A while back, I got an order of sample teas from Yunnan Sourcing, started to taste them, one by one, and then forgot that I had them and put them away. At some point in the last month, my tea storage situation became rather dire.
Specifically: I have two large plastic bins for tea (think: larger than you could carry-on on an airplane). One of these contains herbal teas. Yes, all of it. Yes, it’s very full. The other contains tea made from camellia sinensis. Yes, all of it. Yes, it’s very full.
But wait! There’s more. I also have three separate air-tight, humidity controlled containers (think: briefcase size) that contain teas that I’m aging. I additionally have two smaller plastic containers (think: the size you would store sugar in) that I use to store samples that I’m waiting to try. In addition to all of that, which is relatively tidy, I had about ninety-seven (small exaggeration, but only small) tea samples and/or small amounts of tea from tea clubs that didn’t really fit in the smaller tea sample boxes. Instead, they lived on that one kitchen counter I don’t use for food prep, except when I needed it, when they’d get haphazardly moved to the table, except when I needed it…
How did it get that way? I don’t know, my brain doesn’t normally notice there’s a problem until there are teetering stacks of tea samples falling on me as I eat, and then, at some point, you look around you (and by you, I mean me) and say: what the heck! I have a tea problem.
(Mr. Milan noticed this before me, but you know, I just thought that he was being a hater and making fun of me for my tea habit, which is a thing he does even when the tea is relatively tidy.)
So I cleaned up. I thought it would take me an hour. It actually took all Saturday. But I sorted all the tea! I remembered that I had ninety-seven tea samples I needed to drink! I thought very, very carefully and then suspended one (but not both) of my tea subscriptions until I had a chance to whittle down the tea I had to a manageable amount!
This is a long-winded way of saying: I tried this tea because it is part of my very reasonable “let’s not trip over tea when we walk” goal. It was a competent tea! I enjoyed drinking it. It was not anything particularly special.
On to the next sample!
What my Bones Know
This memoir is about child abuse, childhood trauma, generational trauma, and—probably—medical and psychotherapist trauma, which exists in abundance. It’s an extraordinary piece of work that had me in tears multiple times, and which charts a course through an impossible path not just towards healing, but towards understanding.
I had so many thoughts reading this book about what Asian generational trauma looked like—both commonalities and differences—and how it played out in fiction, and what that meant. I thought about what healing from trauma looked like and what counted. I also thought about the experience of seeing people and realizing, after a session, or a month, or six months—nope, this is not helping, and I have the right to say “no, I’m doing something else.”
This book gave me so many thoughts and feelings. It’s a hard read, but it’s a beautiful one.
One of the things I’ve been thinking about as an author, and specifically as an author of diaspora Asian heritage, is what I want the diaspora Asian fiction I create to look like.
Whenever we’d go to a Chinese restaurant as a kid, my mother would always complaining that the food wasn’t authentic. Some of this stuff is obvious—yes, this particular dish was invented in the US, it never existed in China. But she also had a view of how thin the vegetables needed to be sliced (paper-thin: when we’d make things at home, she would always make us go back and slice my celery again and again until they were thin enough to meet her standards). I guess I took that as reality: that “authentic” food was exactly what she told me it was.
I started questioning that as I grew older. First of all, China is a huge country. How could my mom possibly know what was authentic to the entire region? Second—and this pertains specifically to the vegetable cutting—did nobody in China ever get tired of cutting? Did nobody, at the end of a long day, ever say “ah, fuck it, let’s just do a quick chop and throw it in like that?”
Was there perhaps a reason that my mom only made Chinese food three times a year, and was it because she’d given herself this idealized version of what she had to do, while she allowed her Western cooking to be slapdash?
For a long while, I felt intimidated by the prospect of writing Asian characters—I didn’t know if I could be authentic. It took me a long while to work through that, and to understand that my worries were about whether I was authentic. But that’s ridiculous. I think it’s like my mom’s insistence that authentic Chinese food has the vegetables cut in a precise way.
I am sure some people do that. I am also absolutely certain that a lot of people in China are just doing their best at the end of a hard day, and they’re delighted to make and eat a food. There is no one form of authenticity.
I’ve been thinking about how to write authentic Asian diaspora fiction for a long time, and realizing that diaspora Asians are, in and of themselves, authentic was a big break through for me.
This book was, for me, a thing I am, and always have been, proud of writing.
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