Do stories of genesis and origin appeal to you? I am a storyteller and a romantic, so I always love my stories about how a Tea came about, the whos and whats of it all. But does it matter to the point that the stories put Her into caste systems?
I am Chinese born and grew up most of my life in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Although I was steeped in the usual versions of Chinese traditions and cultures common in Southeast Asian Chinese households, and also schooled in Chinese teaching systems of the usual Confucian sort, of strict standards of perfection (rewards doled out in accolades, punishments in physical beatings and public shaming etc), I turned out to be quite the rebel. I have always felt out of place and like I have never quite fitted in. I was into writing and that was all I knew I loved to do, and even then, I didn't think I was ever good enough, not until when teachers started to encourage me to join competitions, and later in life, when my editor in chief at Harper's BAZAAR discovered and nurtured my passion and groomed me into the Beauty Editor. Those were really the best years of my life. I went from a student at a Chinese school that was mediocre to a student who excelled in college (we went from studying subjects in the nation's official Malay language to English, to my greatest relief) and then some cruising years in University in Manchester. There is a lot to be thankful for in my life, though I have been lost I have also been saved by the Universe many times before. When I found my calling in Tea in 2019, I remember thinking, Ah, this is what I want to do. This is what I have to do. As I leave the world of dust behind, so to speak, I am a student of the Leaf, forever indebted to the Tea sisters who opened up my heart and eyes to the Tea Spirit in Hong Kong, and to Wu De for all his transmissions.
As I journey on this Way I also recall many of my past encounters with Tea. I have always said I love Tea. I gave up coffee years ago and don't drink anything other than water and tea. I loved my David's Tea and triangular posh tea bags. I liked my herbal infusions. My first initiation into loose leaf teas was Japanese green tea.I used to turn down teas from China, thinking they were all ridden with pesticides.
Now of course, I know so much better. In the course of learning about Tea I was and am reintroduced to my own culture. At the beginning I rebelled. I thought, how could doctrines that felt so stifling in my childhood be reverred in such a way that I had never seen before? The untold sides of how women were hidden away and forbidden to sit for exams to become officials, or like my grandmother, were never given the chance to even read... they would never be called a sage or an intellect, because they never got the chance. And yet... and yet... Tea kept asking me to confront my heritage, my lineage that goes a thousand years back, before my ancestors took the boat out and sought refuge and change of fortunes on the other side of the world.
Are there caste systems too in this world of the Leaf, where students are divided based on seniority, just like it used to be and still is in the Asian culture? Am I to bow and scrape at the feet of these seniors and hope silently to be acknowledged one day? This again stirs up the rebel in me, the LiYing who had yearned to escape these chains to the Western world once and for all when she was engrossed in storybooks of Enid Blyton and Francine Pascal.
I don't have the answers, but at least I know when we return to Tea we always have an easy way to return to the beginner's mind. And in so doing, may we all always hold compassion for new minds; may we all walk this path together as eternal students of the Leaf; may we all show up for each other unconditionally with love and support, and with Tea, together, we complete this fellowship without the need for any words. May we all respect the ancestors and traditions and the teachings that have stood the test of time, but at the same time, walk forth, with humility and solidarity.