The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
Lisa See has done it again. I’ve enjoyed all her books, but this one really got me. “Girl” is the daughter of a midwife and healer in her tiny, Pu’er tea-producing village in a mountainous region of China, near Myanmar. Her Chinese minority Akha area is so remote, so disconnected from the rest of present-day China that it took fifteen years for word of the One Child Policy to reach them.
Akha is an animistic culture. They believe in the power of spirit ancestors to influence their lives and ascribe meaning to the most mundane of occurrences. See’s research and knowledge of tea culture and history are evident, as she sprinkles Akha wisdom and aphorisms throughout the book.
“No coincidence, no story,” is one bit of wisdom Girl’s mother instills in her and it provides the framework for this story. It caused me to recall a writers’ group discussion from years ago, in which someone at the table declared that in a story, coincidence can be used to cause a problem or complication, but should never be used to resolve a problem. Perhaps that’s true if one coincidence solves everything. That would be too easy. But what if, as in this book, those coincidences occur over a lifetime, creating a pattern, and giving them weight and significance? I believe they support the underlying theme of unseen human connections. What do you think?
“A spark lights a fire. Water sprouts a seed. The Akha Way tells us that a single moment changes destinies.”
“As A-ma said, every story, every dream, every waking minute of our lives is filled with one fateful coincidence after another.”
“No coincidence, no story,” I recite before going on to explain. “Deh-ja once lived in Spring Well. She and I have been together at our worst moments…. As Akha, we’re linked in one long chain of life… We were both on these steps today,” I continue. “We don’t have to know why. All we have to do is accept that our spirit ancestors must want us to be together. Akha Law tells us never to ignore portents or coincidences.”
The significance of a nice cuppa
“I grew up believing that rice was to nourish and that tea was to heal. Now I understand that tea is also to connect and to dream. That seduction is deeper and more profound than could happen with any man.”
“An hour spent drinking tea is the hour when the prince and the peasant share thoughts and ready themselves for the commonalities and woes of their separate lives.”
Let’s get (meta) physical:
“It’s said that great sorrow is no more than a reflection of one’s capacity for great joy.”
‘Every hour spent drinking tea is a distillation of all the tea hours that have ever been spent; and Truly you can find the universal through the particular of tea.’
“Every passing moment is the passing of life; every moment of life is life itself.”
“But, often, adoption is about loss: loss of your original family, loss of culture and nationality, and, of course, loss of a way of life that might have been.”
“From the first moment I saw you all the way to today and for as long as I live, I know that you are the daughter who was meant for me. I can ever be a replacement for your birth mother, but I’ve done—and will continue to do—everything I can to complete what should have been her journey. I love you, and I’ll always love you.”
The adoptive mother’s thoughts about her Chinese baby girl in this story reminded me of Ann Hood’s The Red Thread. Author See gives hints (coincidences) throughout Tea Girl that compel the reader forward toward the most inevitable and emotionally satisfying of conclusions. Recommend.