“Osmanthus and Tea Roses”

post by: Ticana Zhu

Summers for me meant family reunions. More times than not, I’d spend nearly three months in China. For each phase of my childhood, a different scent painted the backdrop.

In my younger years, there was jasmine and gardenia. Little girls or old ladies from the country often sold blooms. Thin wire twisted around the stems, and you could wear them in your hair or clipped to your shirt. Sometimes, they were even tied to a string and you’d have a bracelet. Playful and innocent, just a whiff brings me back to my grandmother’s bedroom.

As I grew taller, and school got harder, chrysanthemum seeped into my world. I had nosebleeds a lot during tween years. My mother often made me consume mung bean soup and chrysanthemum tea. “To lower yang energy in the body.” I soon became a fan of the flower’s flavor. A bit bold, and acquired, but made me feel grown up. Plus, I loved playing with the petals in my glass. Yes, I took my tea in a tall glass. It felt elegant!

Osmanthus and tea roses became my world when I came of age. It was around the time I held adult discussions with my relatives. I’d long known the phrase, “吟诗作画.” It inspired my parents when they selected my Chinese name. Loosely translated, it means “Words of poetry paints.”

Because I was behaving more maturely, my grandfather let me borrow books from his library. My grandfather spoke fluent English. His library included British literary classics that his most of children and grandchildren couldn’t read. Many were from his years studying English at Beijing University. 

I recall one summer, he had smatterings of osmanthus around. His sun-drenched office seemed warm, despite dustiness… and once, a smooshed mouse my cousins and I found under a heavy volume! We screamed and ran away! To this day we couldn’t figure why he left it there!

With volumes tucked under arm, I’d walk back to my uncle and aunt’s where we stayed. The scent of guihua (osmanthus) lingered on pages as I read, curled on the couch. For a few weeks straight that summer, my aunt brought home tea roses from the market. She said they struck her fancy. She placed them in a tinted jar in the living room, catching just the right angle of light from the sun. Beside it, I poured over my grandfather’s books. The fragrances swirled around me as I awakened to my name. Like the books I read and the phrase that inspired my parents, I so wanted to paint with words.

I picked up a pen that summer and made a concerted effort at writing. I didn’t have a tale in mind. Instead, I described the world around me. I wanted to illustrate vivid images, like ancient poets. I wanted to record feelings, transcribed eloquently. 

I refused to show my works to anyone, feeling embarrassed. Innately, I knew my work wasn’t ready. Unbeknownst to me, in picking up our room, my mother stumbled upon a few pages. “You’re only describing colors, and the way things look,” she critiqued.

Fidgeting in awkwardness, I responded, “But paintings only show you what you see,” I alluded to 吟诗作画.

“Writing gives you more (to work with) than paint,” she explained.

My mother handed the pages back to me. For a few days, I thought about her words. Little me came up with a slew questions. What is a painting? Is it just a photograph before the age of photographs? Why do people take photographs? To remember something, right? Why remember? Because it made them feel good?

I asked what made me feel good that summer. It could have been the taste of the homemade dumplings, the feel of the cool stone moon gate in the garden, or the scent of thunderstorms. I realized in that moment, seeing was only one sense. To truly paint with words, one needed to immerse the reader in a world of senses.

I picked up a pen again. This time, before the ink hit the page, I closed my eyes. I imagined myself in a world of gray. A blank canvas. If I were to share my trip to China with my friends back home, how could I illustrate it?

I pictured the pathway between my grandparents and my uncle and aunts. The pebbly parts glistened playfully whenever it rained. Sometimes in a flash storm, water cascaded down steps like a miniature waterfall. The sound reminding of a softer Niagara Falls. What about taste? Should I include the sensational food only locals ate? I could share my favorite recipes. It then struck me it might not be something teens cared about. Then why should I write? For whom should I write?

At a loss on where to start, I squeezed my eyes harder. Clearing my thoughts, I tried to focus on all senses, except sight.

The cicadas buzzed in chorus… The empty page, smooth beneath my fingertips…

Yet… louder than all, the scent of osmanthus and tea roses.

Slowly, I lifted my eyes. A grin alighted my lips. I took a moment and enjoyed where I sat in the little room, etching it in golden memory. Breathing deep of lovely fragrances, I set my pen to page. I can’t say what I wrote was glorious, or even good at all. Yet, it allowed me to understand why I wrote. It was to record moments that could be easily forgotten in time.

Now, whenever I think of when I started to feel like a writer, the scent of osmanthus and tea roses come to mind. I’m sitting once more in my uncle and aunt’s living room, or my grandfather’s library. Even though the same buildings are gone… and my grandparents have passed. Reunions will always exist for me, because I’ve painted them vividly in my journals.

As Anais Nin wrote, “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”

Now, I’d like to share other experiences with the world. What new medley of senses could I illustrate, transporting the reader into new worlds?

Thank you for reading! Ticana Zhu will have a new post every third Tuesday of the month. Next post on Space-Tigers.com, Ava Reiss (posting every first Tuesday) chats about her present writing project.
This is not a sponsored post.

“Mon Petit Prince”

*In the interest of introducing our authors, this post is made outside of the regular schedule. Starting June 4th, 2019, please expect a post every other Tuesday.*

post by: Ticana Zhu

Recently, I was asked which book in my childhood left the largest impact on me. Immediately my mind went to exciting ones like Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher (Bruce Coville), The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (Avi), The Merlin Effect (T.A. Barron) and Homecoming (Cynthia Voigt). Not to mention the American Girls series. Samantha was my favorite, followed closely by Felicity. (By the time Ivy Ling came around, I felt too old to read the series.) Truthfully, I could go on and on. How does anyone, whose childhood comprised of countless hours of reading, pick just ONE?

After a few days of coming back to the question, I discovered there was one story in particular that continued to hold meaning for me. I’d overlooked it at first because it didn’t contain the same level of adventure I grew accustomed to partaking. 

Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s Le Petit Prince is a story that evolves with me. At each stage of life when I’ve divulged in the tale, it holds a variant meaning. The first time I read it, I giggled at a quirky story, believing it was just some gibberish meant to stretch the imagination. I was quite young then. After all, who doesn’t want to fly off an asteroid with a flock of migrating birds? Sounds like fun!

At another time, I felt pessimistic, as it highlighted the worst in people. How could the Little Prince leave his Rose so simply? Why didn’t they work it out? She NEEDS him! Why did she nag him all the time? And the poor lamplighter! The sick-cycle for the alcoholic! The story induced a bit of anxiety. It was around the time I started to come into my own, and delusions of a perfect world were shattering.

Recently, I picked up the thin volume again. This time, with a few more years under my belt. The tale transformed yet again. It became beautiful, describing love in a way I’d missed before. The fox- who I previously believed was a mere a play-fellow- became my new guru… at least for a couple of days! Through his interactions with the Little Prince, I saw the struggle many of us face whilst attempting to connect in our modern world. With apps like Tinder, we’re all just one of many common roses on the bush. When do we stop and select just one to get to know? Will we judge it for its imperfections, like how it demands a screen because it’s drafty? 

Or do we choose to love someone for all the unseen things they share, to better our little corner of the world? (or asteroid) The scent the Rose perfumes on the asteroid was overlooked by the little Prince at first. Could it be representative of love that’s born from sharing a life with someone? They do say that 1+1=3… the sum is greater than the whole… I’ll let you decide.

Then, there’s the serpent in the ending of the the Little Prince. He took him further than any ship could. I’ve felt so many emotions towards the conclusion. Was it romantic that he wished to traverse death to return to his Rose? What if he couldn’t return to his asteroid? Was the Little Prince so far gone, he had only one choice? I’ve also been devastated, believing he would never reunite with his love to share his revelations. 

Antoine leaves his ending open to interpretation. Either that or to torture me! In general, I appreciate happy endings. Or ones resolved with hope. I choose to believe the Little Prince made it back to his asteroid, and that his Rose did not perish without him. My hearts needs it.

Returning to the original question, “Which book in your childhood left the most impact on you?” I see now, the answer should’ve been simple. At age thirteen, I began writing a sci-fi story. It was just bits and pieces here and there. However, the main character’s name is Rose Tian. Tian= sky. The secondary protagonist? A boy without a name at the time, but with light hair and light eyes, much like the Little Prince. They spend most of their time on Mars, but their duty is to patrol the asteroid belt. I’ve never let this story go. It’s constantly turning in the back of my mind. When I started the tale,the Little Prince influences were unconscious, as there are other elements to the story as well. It’s only in looking back did I go, “Hey! I think I see a connection…”

I suppose if the question had been, “Which book left the largest impact on your writing?” I would’ve had an answer right away. Rose Tian, preferring to go by “Rosi” is my defiance to the dependency of the Little Prince’s Rose. She’s mobile of course, and a human, but so much more. Rosi rises against a chaotic childhood lived partially on Mars and becomes a leader, Phoenix. Her counterpart, the boy with light eyes, is Dragon. She loses him in many ways. However, like my preferential ending to the Little Prince, they find their way back together. Sometimes even defying death. (Darn you, serpent!)

It’s my sincerest aspiration that the tropes in my tale evolves with readers, finding relevance through different times. I’m still working on Rose Tian and Kayden Loganberry’s story. Yes, I finally gave him a name. With epic adventures, and psychological thrills, I’m hoping the book will release at the end of 2020.

Thank you for reading! Ticana Zhu will have a new post every third Tuesday of the month. Next post on Space-Tigers.com (June 4th, 2019), Ava Reiss explains why she’s a “Chibi Enthusiast!”
This is not a sponsored post.