Taiwan is a bustling, crowded, modern country with a hectic pace of life. With economic prosperity there has been a rush to build skyscrapers, shopping malls, and freeways.
Taiwan, however, has very little land mass. It has roughly the same area as Canada's Vancouver Island (and is also the same general shape). In this small area live 23 million people. Compare that to the population of Vancouver Island (750,000) and you get an idea of the population density of Taiwan.
To accommodate the economic growth of Taiwan, much of the old architecture has been destroyed. The elegant wooden houses of previous generations are too inefficient in terms of space to have a place in modern Taiwan. Most of them have been torn down and replaced by ugly multi-story cement structures.
There are still pockets of the former elegance of Taiwan, however. Art tea houses can be found in every major city of Taiwan and are a reminder of Taiwan's past as well as a refuge from Taiwan's present.
Art tea houses (as opposed to restaurants or bars that call themselves tea houses) are always constructed of wood. They are either older buildings that have been renovated or newly constructed structures that have been built in the old style.
Many of these tea houses are designed to cut off the outside world. There are no outside windows. They are constructed around a central court yard that usually has a large fish pond. Visitors are free to wander around the tea house and there are several areas where one can sit and chat or simply watch the fish.
Entering this kind of tea house is like taking a breath of fresh air. The noise and congestion of the street is left behind and the peaceful atmosphere helps your worries and stress disappear.
A tea house is place for relaxing. Many people will linger for hours with their friends, enjoying pot after pot of good oolong tea. The tea house supplies all the equipment for making the tea gong fu style, and the tea leaves can be supplied by the establishment or the customer can bring his own.
Tea houses are cultural establishments, and as such they are often used to promote the traditional arts. Most tea houses have displays of calligraphy and paintings, and some will have concerts of traditional music.
Visiting an art tea house is a special experience, and anyone who comes to Taiwan should not miss the opportunity to learn about the richness of Taiwanese culture.