Saturday, August 24, 2013

Tea and Game of Go Gifts: Giving and Receiving

Life is about what we give and receive, whether it is air, birth, cancer, a poem, or...a tea set. Yesterday, we had our first visitors in our new apartment, Deborah's paternal grandmother and a 16 year-old paternal first cousin who is learning English. On this occasion, Deborah's grandmother gave to her, for our mutual enjoyment, a tea set that had been presented to her late husband by his company. It is levely, made from a deep purple clay (zisha or 紫砂) and adorned with an insect larvae as the handle of the teapot. Each handle, on the teapot and six cups with saucers, is shaped like a twisting piece of bamboo.

The day prior we had purchased an iron teapot for my little sister at Maliandao, the tremendous Beijing tea market famous across China. We will make gifts of tea to several friends on our trip home.

I am now in the midst of a great book, The Ancient Art of Tea, written by a Chinese tea expert from the West. It is a trove of wonderful information and poetry related to Chinese tea culture. The author, one Warren Peltier, says, "Presenting a fine gift of tea to your friend or host is seen as showing your esteem toward that person."

We are also preparing other gifts. Tomorrow, we will go fetch paper and a scroll so that I might make a gift to my favorite professor of a Chinese poem, in my own hand, about the ancient game of weiqi, or the Game of Go. He is a rather advanced player. I also bought him these stamps (for $1.50 or 10 yuan!). Who says a gift needs to be expensive to be meaningful?

The blind poet Jorge Luis Borges, a couple days after my fourth birthday, penned a poem about the Game of Go. Spanish was his native tongue and so I present the untranslated version here as a gift for my Spanish-reading friends, especially Jessie Mejia.

El Go
Hoy, 9 de septiembre de 1978,
tuve en la palma de mi mano un pequeño disco
de los trescientos sesenta y uno que se requieren
para el juego astrológico del Go,
ese otro ajedrez de Oriente.
Es más antiguo que la más antigua escritura
y el tablero es un mapa del universo.
Sus variaciones negras y blancas
agotarán el tiempo;
en él pueden perderse los hombres
como en el amor o en el día.
Hoy, 9 de septiembre de 1978,
yo, que soy ignorante de tantas cosas,
sé que ignoro una más,
y agradezco a mis númenes
esta revelación de laberintos
que ya no exploraré...