On a beautiful spring afternoon this April, I had the opportunity to moderate a wonderful multi-cultural benefit for my local library. I interviewed New York Times bestselling author Lisa See, sipped Chinese Pu-erh and Korean Nokcha tea, and listened to young musicians play traditional Chinese instruments. The tea ceremonies represent cultures illuminated in two of Lisa’s books: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane and The Island of Sea Women. The crowd of over sixty guests enjoyed an extraordinary feast for the senses.
I was thrilled to talk to Lisa about the inspiration for her historical books, the research behind them and how her stories look at what happens to individuals and families living through history. Lisa does this so well in all her books, in particular, On Gold Mountain, a memoir of her Chinese family’s settlement in Los Angeles. In fact, the Los Angeles Opera is producing an opera based on this book at the Huntington Library’s Chinese Garden premiering in early May and I would love to go see it.
After reading On Gold Mountain over fifteen years ago and hearing Lisa speak then, I began to think about my own family’s stories. It was in part because of Lisa that I believed these narratives were worthwhile and became a writer myself. Lisa’s interest in tales that have been lost and forgotten sparked my quest for overlooked stories. Thanks to her, I have completed a draft of my novel, White Mulberry, based on my grandmother’s life growing up during the Japanese Occupation of Korea.
As a writer, I was especially interested in Lisa’s comments about her writing process. Her books start with three ideas: historic backdrop, main emotion and a central relationship. She outlines using historical dates and events that can’t be changed, life moments such as marriage and death, and research discoveries that shout “I gotta use that!” She also likes to write the last sentence of her novels first. It was a fascinating discussion and I learned a lot.
Another highlight of this adventure-filled day was connecting with one of my former college roommates, Yoon Hee Kim, who performed a Korean tea ceremony during the event. She is the founder of the company TeaClassics and curates tea experiences around the world. Her motto is “connecting the world, one cup at a time” and it’s so true. We chatted for almost three hours after the event about our families, life after college and our passions.
Yoon Hee Kim of TeaClassics presenting Mountain Green Nokcha tea
Guests sampling cold green tea
I am proud that proceeds from this Peninsula Friends of the Library event will support Sunday hours, the summer reading program and much more at the Palos Verdes Library District. I love the library because it’s where I first learned English after immigrating from Korea at age seven, and where I began my lifelong love affair with books. Go to your local library (or visit online) and check out all the resources it has to offer. You’ll be surprised at all that’s happening!
Thank you for supporting authors, books and libraries! Read on!
What I’m reading
On Gold Mountain by Lisa See.
Photo of the day
Joey on a springtime walk. He’s almost two!