Tea for the soul: Exploring harmony and tranquility in Norfolk
Mr. Wenchin Tsai and Mrs. Li-Jin Chung greeted visitors with welcoming smiles at the open house held Sunday, Nov. 5, at the Connecticut-Asia Cultural Center on Westside Road.
Mr. Tsai, who manages the tour guides for the Center, explained their mission is to “promote cultural exchange to enhance mutual understanding among people. This is a place where you can explore the roots of spiritual thought that have influenced the world.”
Beyond the ornate metal gates emblazoned with the logo of the Connecticut-Asia Cultural Center lies a world that enchants, educates and humbles the viewer. The marble reception area displays its motto—“Love, Mutual Support, and Peace”—surrounded by the Chinese characters for gentleness, kindness, respect, frugality, yielding, benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom and sincerity.
As the tour began, Mrs. Chung continued: “The Center opened on Aug. 6, 2022, to introduce Asian culture through education and dialogue, and to integrate with the local community with the goal of creating a more harmonious society. We must walk together as a team, as we are all the same under our skin.” Mrs. Chung, formerly a systems analyst at Bell Labs, volunteers her time at the Center “because I am passionate about our mission.”
Housed in an extraordinary stone castle built at the turn of the century, the Center contains museum-style art and history exhibits exploring the background and meaning of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and the spiritual and mystical aspects of the Incan and pre-Columbian culture of Peru. Young docents, volunteers who come from as far away as Montreal, are on hand to answers questions, bring fresh glasses of water, and knowledgeably guide the curious through three floors of interactive, mysterious and informative displays.
Sculptures, paintings from Taiwan and Canada, ancient artifacts, stained glass windows, calligraphic scrolls, and brilliant silk ceremonial robes glowing in the light fill the senses. There is a tunnel of glass lit from within that has water flowing down its sides to help visitors feel tranquil in their Spiritual Exploration Zone.
While the purpose of the museum is serious, there are flights of fancy. For instance, in one display, a button asks visitors to choose whether they pray for peace. There is a hand suspending a globe that, if the wrong answer is given, pulls the Earth underwater and a film plays showing global catastrophic events; push the “yes” button and the message is hope, light and salvation. In a separate building on this 48-acre estate, there is a Peruvian cultural exhibit, which has at its centerpiece a life-sized llama serving as a backdrop for a selfie photo booth.
Entering the vast Victorian dining room, Mrs. Chung explained that in 1998 when the Confucian Study Association purchased the property, it was in a state of disrepair. The funding for the restoration project has come from private sources around the world. Craftsmen from Taiwan were brought to Norfolk to reproduce the mahogany panels and coffered ceilings from the heyday of this massive stone house, which was designed by Henry Hornbostel for his widowed client, Pulitzer-Prize-winning Serbian physicist and inventor Michael I. Pupin, who wrote in his memoir, “From Immigrant to Inventor”: “In 1897 I bought a farm at Norfolk. This blessed spot where I regained my health and happiness, became my real American home and I have never had any desire to seek a better haven of happiness in any other place.” There is a display in the museum honoring the origins of the home including an image of Pupin and his friend Albert Einstein.
On Nov. 5, the Center held an open house and tea ceremony for the community to enjoy. A table set with soft linens, flowers and a row of teacups waited in a sunny alcove of the great paneled room. A row of guests joined the two women, who explained the tradition and meanings behind the aesthetic tea ceremony they call the Tao of Tea. They served red and green teas from Ali Mountain in Taiwan.
In a stone castle built to restore the soul of a man, it is fitting that its walls contain an organization that believes “The earth is the home we all share. By reducing conflicts and living in harmony and mutual prosperity, we are fulfilling our responsibility of protecting the earth. To achieve this goal relies on people being able to awaken and to manifest universal love, tolerance and mutual assistance. In this way we can honor the possibility of peaceful coexistence among people and create a bright and happy future.”
For more information: ctasiaculture.com
The Connecticut-Asia Cultural Center
207a Westside Road
Norfolk, Connecticut 06058
The Center was open this year on the first weekend of every month, April–November 2023. Saturdays and Sundays, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
It will reopen in the spring.