business Preparedness Plans.”

Florida Association of Broadcasters president Pat Roberts states, “There is no longer a single excuse for Floridians to not have their own family or business emergency plan.”

By visiting the SERT Web site,, you can fill out a form to individualize your very own Hurricane Preparedness Plan.

Karen can be reached at

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