At a new "bar" in town, nobody talks and everyone sips tea instead of swigging alcohol.
The first "silent tea bar" here, Hush aims to start a social movement to get busy people to slow down and embrace silence.
The social enterprise has no physical premises for now. Its 10 deaf tea servers go to workplaces to guide executives through a tea-drinking session, in which they practise mindfulness and self-reflection - sans mobile phones and other such devices.
Ms Anthea Ong, 46, who founded Hush last year, with the help of her sister and four friends, said: "It's a noisy world we live in, whether it is actual noise or the inner noise that we carry within us.
Through moments of silence, we give ourselves the space and time to become more self-aware, and that transforms our relationships with others and ourselves."
Two months ago, Hush held its first session with more than 50 executives from DBS Bank in the cafeteria at Marina Bay Financial Centre. It will hold a session for the public at the National Library and another for patients and staff of Raffles Hospital next month.
In a session, participants select the type of tea to help put them in their desired mood. They are also coaxed into surrendering their electronic devices.
The servers then show participants how to do a tea ritual, using sign language or gestures.
Server Liu Yiwen, in her 30s, said: "In a silent environment, everyone is equal. We can give front-line service with our guests using their eyes to 'listen'."
Though participants are seated in groups, they are not allowed to talk to one another.
After performing the tea ritual, they reflect on their experiences by penning their thoughts on paper, composing a poem or dipping their fingers in tea to create artwork on rice paper.
After about an hour of uninterrupted quiet, they are encouraged to share their experiences with their colleagues or Hush staff.
Companies are charged $50 to $150 for each employee who attends the session. Profits are channelled back into Hush.
Ms Ong, who quit her consulting job last year to focus on being a social entrepreneur and life coach, said she started Hush because she has been changed by meditating every day at 5am.
"After 23 years of juggling (the) demands of the corporate world and battling difficult times such as my divorce, being in silence has helped me build stronger self-awareness and I have found peace within myself," she said.
Participants interviewed said they enjoyed the session.
Ms Mythili Mamidanna, 40, a vice-president at DBS, said: "It's been a long time since I spent time with myself, having to work and study for my master's degree and spend time with the family on the weekends.
I found it calming that we didn't need to put in effort to connect with anybody. The more silence I had, the more I talked to myself internally."
Physiotherapist Ruchira Gupta, 53, stayed 45 minutes longer than the rest. She said: "It was powerful because I could enter the zone fast and relax even in public."
Dr Donald Poon, medical director of Raffles Hospital, believes that such sessions will be useful for its cancer support group patients and staff.
"We often treat symptoms with drugs, but if patients can tap their psychological reserves, they will be more aware of how they can help themselves instead of being filled with fear about the future," he said.
The hospital is considering setting up a permanent "Hush corner" outside its operating theatres for family members of patients or in its staff lounge.
Hush hopes to have physical tea bars in offices and retail spaces eventually.
Ms Ong said: "I hope more people will continue this practice daily on their own at home as they no longer feel the same."
For more information on Hush, go to http://www.hushteabar.com/welcome.html
This article was first published on Dec 11, 2014.
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