Deaf and not disabled: The voice behind Singapore's first silent tea bar
Silence is golden
We live in a noisy, disruptive world — one that's filled with endless chatter, idle gossip, and more recently than ever, social media backlashing. Often, we find ourselves seeking a five-minute timeout from the madness of the world by taking a walk or replying, "I don't feel like talking about it right now." Indeed, sometimes it's best to say nothing at all.
Here to offer a respite from the daily shambles is Hush TeaBar, Singapore's first silent tea bar. Instead of being a business entity that merely sells tea, they're in fact a social movement that bridges the gap between people that can hear and the deaf. Guided by the deaf, who are also known as tea-ristas, the entire experience comprises of four zones, that takes participants through a sensorial and therapeutic journey.
ZONE ONE: You'll first learn basic sign languages from the tea-ristas and get to pick out their teas labelled by moods like "freshly tranquil". Throughout the entire process, you'll get to smell and touch the tea leaves as well.
ZONE TWO: Here's where you're asked to surrender your tech devices, or rather vices in this case. You'll then get to pick a card written by a previous Husher, usually containing an inspirational message.
ZONE THREE: A tea ritual commences, conducted by the tea-ristas. For example: One of the tea rituals follows the theme of Gratitude, where you'll be asked to think about a person you're grateful for and why. It's then followed by sipping on a cup of tea and taking three deep breaths.
ZONE FOUR: It's time to express what you've experienced with your hands – here's where you'll create a piece of art using tea ink and a blank canvas. You'll also be asked to write a handwritten message for the next Husher that comes by.
Behind this heartening philosophy is founder Anthea Ong, whom we had a chance to speak to about this phenomenal movement.
How did Hush happen for you?
I had a colossal collapse in my life about 12 years ago where I was going through a broken marriage and a failed business all at the same time. Coming from an affluent and corporate background to being reduced to only $16 in the bank, the sudden turn of events was incredibly sufferable, but at the same time, that's when everything went silent and still for me. For some reason, the silence healed and transformed me and it was really the medication I needed. At the same time I was already an active volunteer at a few organisations so it didn't take long before I decided on what I wanted to focus on.
Why tea? And not anything else?
I grew up with tea, mostly under the influence of my grandfather. It is something very intuitive and accessible, nothing too esoteric. When you talk about silence, people think, "Oh, am I gonna sit in one corner cross-legged, with the cushion?' That's too abstract and you could actually put them off. Whereas tea naturally conjures the whole process about just slowing down and being soothed.
What do you think are the misconceptions people have about the deaf community?
Many people think they're mute but they're not. There's nothing wrong with their vocal cords. The reason why they don't speak is because they cannot hear. They also don't like to be called hearing- impaired, as what most of the public would deem politically correct. They want to be called deaf, or even call themselves deafies. In their world, they function just well without hearing, nothing is impaired.
What's next for Hush?
We would love to have a permanent space for everyone to visit on a regular basis, one that can be fully helmed by the deaf community. Right now, we're only a roving tea movement engaged by workplaces for employee wellness and community empowerment. We also have public sessions every two months. Another part of our movement is to tap on mental wellness as well, so that's what I would like to see shine through in the future.
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