Ricepaper Magazine https://ricepapermagazine.ca Asian Canadian Arts and Culture Thu, 13 Jun 2019 21:43:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2.1 Searching for Asian at Book Expo by JF Garrard https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/06/searching-for-asian-at-book-expo-by-jf-garrard/ https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/06/searching-for-asian-at-book-expo-by-jf-garrard/#respond Thu, 13 Jun 2019 21:43:42 +0000 https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=15701 Book Expo, North America’s largest publishing event took place May 27-29, 2019 this year in New York City at the Javits Center. Ricepaper Magazine’s Deputy Editor, JF Garrard, attended on our behalf to check out the event.

 

As my … more »

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Book Expo, North America’s largest publishing event took place May 27-29, 2019 this year in New York City at the Javits Center. Ricepaper Magazine’s Deputy Editor, JF Garrard, attended on our behalf to check out the event.

 

As my first time to Book Expo, it was an eye opener. There were hundreds of exhibitors, large and small. The larger publishers advertised extensively with huge, wall-sized ads of books hanging from the ceilings and they gave away hundreds of copies of books. There were books piled on tables for people to grab and all autograph sessions involved authors signing free copies of books as well. Exhibitors ranged from publishers to printing groups from overseas (Korea & China) and a large area was dedicated to Indies, featuring self-publishing services and smaller tables of Indie authors. A decade ago, the Indies were not part of the show, but the doors have opened to accept authors willing to take the leap into publishing themselves and many panels were available for authors who wanted to learn about the Indie route as well.

Wendy Xu, Katie Zhao (The Dragon Warrior), Mary HK Choi, Mariko Tamaki, Jen Wang,  Sahil Shokeen and Pierre Dimaculangan.

Out of an estimated 500 titles of books being promoted, given away or displayed, there were perhaps 25 books by Asian authors. A few of them were boosted by their publishers/PR people, such as Marie Lu (Legend trilogy) and Coco Ma (Shadow Frost) with giant displays of their books. It goes without saying that George Takei was a big name as well and he was there briefly—though my flight had landed when he made the appearance—to promote They Called Us Enemy, his new stunning graphic memoir. Da Chen (Colors of the Mountain, a New York Times bestseller) spoke at “The Power of Story: Diverse Books for All Readers” panel and Marjorie Liu (Monstress) made an appearance at the 2019 Adult Book & Author Breakfast. Authors we met at Book expo included Wendy Xu (Mooncakes), Mariko Tamaki (Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass), Katie Zhao (The Dragon Warrior), Mary HK Choi (Permanent Record), Jen Wang (Stargazing),  Sahil Shokeen (Feelings. A World of Pain) and Pierre Dimaculangan (Trials of the Middle Kingdom).

In searching for book giveaway prizes for Ricepaper Magazine readers, I sadly discovered it was similar to searching for needles in a haystack. There were hundreds of books being given away, but looking for Asian authors was quite difficult. Not all Asian authors had book giveaways and sometimes when they did, there were barriers such as obtaining special tickets from booths which I could never find.

One of the more interesting stories (even published by the The Washington Post), was the collaboration between MacMillan and China’s 21st Century Publishing Group in publishing Summer, a children’s book by Cao Wenxuan and illustrated by Yu Rong. The storyline features animals fighting over space and then learning they can provide shade for each other by standing side by side. It’s to be a parable of cooperation that could be applied to US and China relations. More importantly, it was the only booth that gave away champagne during a book signing!

Within the book piles, I found two books with Asian protagonists, not written by Asian authors. People are free to tell stories from multiple points of views in our inclusive society, however, I do hope that more Asian authors would be at the table in the future to tell their own stories.

In the upcoming months, I’ll be sharing the bounty from Book Expo with our Ricepaper readers, so look our for our announcements on social media and on our website!

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Flesh, Not Blood by Cindy Phan https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/06/flesh-not-blood-by-cindy-phan/ https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/06/flesh-not-blood-by-cindy-phan/#respond Fri, 07 Jun 2019 17:53:40 +0000 https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=15654  Perhaps Rose was right and she was being, as her cousin put it, “ingloriously cruel.” Or was that vainglorious? Vaingloriously?

            Didn’t matter. She wasn’t really listening. And Hien was a prick, had always been such a prick, and … more »

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Illustration by Katya Roxas

 Perhaps Rose was right and she was being, as her cousin put it, “ingloriously cruel.” Or was that vainglorious? Vaingloriously?

            Didn’t matter. She wasn’t really listening. And Hien was a prick, had always been such a prick, and he knew it too—all self-righteous swagger and bloated ambition and clutching, heedless entitlement. So why not call a spade a spade and confirm his own worst suspicions about himself? He had, also, always been such an ugly prick—greasy-skinned, buck-toothed and gangly-limbed—so she had let him know that, too.

The expression on his face after she’d finished with him, the way he lingered around her like a bad smell—thoroughly trounced yet desirous, it seemed, for her to go on, cut into him a little more so that he could rally himself, assemble his wits and his nerve and respond in kind—was something Ash had anticipated, but had not expected to enjoy so very much.

She should have done this years ago.

Besides, Rose, perfect Rosy Rose, with the great job, the good man, the nice house and the car that was never more than three years old, had always been as much a show off as she was a coward, was always ready with commentary (often in the form of righteous condemnation or gleeful disgust) after the fact.

Vainglorious? Perhaps.

Cruel? So be it. Ash had promised, hadn’t she? She had promised the child that she, the adult, would not, like all other adults before her, disappoint. She would not waver. She would not back down.

She would be merciless. If “mercy” was even the word—the concept, the conceit— to be used in this particular, in these special circumstances.

Actually. Ash pulled out her phone and texted Rose. She sent her a picture she’d found in one of the more vulgar outposts of the internet.

“What the–?” said Rose, holding the phone close to her nearsighted eyes. “Oh my god! Grow up, Ashley!” She stormed off, gripping the Samsung between her thumb and forefinger like it was diseased.

Ash smiled. Two down, and the night still young. She took another look around the crowded house, at the bodies everywhere, and wondered how many more she would take before they finally caught up to her.

It had been—what? Three or four (or maybe five…six or seven at most) years since her last family reunion dinner—a “tradition” that started when she was, like, eleven or so. Maybe twelve. An almost-teen way past the point of wanting to attend family gatherings, though as she found out, not past the point of being too big to be dragged to such things. Outside of her “photo-op years” (ages 0-5), when her mom could still force her into those frilly dresses with the tight, tight stockings that cut her front and backside oh-so-painfully, the family never really had dinner together. Never staged a reunion. Not ones as large or elaborate as this. Who had the time? Who wanted the trouble?

Now, though. It seemed that as the adults got older and as the “kids” established themselves, gathering the family together, including her deviant ass, had become an overriding obsession. The emails, texts and Facebook messages they had bombarded her with this year—citing obligation and hurt feelings and lost time—had been, by sheer volume alone, quite impressive. After all, even if they had Rosy Rose, her other cousins (including exalted Hien), her sister, Tam, and her other sister, Sandy, they had failed to keep her in check and so failed, fundamentally, as a family unit. What would people think?

Perhaps things would have been better if she had simply died, like her cousin Brittney. Aneurysm. Then they could have remembered her however they wished and made her into whatever they wanted: a saint, a cautionary tale. But it was too late for that now.

She had fallen out of their grasp.

And that was something they were determined to rectify.

And it was exactly what Ash had waited for all these years.

Cousins dispatched, Ash sashayed over to the buffet table, loaded her plate, ate until the ceramic’s cheap surface gleamed once more, then went back for seconds.

She smacked her lips, tapped her toes and swayed her hips as she dug eagerly into one delicacy after another: chả giò, gỏi cuốn, fried tôm, sautéed mực, fish sticks and cheese wontons, to name a few.

And…yes, there it was! She could feel her aunties giving her the side-eye for going back to the buffet, although they had goaded her, just minutes before to go, go eat, eat something Ash-ley! Then, on some unknown signal, like a pack of wild dogs honing in for the kill, one of them charged forth and pounced, followed quickly by the others.

“Oh? You really need more food, Ash-ley?” said a loud, shrill voice.

Auntie Q. Of course, it would be her. Always so mean!

            “Ash! You gain weight?”

            Auntie P, right on cue, and even worse, as ever!

            The other aunties, Auntie Y., Auntie N., Auntie T. and Auntie X., murmured their assent.

Ash felt her cheeks burn even as she steadied her shaking hands. When it came, her voice was loud, clear, undeniable.

“You’re the fattest one here, Aunt P!” It was exactly the wrong thing to say and she had said it perfectly. She turned to Aunt Q. “Your eggrolls are drrry, by the way.”

Ash continued eating as the aunties balked—their eyes bulging, mouths gaping, neck meat swinging—then as one dove into the usual litany: that she was a spoiled, ungrateful brat who always talked back and never saved face; that she would burn for this, for who knows how long and no wonder she was still single; what man would have her; thank god her grandparents weren’t alive to see the shameful mess she’d become.

They talked about her and at her, but not to her (never to her), as was their custom.

On and on.

Etcetera, etcetera.

Damage done, bodies taken, Ash chewed, ate and waited.

“Ash-ley! Ash-ley!” The voice sounded above the squabbling din of the aunties, hissed and wheezed around them like the gutted hose of a run-down vacuum cleaner determined, nevertheless, to suck at scattered debris.

It was the sound of too many cigarettes. Of emphysema, and stale regret. It was Uncle. T.

Big Uncle T.!

The man with the pockmarked face and the overlarge glasses that pressed upon a massive edifice of a face which plateaued—skid, really—from the forehead down. The man with the sickly pallor and crooked nostrils, whose mouth sagged heavily over his jawline like a busted awning.

Instigator! Drama Queen! Uncle T.

His halitosis was so thick and strong that it enveloped his entire being like an angry, reeking aura. Here was the man who, after grandfather died, became the “de facto” patriarch of the family, her family being the kind to need a patriarch. He’d seen her humiliate Hien, insult Rose and disrespect the aunties, his sisters. This same man who knew of her “lifestyle” through her articles, Facebook and vlogs (which he, of course, never read or watched, and only heard of them from other, less scrupulous family members), not to mention her sheer, wanton shamelessness—today’s outfit: a sequined halter top and acid wash booty shorts. He shouldered past the gaggle of aunties, a weathered bull through a cut-rate china shop, to stand before her in all his manufactured glory.

“Ash-ley! Look at you! No blond hair, no blue eyes. You not Canadian! Stop talking English. You here, you talk Viet. Talk Viet! Talk Viet!

It was his favourite method of shaming her, calling her out for what Ash admitted was her preference for English over her clumsy Vietnamese. Her parents, hovering somewhere in the background, never stopped Uncle T. from accosting her with these tired demands for…what was it he wanted, exactly?

She was Canadian, born if not bred.

“Go back to Vietnam and learn!”

She’d never been “back” to Vietnam, because she’d never been to Vietnam.

“Speak like good girl! Why can’t you be good girl?”

Why indeed? Also, she was 32.

But this was an old argument based not on logic, not on facts.

Remember how he used to say how good Rose, Tam and Sandy were, but made sure never to say your name?

Of course. Even if she had been speaking Vietnamese, he’d ridicule her lousy accent, scorn her inept pronunciation and laugh at her slow-wittedness in the so-called “mother tongue.”

            Remember how he told everyone you’d never be as good as Hien? Or Brittney. After she died?

Of course. Before today, Ash would have lowered her eyes and quietly excused herself, getting as far away from her uncle’s tirade as possible. But today, because she promised, Ash was ready.

She advanced the two small steps that brought her deep into his personal space.

“FOR ONCE IN YOUR FUCKING LIFE, EAT A FUCKING MINT BEFORE YOU TALK TO ME, YOU STUPID, FUCKING, OLD MAN.”

Fucking. That was the key, paired with stupid and old. Nothing like a good fuck. So unladylike, so barefaced and irrefutable. So Canadian.

Uncle T.’s face took on a red Ash had not thought possible for human skin; so red it was black, so black it was blue. Out of instinct or habit, he lifted his arm high above his head, but shrank back when she didn’t flinch, only narrowed her eyes and stuck out her chin defiantly at him. That was the problem. Uncle T. was a big man, despite having grown stoop-shouldered and rounded with age. Ash, however, was bigger, had grown large, strong in her exile. He was long past the point where he could slap her face, box her ears, grab her by the hair and neck and throw her around the house while the rest of the family watched, scandalized at what she had forced him to do.

Ash had always been big for her age and was always going to out-grow them all. Only now he knew it—they knew it—or at least could no longer deny it.

She rolled her eyes as Uncle T. blinked, hesitated, then slowly lifted his arm again like some great, ridiculous bird; Ash envisioned an injured flamingo or discombobulated stork. His breath permeated and rankled.

“What are you going to do? You can’t do shit. So get your tired old ass out of my face before we really have a problem.” Ash clenched her fists, baring her teeth in a smile that was no smile.

Ever seen a full-grown man sputter then skitter away like a frightened shrew? Neither had Ash, until then. Aunt Q. and Aunt P., wailing and in tears, respectively, followed after him. As the rest of the family shuffled around in disbelief, faces awash in shock and awe—how dare she? how dare she??—Ash reached over to a nearby side table, grabbed Uncle T.’s wallet, pocketed all the cash—forty dollars??—and casually tossed the wallet away like she’d planned on getting just that little more back the whole time. If anyone saw her, they kept it to themselves. Too bad. She had time for at least one more body.

A crash and a bang and more sputtering from the hallway beyond.

Rose rushed into the room. “Uncle T.’s fallen! He won’t wake up! Someone call an ambulance!”

Well. She hadn’t planned on that.

Since they were in one of the better neighbourhoods, the paramedics arrived in relatively good time. Ash sat in the corner, nibbling on a shrimp skewer slathered in oyster sauce. The family chose to ignore her completely, making sure she knew they were doing just that by the way they sighed, sniffed the air, clucking their tongues around her. Her father circled twice, muttering under his breath with his hands clasped behind his back like some long-suffering monk.

Her uncle, naturally, wasn’t the only drama queen in the family.

As the paramedics hauled Uncle T. onto a gurney, Ash was struck with a rush of recognition, as painful as it was sudden. She dropped the shrimp, admired it for a moment as it smacked against the floor and produced a perfect Rorschach on the shag carpeting.

“Ray?”

The taller of the two paramedics turned around. “Ash? That you?”

“It’s good to see you.” So, it was him. Ray. Oh Ray. At the time, he was the biggest, whitest boy she’d ever seen, so alien and taboo. At the time, Ray was exactly what she needed: an excuse, a way out, an irrevocable decision long in the making, as inevitable as it was damning. He had been her scapegoat, her accomplice, her rival. Her almost everything.

And then there was Kelly, Dean, Andy, Jamie, Betty, Celia, Joan, Allan, Linda and Dylan. Others she couldn’t name or didn’t care to. There was the makeup, the clothes. The staying out all hours, just because. The drinking, which helped her immensely tonight of all nights, the drugs, the moving far, far away, away from the family and toward her own life. The lifestyle that had rejected them, their influence, their worth so completely and utterly.

Panic flashed across Ray’s light blue eyes. No doubt he remembered: nights sneaking over to his house, days spent ditching school to smoke and loiter behind the mall. The screaming fights she told him she’d had with her parents, over him—ostensibly over him.

“He will never be good enough,” her mother snapped.

But Ash wasn’t looking for good enough and had long learned to distrust good enough.

Good enough for what? For whom?

“So this…Uh…Your dad?” Ray said, hefting his end of a now semi-conscious Uncle T.

“You think that’s my dad?” Ash asked, incredulously, but then there had been a thousand reasons why she broke things off with Ray.

“I’m sorry! I didn’t…I don’t–” Ray stammered.

She shrugged. “He’s just an uncle.”

Ray’s partner barked at him to get a move on.

“I have to go. But it was good seeing you, Ash. You, uh, you take care, OK?”

“Goodbye Ray.”

The ambulance pulled out of the double-wide driveway.

Ash watched it leave, grinned when it hit a pothole so deep and gaping it must have jolted Uncle T. right out of his gurney. She imagined him then, upturned and akimbo on the ambulance floor.

She surveyed the survivors as they limped around the room, glanced at others (quiet Sandy, little Tam) who she merely considered collateral damage. Who knows how many would speak to her now? Who knows what kind of damage she had inflicted on them, or on herself? But then the love between them had never been enough; it had always been too clouded, too severe to be any good.

She had promised herself as a child that if she could just hold on, then she, the adult, would remember—everything—and that when she was old enough, big enough, strong enough, she would go back and set things right, for both of them. That had been their deal. A new life, a new self, courtesy of the old one.

Her father circled her once more.

She sighed. Maybe there was no going back. Perhaps she was too far gone to expect retribution in retrospect.

Remember when you cussed out Hien? And when you told Uncle T. he was stupid? That was the best!

Then again, maybe not.

Still. Ash figured she should feel worse than she did. Likely, she would feel it later, when the chaos of the evening settled into smaller, more easily digestible events. Perhaps the family didn’t deserve what happened to them, not tonight. But they deserved it then.

No matter. A promise is a promise is a promise. Honour, loyalty above all else, for family. Hadn’t they, after all, taught her that?

As she made her way out the door and back to her real life, Ash glanced at the wallet and seriously considered returning the forty dollars.

Kept it anyway.


Cindy Phan is Vietnamese-Canadian woman and an emerging writer who currently lives on the outskirts of Toronto with her partner, and an aging dachshund named Louis. She has a master’s in Anthropology, a master’s in Political Science, as well as edits and researches academic publications for a living.

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“Dropkick Tokyo”: a Glimpse at how the Canadian-Asian diaspora finds meaning and self-expression in embracing and reinterpreting Japanese streetwear https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/05/dropkick-tokyo-a-glimpse-at-how-the-canadian-asian-diaspora-finds-meaning-and-self-expression-in-embracing-and-reinterpreting-japanese-streetwear/ https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/05/dropkick-tokyo-a-glimpse-at-how-the-canadian-asian-diaspora-finds-meaning-and-self-expression-in-embracing-and-reinterpreting-japanese-streetwear/#respond Tue, 28 May 2019 20:00:26 +0000 https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=15681

“What does fashion mean to you?” is a question that has always resounded among Canadian-Asian youth. Growing up in Canada as a member of the Asian diaspora, be it Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Filipino, Thai, South Asian, etc. means to … more »

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“What does fashion mean to you?” is a question that has always resounded among Canadian-Asian youth. Growing up in Canada as a member of the Asian diaspora, be it Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Filipino, Thai, South Asian, etc. means to live in a constant state of “in-betweenness.” There is a noted tension between maintaining ties to one’s homeland and adapting to the cultural norms of the host society.

Straddling two societies, it is this very tension that makes Japanese streetwear especially appealing to the Canadian-Asian diaspora. To be more precise, the eclecticism, playfulness, and gender-fluidity of Japanese streetwear makes it a favoured mode of self-expression among Canadian-Asian youth.

“Dressing well is a form of good manners” is a principle I gradually started to embrace over time. Over the years, this has become something that I go by everyday – Tuonghan.

Tuonghan is a 25-year old fashion enthusiast living in Montreal with a very unique approach to self-expression. His favorite designers and their respective brands consist of Jun Takahashi’s UNDERCOVER and TAKAHIROMIYASHITA TheSoloist.  For him, the dramatic silhouettes, vibrant colours, and heavily-accessorized nature of Japanese streetwear is a way of escaping the mundane nature of living and working in Montreal.

According to Tuonghan, “When it comes to fashion, everything you could’ve imagined in your wildest dreams could happen and does happen, in and only in Japan. From salarymen to students, wearing brightly dyed hair colours and clothes to makeup and nail polish, regular to rare to thrifted pieces of clothing, famous American designer pieces and so on…I could go on for hours and it wouldn’t even be enough.”

For him and many other members of the Asian diaspora in Canada, there is something very liberating in being able to express himself freely via street fashion. There is a playfulness and a rejection of the ordinary without trying too hard to be different.

“Weirdness is always key”… A little bit of weirdness here and there doesn’t really hurt at all, especially while still being fashionable at some point… that’s the fun part! Whatever it is that you feel like, nothing shall hold you back. That’s the best part.


Biography for Photographer: As a visual artist (@iamshellshot),  T. “Donatello” Fletcher’s style consists of colourful, energetic movement and imagery stemming from his background in dance. He embraces a conceptual approach towards literal wordplay, expressed through photography, videography, and directing. He makes his bed in Ottawa, Ontario but does with the comfort of being close to his birthplace in Montreal.

Biography for model/interviewee: Tuonghan (@tuonghan) is a 25-year old fashion enthusiast who resides in Montreal.

Biography for author/model:  Jenny Yang (@jiaojiao.exe) studied International Relations at the University of Cambridge. She has published articles related to women in peacekeeping, separatism, and the ethics of lethal autonomous weapons.  

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“Eggroll” by Garry Engkent https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/05/eggroll-by-garry-engkent/ https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/05/eggroll-by-garry-engkent/#respond Wed, 22 May 2019 20:00:53 +0000 https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=15669 Everybody loves Chinese food, right? Chop suey, chow mein, sweet ‘n sour chicken balls, chicken fried rice—all the staples of Chinese-Canadian cuisine to eat in or take-out. So, introducing the eggroll would be readily greeted with open mouths. You’d think.… more »

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Illustration by Katya Roxas

Everybody loves Chinese food, right? Chop suey, chow mein, sweet ‘n sour chicken balls, chicken fried rice—all the staples of Chinese-Canadian cuisine to eat in or take-out. So, introducing the eggroll would be readily greeted with open mouths. You’d think.

My father, Joe Ko, wanted to acquaint his customers at the Panama Café with the eggroll. No other restaurant, Chinese or Caucasian, had put forth a new dish since WWII in Thibeault Falls. With an expanding population in a growing Northern Ontario town, people needed something new and delicious in their diets.

But the taste buds of the residents were conservative, staid, and unchallengeable. And, as my father discovered, they liked it that way.

Instead of first advertising the eggroll in the local newspaper, on billboards, or even in the daily menu, he included it, unannounced as a bonus side-dish for customers ordering fried rice or a sweet ‘n sour plate. The eggroll came with plum sauce. Something free. Something to whet the appetite and spark culinary curiosity. Something to start a gastronomic trend. Something to give the Panama Café an edge over the competition.

Hopefully.

But the eggroll created controversy instead.

“What is this, Joe?” a regular customer asked. The new dish was untouched on the small plate. The man pushed it suspiciously with his fork. It rocked back and forth a bit, but it didn’t roll.

“Eggroll.”

“What is an egg… roll?” He pushed the fork at it again.

“My new creation. Special for Thibeault Falls.”

Then he proceeded to list the ingredients: shredded BBQ pork, bean sprouts, slivered bamboo shoots, chopped water chestnut, sesame seed oil, salt and pepper, special spice, wrapped in thin pastry, and fried to crisp, golden brown.  Served with plum sauce.

The man carefully cut the cylindrical eggroll in half. The smell of sesame came out with the puff of steam. He inspected its stuffed innards.

“Where’s the egg, Joe?”

My father looked blankly at the man. “Please taste. You will like it.”

“I don’t see no egg. Just strange vegetables and a bit of meat in pastry. I can’t eat that. Anyway, a roll is a baked bun, Joe. Bread. Take it away, please!”

My father was furious as he brought the dissected eggroll back to the kitchen. Then, the waitresses also returned with uneaten, mutilated eggrolls and told similar stories. This went on for the whole business day. No customer would even taste it.

My father’s dream of cashing in with the eggroll was crashing down on him. Time, effort and money had gone into this project.  Now the dozens of eggrolls, ready for serving and selling, were destined for the garbage cans.

“I will be the laughing stock of the Chinese community,” he later told my mother. His pride was deeply hurt.

But my father was stubborn.  He stopped including it free with the Chinese dishes. He placed the eggroll as a new Panama Café specialty. Customers now had to order it and, of course, pay for it. If you had to buy it with cash, then you would more likely eat it. That was my father’s new philosophy.

A few months earlier, we all had confidence in the eggroll to make the Café distinct from the other three Chinese-Canadian restaurants in town. But developing a new cuisine was not as easy as I thought.

Preparation is key to the making of a dish. It isn’t just the assembling of ingredients. Getting the materials proved to be a challenge. At the age of 9, I learned about infrastructure.  You got to have things already in place before you can do what you want to do. And when you don’t, then you have to get or make those things first.

One of the first problems that my father had to solve was a reliable supply of bean sprouts. In the past, the cafe depended on the Ontario Northland Railway (ONR) to deliver bushels of sprouts twice a week from Toronto, some three hundred miles south. Bean sprouts were absolutely essential for chop suey and chow mein dishes, and now eggrolls. The Toronto Chinatown supplier often proved unreliable and the quality of the sprouts was inconsistent. The ONR didn’t always put the bushels in refrigerated cars, which caused them to burn during the hot summer days. In the winter, they froze.

One of the cooks, Sam Lee, suggested that we substitute bean sprouts with cabbage. This vegetable was abundant all year round. It solved the supply, extra cost and availability problems. Four heads of cabbage could make up for a bushel of sprouts. Moreover, we were familiar with this vegetable and it was much, much cheaper than bean sprouts.

My father experimented with sliced cabbage. He, my mother and the cooks tasted this version. This vegetable lacked texture and choppiness, and when cooked it made the eggroll unintentionally sweet to the palate. The eggroll smelled of boiled cabbage.

“We grow the sprouts ourselves,” my mother suggested, “in the basement here.”

Growing the mung beans ourselves meant that we had to acquire the hardware and material such as vats, troughs, water barrels, and so on. An entire hydroponic system was needed. In short, start-up was going to cost money. Plumbers, electricians, and carpenters were brought in to make the physical “plant.”

Then we had to have someone to look after the production; the little green beans had to be germinated, transferred into large vats, watered every four hours at an even temperature, and finally in three or four days when the sprouts are plump and about two inches, they’re harvested and cleaned of the soft, green husk. The shelf life of bean sprouts was short.

Since my mother came up with the idea, my father gave the job of looking after the production of bean sprouts to her. She was responsible for watering the vats regularly. She would have to wake up at four in the morning to complete the task. This added duty became part of her routine. Often on the weekends, I had to take over watering the sprouts.

Then there was the making of the eggrolls. It was an assembly line production. One person would lay out the six-inch square pastry in rows, another would brush the four ends with egg wash while someone else would put in the ingredients and then roll the ensemble together, pinching the ends tightly. A cook would fry them in the deep fryer until golden brown, let them cool on racks and stack them six high in containers in the fridge.

Then there was the separate preparation for the plum sauce. My father set the price of an eggroll with plum sauce at 15 cents.

My father also set his sights on a crème de la crème eggroll with shrimp for 25 cents. But with the initial disappointment, the grander scheme was shelved, perhaps forever.  Even this version of the Chinese dish was in doubt.

“Hey, Hardy,” a school mate shouted out in the playground. “Heard your father tried to put one over us. Eggroll without an egg!”

At first, I thought this was just regular heckling I get at school. I was the only Chinese kid at Queen Victoria Public School.  I got a lot of that kind of thing in class and in the playground.  Being different needed a tough skin.

When I got home after school, everybody in the Panama Café was in an uproar. My father’s face was full of anger. And it all had to do with the eggroll.

“We are being investigated!” my father announced.  “The health department and the licensing board. Might have to hire a lawyer!”

My father then explained to me that in the past, various city officials all over Canada tried to shut down Chinese restaurants with every excuse under the sun. By-laws were enacted to protect “Canadian” cafés, grills, and eateries from the encroaching Orientals. White women were not allowed to work in Chinese restaurants because it was considered demeaning to have a Chinaman as boss.  This was the law until the mid-40s.

“But this is 1958!” I exclaimed. And every lo wah kew—old Chinese sojourner—laughed.  Sam Lee, the oldest cook, shook his head at me.

A few Thibeault Falls citizens—one as we later learned—had complained to the municipal licensing board that the Panama Café was guilty of “misrepresentation” in its food.  The restaurant made a dish that had none of the ingredients that it was named for. Customers could be cheated of their money. This deception could even cause someone digesting it to be made ill.  The eggroll had to be stopped now before it became an insidious epidemic in the Chinese restaurant industry.

The Ladies’ Auxiliary of Thibeault Falls got into the act. They thought heathen food was against their religious beliefs and diet. “Who knows what they really put in to that thing they call an eggroll. What will they disguise next on the menu?”

Two inspectors from the health department and one from the municipal business licensing board showed up. Besides pages of official forms, the inspectors carried sampling kits to take back for examination. My father went through the preparation and cooking process of the eggroll. He had my mother make a fresh batch for show. He personally fried them. He offered them to the three officials to taste. They all hesitated. They looked at one another, daring one to break down and be the guinea pig.

Then, one official broke the awkward moment, and said, “What the hell. Looks okay. No ingredients I can’t identify. Gimme one, Joe.”

“I don’t know, Pat.” The other inspector cautioned.  “I’d worry about my stomach.”

“Really! You saw how it was made.”

Pat shamed the other two into trying the eggrolls. They waited, of course, until he had finished and wiped the dribble of plum sauce from his mouth.

“It’s like a really small portion of pork chop suey in pastry. Fried in fat instead of cooked in a wok,” he commented.

“So you are not going to close down my restaurant?”

“No, Joe. But we suggest you call this egg roll by another name.”

My father was relieved. Later, he told my mother that he was glad that these inspectors did not ask what was in the plum sauce. Because there were no plums in it at all. It was made of stewed dry apricots, sugar, vinegar, water, and hot chili peppers.

Now he had to come up with a new name for the eggroll. He played with a number of food related, Chinese-like terms: deep-fried Chinese wrap, Oriental fried dumpling, Panama Café stuffed surprise, baby chop suey roll—this last moniker was quickly rejected because someone might take the word “baby” in a cannibalistic way, far worse than saying there was an egg in the roll. One of the white waitresses told him that.

My father was in a quandary.

The Thibeault Falls Reporter caught wind of the inspection. Someone had tipped off the newspaper. On page 3, there was a full colour photo of the naked eggroll. No plum sauce, though.

The outcome of the local newspaper’s item was that it sealed the fate of the eggroll. It saved my father from sleepless nights thinking up of names. The Thibeault Falls Reporter had officially identified the dish “eggroll” and it stuck.

Still the publicity did create a lively debate over the naming of food. Take, for example, the hot dog. This staple at sports stadiums, fair grounds, picnics, street vendors and many households was, and still is, an elongated bun with a reheated wiener, topped with condiments. The wiener itself is made of beef or pork lung, brain, tongue and innards, ground up, cooked and stuffed in intestines of sheep.  For generations, people all over Canada and the United States eat it with relish.

I remember when we first came over to gum san, Canada, my mother commented when she was told about the favourite and famous hot dog, “Fan gwei, the white devils, eat dogs too.”

At school, Miss Andrews took the opportunity in social studies to talk about this misnaming of food we eat and take for granted. She also confessed that she had eaten an eggroll from the Panama Café.

“Class, did you know that hamburgers do not have ham or any pork meat in it? It was named after a German town called Hamburg. Immigrants brought it over. And after a while, ground beef in a grilled patty came to be known as a hamburger.”

“Like chop suey,” I said. “A Chinese invention.”

“Sorry, Hardy,” the teacher corrected. “It is a North American creation. During the gold rush in California, someone mixed leftover vegetables and meat together and called it chop suey. The phrase isn’t even Chinese, only sounds it.”

My father told me the eggroll was all Chinese, all the way from the Middle Kingdom, when he learned of it in Toronto. It had Chinese ingredients in it. Were we really trying to fool the fan gwei?

The local radio station asked its teenaged audience about the eggroll, this Asian delicacy. “Can anyone tell what’s in an eggroll? Is it a current fad like the hula-hoop or yo-yo?” The DJ dared any listener to come to the station, eat thirteen eggrolls—with plum sauce—and be rewarded with two free tickets to a rock-and-roll show in Buffalo, USA. The response was overwhelming.

“Free advertising,” my father beamed.

In truth, he had to give the radio station dozens of eggrolls. For the free advertising, of course. But it worked. People became curious about this “eggroll” that you can eat from a plate or just from holding it in your hand.

Soon customers came to the restaurant, bought and ate the eggroll. My father observed that it was the younger “beat” generation, the hot rod enthusiasts, rock ‘n rollers who took to the eggroll as much as they did to the perennial Coke ‘n fries with gravy. His outlook brightened a bit. His older customers—the liver and onions with mashed potatoes and ketchup group—were still skeptical, suspicious and, reluctant.

Soon the other Chinese restaurants in town were offering their versions of the eggroll.  They used pumpkin in the plum sauce and substituted bean sprouts with cabbage.  My father guarded the secret ingredients to the eggroll and plum sauce, and swore us to secrecy and silence. In the meanwhile, we were growing bean sprouts, making eggrolls, and selling them like hot cakes.

With this eggroll success, my father declared another culinary venture for the Panama Café and for the diners of Thibeault Falls:

Dim sum!”


Garry Engkent is a Chinese-Canadian who immigrated to gum san in 1953. He has a Ph.D. and taught at various universities and colleges. He has co-authored three texts: Groundwork: Writing Skills to Build On, Fiction/Non-Fiction: A Reader and Rhetoric, and Essay: Do’s and Don’ts.

His stories have appeared in Exile, Alberta Magazine, Many-Mouthed Birds, SELS Review etc. Most of the stories have a Chinese immigrant slant, circa 1950-70s: “Why My Mother Can’t Speak English,” “Chickens for Christmas,” “Visiting,” “Ten Questions and a Slice of Boston Cream Pie,” and “Mother Came to Visit and Stayed.” His story “The Bear and I” was published in Ricepaper recently.

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“Skin” by L Malik https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/05/skin-by-l-malik/ https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/05/skin-by-l-malik/#respond Wed, 22 May 2019 06:33:02 +0000 https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=15677

I wrote one
million poems
not one featured
the word brown.

I scalpeled my own pulsing heart
excised all trace of spice or silk
routes
stepped politely away
from ugly temptation,
sari-clad white women dislocating
pinocchial hips

Every poem I … more »

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Illustration by Katya Roxas




I wrote one
million poems
not one featured
the word brown.

I scalpeled my own pulsing heart
excised all trace of spice or silk
routes
stepped politely away
from ugly temptation,
sari-clad white women dislocating
pinocchial hips

Every poem I wrote
was a mudbrick and
with one
million mudbricks I built
a vacuum-sealed fort
we were left in peace,
my poems and I.

No one scented blood
in the mortar.


L Malik crossed oceans to work words on Adobigok, traditional territory of the Wendat, Anishnaabeg, Haudenosaunee, Métis, and Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation. Her writing has been published in CV2, Canthius, The New Quarterly, Sukoon and FOLD Festival of Literary Diversity (forthcoming). She is working on her first poetry collection.

 

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Interview with Carlo Javier https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/05/interview-with-carlo-javier/ https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/05/interview-with-carlo-javier/#respond Sun, 12 May 2019 18:33:27 +0000 https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=15666


Carlo Javier is a freelance journalist and emerging fiction author. He was the editor-in-chief at The Capilano Courier, a student-run newspaper in Capilano University. His short story, Janitors, will be published in the upcoming Immersions anthology by the Asian more »

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Carlo Javier is a freelance journalist and emerging fiction author. He was the editor-in-chief at The Capilano Courier, a student-run newspaper in Capilano University. His short story, Janitors, will be published in the upcoming Immersions anthology by the Asian Canadian Writers’ Workshop and Dark Helix Press.

Javier mostly tackles issues related to the Filipino-Canadian and Filipino immigrant experience. His graduation thesis, The Nanny Diaries, investigates the experiences of Filipino women working as nannies and domestic workers in Canada. His upcoming crime thriller short story, Janitors, follows a rookie janitor as he uncovers an intricate web of underworld cleaners and a spy network made up of Filipino-Canadians in the service industry.

Vincent Ternida (VT): While the hidden underworld economy of assassins and cleaners isn’t new in genre fiction as featured in your short story, Janitors, you’ve made yours stand out by featuring the less featured perspective of the cleaners by adding the Filipino voice to the mix. What inspired you to take this direction?

CJ: As with many works of fiction, there’s a bit of realism into that. I have Filipino friends and family who either supplement their incomes with janitorial gigs or build their incomes on the foundation of janitorial gigs. It’s nothing to be ashamed of seeing as honest work is honest work at the end of the day, but almost all of the janitors I know are entirely skilled and experienced in their respective lines of work/education prior to janitorial—it just so happened that these skills and experiences were honed in the Philippines, and as we know, accrediting overseas work (especially from the global south) is not exactly the norm in Canadian industries.

If we are looking at specifics, then two things come to mind in terms of inspiration: I did a story on the living wage campaign organized by janitors at Capilano University and more than 3/4 of the janitors at the school are skilled Filipino immigrants. This led to an interaction with a union worker who himself used to be a janitor and had done the research that 60% of all janitors in the Greater Vancouver area are Filipino.

The other inspiration is just a random morning when I walked into the Royal Centre Mall by Burrard Station—through the entrance sandwiched between McDonald’s and Tim Horton’s—and everyone that worked in both restaurants were Filipino. It was like entering a portal back to the Philippines…granted it’s not janitorial, but the service industry nonetheless.

VT: Before you made the transition to fiction writing, you were a journalist, being the editor-in-chief at The Capilano Courier. What pushed you towards the direction of literary writing?

CJ: I think I was just looking for a more creative outlet. I had been in journalism for 6-7 years now and I kind of started becoming more unsatisfied with telling the stories of other people—not that their stories were uninteresting or anything like that—it was just that I felt an increasing urge to tell my own stories.

I was also unemployed at the time and was a year away from graduating with a Communications Degree from Capilano University. I was born in the Philippines, but very much educated under the Canadian system. I was aware of the stereotypes that Filipinos in Canada get lumped into—I did my undergrad thesis on it! (The Nanny Diaries)—and was genuinely fearful, to be honest, of the realistic possibility that I might become a janitor as well. By chance, I came across your book (The Seven Muses of Harry Salcedo) through PhilippineCanadianNews.com founder, Ted Alcuitas. We had a conversation about fiction writing and you know, things just came to place on its own.

I guess the short answer is: I had a genuine fear about something that is entirely possible, I didn’t want it to happen, so writing a fictional story about it seemed like the best way to come to a resolution.

VT: There seems to be a contrast with your protagonist’s motivations versus the supporting character (SC) as the protagonist is Filipino-Canadian while the SC is a Filipino immigrant. In your opinion and observation, how do the differences between first-generation immigrants and the children of immigrants influence the writing and perspective in your stories?

CJ: There certainly is! And that’s one of the periphery themes that I wanted to convey in that story. The protagonist is predominantly based on my experiences as a Filipino-Canadian that Wikipedia defines as “1.5 generation,” having been born in the Philippines and immigrating at 12 years old, just right before my formative teenage years. The SC is based on the many immigrant Filipinos I know who moved here either in their late teens or early 20s and they are immediately set back even further because they’re subjected to upgrading their hard-earned education, even though they’re at the age when working and generating income becomes a responsibility.

Ultimately, it’s a deeper conversation about the nuances of an immigrant identity. I know a number of Filipino-Canadians who were born here and either have never been to the Philippines or have only been there as tourists, and may not even speak a lick of Filipino, but have a yearning desire to get in touch with their roots and to know more about their ethnic background. On the other hand, I also know a number of Filipinos who moved to Canada at a later stage in their life and are faced with the challenges of adapting, or even assimilating, to a new culture, environment, and language in order to survive.

There’s a bit of a commentary on privilege in there as well. The fact that I can pursue fiction-writing, knowledge, and self-actualization, and you know, dreams, is a testament to my privilege. Seeing as there are so many Filipinos my age who have to dedicate their time and effort towards infinitely more important things like paying bills, providing for their families, or sending money back to the Philippines. I guess in a way, it’s a self-critique.

VT: Your new short story, “Algorithm of the Heart,” tackles a more speculative territory. The story moves from featuring both immigrants and children of immigrants to a purely Filipino-Canadian perspective. Could you comment on the change in direction from “Nanny Diaries” and “Janitors?”

CJ: With Algorithm, it’s almost like a culmination of an early to mid-20s identity crisis. The story comes from very real human experiences that anyone regardless of background and identity could face and it comes at a time when I’ve become comfortable with being a Filipino-Canadian. I started Algorithm a month after I turned 25, which also happened to be the same month that marked my 13-year anniversary in Canada. There are small hints of racial critique and commentary in that story, or at least the making of that story, but ultimately, I wanted to write a piece where the protagonist goes through issues we can deem to be universal, like a break up, or the problems borne out of an unhealthy relationship with social media, and it just so happens that this protagonist is Filipino-Canadian.

VT: What do you plan to write in the future?

CJ: Probably some things around either superheroes or magic realism. I know that every story I write will feature a Filipino main character, but whether their identity is a driving force or not, I’m not really sure. I do want to write more about social media and interconnectedness. And I also want to look into classism and privilege. I especially want to work on a story that juxtaposes the life of a Filipino-Canadian who was able to move to Canada by way of the Live-In Caregiver Program, and another Filipino-Canadian who moved to Canada by way of having the money, but that’s probably for somewhere down the road. At the moment, after Algorithm, I’ll be working on a story about a superhero.


Carlo Javier will be reading excerpts of his new short story Algorithm of The Heart at Sampaguita Perspectives: A Celebration of Filipino-Canadian Writers on May 14th at 6:30 p.m., at the Vancouver Public Library’s Montalbano Theatre, 350 West Georgia Street, Vancouver. This event is co-hosted by the Vancouver Public Library in partnership with the Vancouver Asian Heritage Month Society. Carlo’s short story, Janitors will be released in Immersions: A Speculative Fiction Anthology, published as a collaboration between Asian Canadian Writer’s Workshop and  Dark Helix Press.

 

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Ricepaper at Book Expo 2019 https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/05/ricepaper-at-book-expo-2019/ https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/05/ricepaper-at-book-expo-2019/#respond Fri, 10 May 2019 18:00:09 +0000 https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=15644

Ricepaper Magazine will be sending Deputy Editor JF Garrard to attend Book Expo 2019 (May 29-31, 2019) to check out the latest trends and news in the publishing industry. An annual event in Manhattan, NYC, Book Expo is the largest … more »

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Ricepaper Magazine will be sending Deputy Editor JF Garrard to attend Book Expo 2019 (May 29-31, 2019) to check out the latest trends and news in the publishing industry. An annual event in Manhattan, NYC, Book Expo is the largest annual book trade fair in North America. All the major publishers in traditional publishing will have a booth, and it is a place to showcase upcoming titles, sell books, network and buy/sell subsidiary rights and international rights. Other attendees include authors, media, small presses, librarians, and buyers for book retailers. It is a great learning opportunity as the Expo features 32 author events and 81 education sessions.

A few sessions we are looking forward to includes:

Indeed, some of these topics will only thrill those working within the publishing industry! Last year over 7,000 people attended and the stats collected (below) gives an overview of what happened.

Image: by Reed/BookExpo

For new authors thinking about exhibiting at Book Expo, author Jane Friedman has some wise words of advice as the fair is geared towards the industry and not consumers. Authors may have better luck at showcasing their work at Book Con (June 1-2, 2019) run by the same organizers as Book Expo. This show is aimed towards readers/consumers and writers, featuring panels on writing, author readings, book discussions and the presence of celebrity authors. It is a massive show with over 20,000 people and their stats are impressive (see below).

Image: by Reed/BookExpo

As Ricepaper Magazine is a platform for online publishing and book publishing, we hope that by attending Book Expo 2019, we will gain better ideas on how to share our work with readers by learning from industry professionals!

 

 

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“A Glance in the Rear-View Mirror” by Stephanie Lo https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/05/a-glance-in-the-rear-view-mirror-by-stephanie-lo/ https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/05/a-glance-in-the-rear-view-mirror-by-stephanie-lo/#respond Mon, 06 May 2019 17:46:06 +0000 https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=15616

I was just a child in the backseat of the car. It was an old Honda civic. Grey in colour. My mother was driving. I don’t remember where we were headed. I don’t remember anything else of that day, except … more »

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I was just a child in the backseat of the car. It was an old Honda civic. Grey in colour. My mother was driving. I don’t remember where we were headed. I don’t remember anything else of that day, except that something had caught my attention, and it is a moment that I have thought back to many times in the twenty-plus years following. What caught my attention was my reflection in the rear-view mirror. Through those young eyes, I remember seeing myself, recognizing my Chinese ethnicity, and being startled. I was six years old.

Shortly after, I remember a moment where I stood a few feet away from the dresser, curiosity wide open, staring at the face of my little self in the large mirror stationed within my parents’ bedroom. I remember thinking, why is this Chinese face speaking English.

I don’t know what spurred the question. It wasn’t like I had never looked in a mirror before. But in those moments, I formed the first significant question in my life that I ever had about myself and my sense of self. It was like a variation of the longstanding question from countless movies where the lead actor asks, “Who am I?”

I shared my query with my mother at the time that it occurred, puzzled about a Chinese face speaking English. She responded by saying that I was having an identity crisis. How I understood what that meant I will never know. But I must have grasped the context of that phrase. I don’t know if my mother followed up on her observation with any explanation or reasoning to me. If she did, it didn’t register, for I have no further recollection of that conversation.

I was born in Hong Kong. My parents had immigrated and brought me over to start our lives in Vancouver, B.C., when I was just a year old. We had moved here to be close to my maternal grandparents, who had themselves immigrated to Vancouver decades ago.  In the years following our immigration, Cantonese remained the only language of communication that was used in my upbringing until I finally began primary school.

“Does Stephanie speak any English?” my kindergarten teacher asked. I didn’t, but my mother assumed that I would pick it up quick enough. And she was right. It’s not difficult to learn a new language when you’re that young.

The question of why that little Chinese face was speaking English, though, continued to plague me all throughout my life as I grew older. I struggled constantly with trying to identify with which culture I truly belonged to. Was I Chinese, or was I “English”? I desperately tried to stay connected with my native ethnic culture by staying up to date with Chinese entertainment. I was on top of all the new songs, always aware of which new Hong Kong soap operas had just come out, and I knew all the artists. I stayed among the top of my class in Chinese school, making more out of my long Saturday afternoons (two hours of Cantonese schooling, followed by two hours of Mandarin schooling) than many of the students my age. At the same time, throughout all this growing up, my western education continued to shape, mould, and change me. As an eight-year-old, I did what they always tell you not to do—I judged a book by its cover, picked up a novel purely because of the illustration of a dog on its front jacket, and through this sheer luck, found myself drawn into the pages of the beloved Canadian author Jean Little. I fell in love with reading from that book onwards. I excelled in my English classes throughout high school. I went on to a prestigious university on the east coast of Canada and obtained an Honours Degree in English Literature. This achievement was one of the happiest moments of my life and yet, at the end of all that growth and time, I still struggled with understanding and coming to terms with my identity as a Chinese-Canadian. I had always applauded (literally and metaphorically) all things multicultural without truly understanding how I fit into that picture.

Looking back, I see now that my thought process, and my level of understanding, got stuck within some rigid parameters. And because I didn’t have the ability to reason myself out of those parameters as a child, I carried them with me all throughout my life. I thought that the language that you speak, should match the face you were born with. If you were Chinese, you spoke Chinese. If you were Caucasian, you spoke English. There was no middle ground. But, of course, there was. I was living that middle ground everyday. I just didn’t know how to appreciate it, and I didn’t know how lucky I was to have one. That I could jump from one language comprehension to another, and thus open myself to two different worlds. That I could straddle between two cultures that came to an intersection in my own world.

Everyday, there are people who try so hard to pick up and learn a new language just so they can partake in that same joy. They, too, want a chance to connect with more than one culture and ethnicity. It would have been nice if I could have understood that joy at a younger age so that I wouldn’t have had to struggle so long with the desire to identify and belong to just one or the other. But it’s never too late. I have a whole life of middle ground to live upon yet, and all the more to appreciate for it when I look back to that afternoon in the car, when I first wondered about my reflection in the rear-view mirror.


Stephanie Lo was born in Hong Kong and currently resides in Vancouver, BC. One of her favorite hobbies is writing letters to friends and family around the world. Her condo recently installed a new mailbox, and she is fairly certain that only items for pick up that the postman ever finds in there is her outgoing mail.

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“China Dolls” by Ryanne Kap https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/04/china-dolls-by-ryanne-kap/ https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/04/china-dolls-by-ryanne-kap/#respond Tue, 30 Apr 2019 20:00:50 +0000 https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=15613 A man spots a small bundle on the steps of a warehouse that’s been abandoned for years. The bundle moves as he approaches.

According to the note, she’s not even a month old.

The man goes to the police and … more »

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Illustration by Christine Wei

A man spots a small bundle on the steps of a warehouse that’s been abandoned for years. The bundle moves as he approaches.

According to the note, she’s not even a month old.

The man goes to the police and they place the child in the care of strangers. She is placed in a roomful of orphans, all born within days of each other. Their feet are tied to the cribs so they won’t fall onto the concrete floor.

There’s a Chinese legend about the invisible red thread of fate, tied around the ankles of those destined to meet. Though the thread may stretch or tangle, it will never break.

That night, as the twelve girls sleep, a tapestry begins to form.

***

It has been three years since our last reunion and I’ve been wondering how the girls have changed. Talia Boulard hasn’t. At 9:01 p.m., she’s just gotten home from work, but her cheerfulness radiates even over video-chat.

She mentions several times how “cool” it is that we’ve all stayed in touch. We were the first group of adoptees to live in the same country and we took advantage of it. As the sixty-second group to be adopted through the Children’s Bridge, an international adoption agency, we made matching T-shirts with “Group 62” printed on the back. I remember trips to the Toronto Zoo, a weekend in Niagara Falls, visiting a pet store with tiny sharks and octopi. This is the first one-on-one conversation I can remember having with Talia.

In her profile picture she wears a prom dress and makeup, but tonight she’s dressed simply in a grey T-shirt and leggings, her dark hair pulled into a braid. There doesn’t seem to be any sharp edges to her. Her eyes are warm, her smile wide.

As we talk, I get the sense she’s great in job interviews. She’s already prepared when I ask her to describe herself in three words: “daughter,” “dancer,” and “unknown,” the last of which is “due to identity.”

“To me, it’s family first. All the time,” Talia says. She has an older sister, Dani, adopted a couple years before her. They share an apartment near the University of Ottawa, which they both attend. As for her parents, her mother gave her a love for the arts while her father taught her to enjoy manual labour. It’s an odd combination, but Talia is nothing if not well-rounded. During her fourteen years of dance, she’s studied everything from ballet to musical theatre to lyrical/contemporary.

Talia was told early on she was adopted, but says that if she hadn’t been, she wouldn’t have questioned her parentage. “As a kid, you don’t really see differences in ethnicity, you just don’t,” she says. That naiveté lasted until middle school, when she discovered she’d been left on the street as a baby. Realizing she’d “started off unwanted” led her into one of the darkest times in her life.

“I resented—like loathed—the person who gave birth to me,” she says. “When I first learned about abortion, I was like ‘wow, you could’ve just aborted me.’ I was just so mad at that point.”

Despite the subject matter, Talia maintains a level, almost upbeat tone. She could just as easily be talking about her favourite kinds of music. I don’t doubt her struggles, but I’m surprised at how neatly she wraps them up.

“Someone told me, ‘oh, you’re lucky you’re adopted because someone really, really wanted you.’ A few years after, when I was sad about it, that voice popped right back into my mind and everything just stopped and I was like, I should be so much more grateful than I am, honestly.”

I ask if she’d still want to meet her birth parents. She says she’d consider it, but it’s not a top priority.

“I don’t feel like I’m missing anything in my life right now. But yeah, there are some questions that are unanswered. I would like to know my roots,” she says. “But the way I see myself is 0.1% the whole biological thing, 99.9% just how I was raised. I don’t see myself as the adopted kid in my family. I’m just part of my family.”

Later, Talia shares a story about waiting for the bus last winter. She watched dozens of buses pass by in the opposite direction. It was bitterly cold, and she was tired of waiting. But when someone started singing Christmas carols in French, she joined in.

That’s Talia. A daughter of two French-Canadians—one with Indigenous ancestry—who’s adopted her family’s rich cultural background while recognizing her own. A dancer who ironically can’t keep a beat, but will always try.

And the rest?

Unknown.

***

A young woman rides a bus full of tourists. Through the window, a faceless city rushes past. It’s a swell of bikes and buses, stained grey buildings, the nonstop shouts of car horns. Traffic follows one rule: whoever honks the loudest wins.

At the front of the bus, the tour guide describes China’s infamous “family-planning” policy.

“In big cities, this policy is very strict. If you have one more child, and you already have one… you will probably be severely punished,” she says. “No job, basically nothing. Baby cannot get registered and cannot get ID card. I think when you see all this crowd in the streets, you understand that policy.” A long pause. “I like that policy.”

The silence that follows is almost heavier than the heat. The woman on the bus—and every other tourist along with her—has spent thousands of dollars to be here. They all plan to return home with perfect little China dolls. But when the tour guide talks about the girls, it’s as a horoscope reading. In the Chinese zodiac, 1998 is the year of the tiger.

“Tigers are natural leaders; they should rise to the top of their professions,” the guide says. “Also they are honest, open, and hate hypocrisy, so they can be rebellious at times, which can lead them into conflict”—someone says “we already know that” to mild laughter—“but they can lead full and satisfying lives as long as they can curb their wild excesses.”

            Later, when the parents have met their children, they sit in a hotel room swapping stories and clothes (no one correctly predicted their baby’s measurements). They watch their girls closely, making careful observations like “she looks like Yoda,” trying to see now what they’ll grow up to be.

***

When I ask Lisa Mazza to sum herself up in three words, a sizable silence passes before she answers.

“Indecisive, I suppose, is a good one. In life. Every day.” Another pause. “Empathetic? Maybe almost to a fault. And, uh…”

We agree to move on.

Lisa has a round face framed by chin-length black hair; her gaze is assessing and her manner straightforward. She’s a psych student at Laurentian, but when I ask what the plan is after she graduates, she says, “It’s so far up in the air I’m afraid it’s never coming down.”

When I ask about the most important people in her life, her delivery is just as deadpan.

“My dog. Not quite a person, but she may as well be one,” she says. “My girlfriend. I guess I should say that, that’s probably the nice thing to say. My sister. And my parents are somewhere there, but, you know.”

When she talks about her girlfriend, she starts to smile.

“We’ve been dating just over a year. We met in high school,” she says. “Yeah, I went to an all-girls school. So, uh, you know, that worked out the way it did. Didn’t think I liked girls. Turns out I also like girls.”

She doesn’t seem to take anything too seriously, especially not her adoption.

“I don’t think I ever needed to be told about it,” she says. “You know, it’s not hard to look up and realize you don’t really look like your parents. It’s always just been a fact.”

The most she’s ever struggled with being adopted is when checking off her ethnicity on surveys. “I always think I’m circling the wrong thing because I choose Asian, and everyone else chooses Caucasian,” she says. “I feel like that’s the only time I get real confused.”

We joke about identifying as basic white girls. We’re not as Asian as people think we are. Lisa tells me about a man asking her how to say “hello” in Chinese and how she had to explain she doesn’t speak the language.

“I was like, ‘I was born here!’” Lisa says.

It’s technically not true. But as Lisa says, “I feel like I’ve been here my whole life.”

When I ask if she’d want to meet her birth parents, she doesn’t take much time to think about it.

“I don’t think I would. It’s like…why? Why bother? I’m thinking, if it happened, maybe. But I don’t think I need to. I’m happy with where I am right now.”

For Lisa, her adoption is just a fact. What’s more significant is the impact others have had. “Everyone influences you, everyone you meet, in little, little ways. So I feel like a lot of who I am came from a lot of people in my life,” she says.

We briefly discuss the inherent strangeness of adoption and how it shapes who we are. The pain of something we can’t remember is weird enough; it’s weirder still to think we’re in any way defined by it. But aren’t there so many other markers just like that? The situations we’re born into, or the traits we inherit—aren’t they similarly significant to our sense of self?

Twenty minutes after I first asked, Lisa completes her three words.

“Oh, word for that thing!” she says. “Over-thinker.”

***

Twenty-three prospective parents wait in a hotel lobby. They shift anxiously, make jokes and small talk. When the elevator doors slide open, they all grow quiet and lean forward in anticipation. But it’s not who they’re expecting. They recede, trying to laugh off their disappointment.

After several false starts, the orphanage director and the nannies step off the elevator, each holding one or two black-haired baby girls. The babies are set on the beds and couch of a hotel room. One of the girls begins to cry, loudly enough to set the others off. When another topples off the bed and hits the floor, the room is filled with sound and fury.

The single woman’s name is the first to be called. When she takes her child into her arms, the cries shift to screams. But she doesn’t flinch, not even as the tiny arms try to push her away. There will always be this sense of separation. She holds her daughter close.

Minutes later, all twelve girls have been delivered to their families. Some are still crying, as if being born again. Most don’t resemble the placid, doll-like figures in the photographs.

Soon enough, they’ll be renamed, sent off to different homes, and the threads connecting them to each other, and to the place they once belonged, will tug and pull but refuse to break.

But for now, they’re blank slates. There’s no telling what they’ll be.

***

Savannah Quinn looks precise.

Her thin-framed glasses enhance the symmetry of her face. Her hair’s the darkest brown, fading to blonde near the ends; it falls neatly past her shoulders. Her eyeliner is perfectly applied. She wears an over-sized plaid shirt and a pair of black headphones around her neck, but they hang at just the right angle.

When I ask for her three words, she grimaces.

“Oh God,” she says. “I should probably get this down for job interviews.” She considers for a moment. “I try to be pretty independent. I’m kind of introverted. I think for the most part, I’m kind of a perfectionist.”

With Savannah, this is just the beginning.

She recalls that in grade one, she suddenly went silent. “One of my teachers legitimately asked, ‘Is she mute? Does she have a tongue?’ I didn’t speak. I was super shy. Since then, it’s kind of carried on.”

Despite her reserved nature, Savannah was fairly active growing up. At one point, she was involved with soccer, ballet, figure skating, tap dancing, and Mandarin classes. Her parents enrolled her in the latter so she could learn about her culture, but unlike most of the students coming from Chinese families, she was at a disadvantage.

“They would learn stuff at home that I wouldn’t, so they would excel a lot faster.” With the added pressure of juggling school and her other extra-curriculars, she dropped after half a year. In high school, she tried to keep in touch with her heritage by making friends with students from Asian families, as well as—she admits this with a sheepish laugh—watching anime.

“I want to identify as Chinese,” she explains. “But for the most part, I’m Canadian.” She describes most of her interests—and even her way of thinking—as reflective of Asian culture, but there’s still a constant tension between her heritage and her upbringing.

As she got older, Savannah’s research began to include orphanages and the one-child policy, especially during a difficult period of questioning her background and birth parents.

“I would just question, why wasn’t I just aborted, or why couldn’t they keep me? Even if we were suffering, we would at least suffer as a family,” she says. “I would get really depressed about it, to the point where I would break down crying at night.”

Savannah has also struggled with intense guilt over where her questioning has led her.

“I feel bad for thinking I’d rather be with my biological family sometimes,” she says. Most adopted children are told they should just be grateful. Savannah experienced this first-hand after explaining her struggles to a friend.

“Her relationship with her parents is really bad, which mine was at the time too,” she says. “She was also trans and in an Asian family, so it was really hard for her. She wasn’t wanted when they gave birth to her, whereas I was adopted, so these two people did want me. So she was frustrated in that way.”

I’d like to think it’s never that simple, but there’s a comfort in feeling chosen. Regardless of what it says about the family we were born into.

But when I ask Savannah if she’d want to meet hers, she doesn’t hesitate.

“Yes. Hands down yes,” she says. “But I’m getting less and less hopeful that one day if I go and visit, they would have any records. I don’t even know if the orphanage is still standing.”

I’ve done my own research. I’ve found the website, seen a few pictures. I’ve even heard one of the other girls visited last summer.

I tell her it’s still standing.

I tell her that when we’re ready, it’ll be there waiting.

***

My family sits in a waiting room. On the small table, there’s a bounty of freshly-baked buns, cold cuts, chips, and soft drinks. My Opa, dressed up in a hospital gown, eats a turkey sandwich. His surgery was a couple days ago, but you can’t tell if he doesn’t move.

The two of us have always been close. Along with my aunt, he came with my mom to China to take me home. There’s a picture of him holding me on the Great Wall. Growing up, I spent nearly every Friday night at his house. Saturday mornings, he and my mom worked at the farmer’s market in Sarnia. When I was old enough, I joined them.

Two years ago, he was diagnosed with stage-four cancer. One Saturday, after market, I broke down crying in front of him and my Oma. He said he wasn’t going anywhere.

“I’ll make it till your graduation, okay?” he said. We were all in tears by that point.

Now I’m in my second year of university, and he’s in remission. The surgery, a side effect of the cancer, was the last step in his recovery. Those who could visited for lunch, either bringing or buying food to avoid the cafeteria. We’re noisy, the nine of us, laughing and talking; I hold my breath every time a worker walks by, convinced we must be breaking some rule. But nobody stops us.

Later that night, my mom pulls out the scrapbooks. She shows me old videos and paperwork, tells me details I’ve never heard before. Like how my first piece of government ID was a library card, and that I loved books at the age of two.

They’re footnotes to the story I know so well. But when I see the other girls, when I hear their stories, I’m overwhelmed by all the details I can’t possibly discover.

And I get it, the instinct for neatly-wrapped endings. You have to stop somewhere.

So I watch the old footage of the twelve of us—the tigers, the dolls, the girls of Group 62—and I think about how we’ve chosen to define ourselves, eighteen years later. How we’ll never find the right answers, or even ask the right questions. How our stories weave together, thread by thread.

My mom watches me as I type. I show her all my drafts.

“You’re going to have to stop at some point,” she says.

“I know,” I say, and keep typing.


Ryanne Kap is a Chinese-Canadian writer currently studying English and creative writing at the University of Toronto. Her work has been published most recently in Scarborough Fair and The Unpublished City Volume II, a nonfiction anthology edited by Phoebe Wang, Canisia Lubrin, and Dionne Brand. Ryanne grew up in Strathroy, Ontario and currently resides in Scarborough.

Born in Taiwan and currently living in Vancouver, Christine Wei is presently completing her BFA at Emily Carr University. Inspired by the sometimes difficult but often wonderful everyday journeys through life, Christine enjoys creating illustrations that are simultaneously whimsical and searching, contemplative and sentimental. She illustrates with the hope that her work can free people from the confinement of their own realities, and inspire people to view their lives through their own creative lens. ➤ christinewei.me / @christinewsart

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“Considering the Benignity of Clouds” by Kevin Irie https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/04/considering-the-benignity-of-clouds-by-kevin-irie/ https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/04/considering-the-benignity-of-clouds-by-kevin-irie/#respond Wed, 24 Apr 2019 01:44:59 +0000 https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=15630


There are clouds on the move to
the end of their edges, close

to the end of their own shapes.
Frayed where nothing was ever

woven, they unravel what no one wears.
Despite their large size,

they’re too light to … more »

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Illustration by Lea Duck


There are clouds on the move to
the end of their edges, close

to the end of their own shapes.
Frayed where nothing was ever

woven, they unravel what no one wears.
Despite their large size,

they’re too light to carry.
Your arm would push through them like a sleeve.

Never contained, they still hold the threat
of a downpour, a deluge, over your head.

Without a word, clouds direct
where you’re going. And each turn shows

you went.


Kevin Irie has recently published poems in Arc Poetry Magazine, Vallum, The Malahat Review and The Dalhousie Review. His book, Viewing Tom Thomson, A Minority Report (Frontenac House), was a finalist for The Acorn-Plantos People’s Poetry Award and The Toronto Book Award. He lives in Toronto.


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