“CONTRASTS” by Donna Seto3 min read

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Chinatown (City of Vancouver Archives)

The chipped wooden cane of my century-old grandmother
beats haphazardly against the damp asphalt drumming to
a history of broken dreams fossilized by grey-black gum

chewed by absent ancestors.

A mustached man on East Pender,
a has-been accountant with a southern Chinese accent
my grandmother once mistaken as her late husband,
hollers across the crowd of Sunday shoppers
……..that his gai lan is fresher, greener,
……………..and crisper than his competitor on Keefer.

His calculated eyes full of adulterous ambitions,
……..the slight upturn of his lips resembling a smile
………….that women once swooned over during better times.

On sale, poh-poh, the man who is not my grandfather says.
………Bargain –
………Ninety-nine cents a pound.
…………….The man’s village accent echoes down the paint-splattered street,
…………….sending pigeons flocking from .frayed electric lines.

Hushed chatter
of forgotten rice patties and fermented fish
sundried on an old laundry line
above a charcoal fire
in a blackened hut
no different to the one
…….my grandmother once called her home.

The tattered shoes on my grandmother’s unbound feet shuffles
alongside graffitied walls and broken windows. Post-
apocalyptic scenes of a war-torn past made present except this
is not a war,
………at least not the kind with guns and grenades.

Hungry tastebuds dance to the rhythm of fat
glistening on golden roast ducks
strung out on silver hooks in a butcher shop window on Gore,
…….laminated with grease as thick as the layers of paint
………on its exterior.

The city donated paint to fix this graffiti problem, the butcher tells my grandmother, breathing out a drawn-out sigh while waving his clever, We suffer there, we suffer
here.
……Who did I wrong in my past life?

My grandmother’s cataract eyes squint
..at the shadows that flicker to the glow
……..of a red paper lantern,
………………while pale-skinned tourists watch the fat drip
………………from carcasses
………………like raindrops cascading to the ground
……………………..from rooftops.

A hipster waltzes into the butcher shop,
in designer jeans he claims are from Value Village,
but he purchased on a whim from Nordstrom. Belly
full of fois gras served on heirloom sourdough, he
washes down with an
……..$7 oat milk latte,
……..while k-pop blasts from his thousand-dollar earbuds
……..as he snaps a photo
……………of my century-old grandmother.

Authentic china-doll poh-poh, the hipster says
……..as he shares the filtered snapshot with the world.


Donna Seto is a writer, academic, and artist from Vancouver, BC. Her work has been published in The New Quarterly, Ricepaper Magazine, and academic journals. Her first book, No Place for a War Baby: The Global Politics of Children Born of Wartime Sexual Violence, provides an interdisciplinary perspective that questions how silence surrounding war and peace processes has prevented justice for children born of war and war rape survivors. Donna is working on her first novel, a collection of short stories, and an illustrated book on Vancouver’s Chinatown.

Donna Seto’s poem is one of the shortlisted poems for the City Poems Contest for Emerging Poets. Watch her performance and reading of her poetry here.

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