SINGAPORE - Collecting might just make you potty. Just look at Alvin Tan Teck Heng who started with collecting teas, and eventually got so steeped in its culture and history, that he is now fully dedicated to making tea bowls, besides other ceramic ware.
Collecting teas was the start of his journey, says the ceramic artist who now exhibits all around the region and the world. He started collecting teas in the early '80s, and as one type of tea led to another, he discovered tea bowls, or cups as we call them today.
"The turning point for the tea culture probably happened between the Sung and Ming dynasties," he explains.
The fact that the culture around tea evolved probably isn't foremost in the mind of the lay tea drinker, whose knowledge of tea cups could be only the differences between porcelain and clay pots and cups.
Inspired by his travels
"There were changes to the concept and culture of tea in every dynasty," shares Tan. The culture around tea was so rich that every dynasty would criticise or comment on the practices of the earlier dynasty. It's believed that the Chinese drank tea before the Han Dynasty of 206 BC.
"The period of most interest to me was the Sung, 906-1270 AD, which was considered the third Chinese golden age. I got intrigued by the shape of the Sung Dynasty tea bowls - their lines and colours were so simple - and they enjoyed a high status with emperors."
His tea collecting started by way of his travels into all parts of China, when he was working with a trading company. His job also led him to the Pacific and South America where he came into close contact with tribal people.
"I was intrigued with their respect for nature, and also creativity in their designs and art and how they interpreted nature and its energy," he recalls.