As a result of serendipity I found myself in auntie Lan’s tea stall unaware that in not so many hours we would be moving into a new year. Auntie Lan had come from Yunnan China many years ago and on her way up to Chiangmai from Bangkok she had stopped off on route, fallen in love and never left.
After pouring me my favourite glass of tea she pointed to the lanterns hanging from the starfruit trees.
She unhooked one from a branch and read the Chinese characters painted on the side.
“Wǔ gè xiōngdì, shēng zài yìqǐ, yǒu gǔ yǒu ròu, chángduǎn bù qí.”
“Five brothers, born together, of flesh and bone, but all different heights.”
I didn’t know what she was talking about.
“You have to learn to fight with tigers,” she said.
I was even more confused.
Auntie Lan threw back her head and laughed and laughed until the tears streamed from her eyes.
I didn’t really see what was funny but her laughter was infectious and I found myself laughing too.
Finally when her laughter had subsided she held up her hand.
“Hand,” she said, chuckling.
“Lantern riddles. When I was a child in Yunnan we would walk around the village with our lanterns under a moonlit sky. The riddles written on their sides symbolised each of our unique lives. It was my grandmother who told me that solving those riddles was as difficult as fighting with tigers.”
Though it is many years ago that story is fresh in my mind as we approach Chinese New Year. Our lives are riddles, all of us. So I offer you this story as a reminder to fight with tigers in the coming year for as Henry David Thoreau once said, “It is not part of a true culture to tame tigers, any more than it is to make sheep ferocious.”
And I leave you with a riddle. If any of you recognise its source or know the answer please comment or email me. The answer will be revealed in the next post.
“Voiceless it cries,
And finally to finish:
Smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
Whispering ‘it will be happier’…”
― Alfred Tennyson
For a fantastic recipe of Thai Tea Fudge see: