Ricepaper Magazine https://ricepapermagazine.ca Asian Canadian Arts and Culture Fri, 15 Feb 2019 20:00:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 “Patriarchy” by Jaeyun Yoo https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/02/patriarchy-by-jaeyun-yoo/ https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/02/patriarchy-by-jaeyun-yoo/#respond Fri, 15 Feb 2019 20:00:44 +0000 https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=15567 Patriarchy

How is a daughter

named? My mother pleads

to the librarian tapping

dewey decimals for the Hanja dictionary;*

a weary oracle of bastards, retards

and girls. Perhaps she pulls

my eyelids; probing

for floaters, films,

blemishes, basic faults… more »


How is a daughter

named? My mother pleads

to the librarian tapping

dewey decimals for the Hanja dictionary;*

a weary oracle of bastards, retards

and girls. Perhaps she pulls

my eyelids; probing

for floaters, films,

blemishes, basic faults

unspeakably loud

when feminine. Branded

woman after woman.

Look, her pain is my pain.


在姸: To be beautiful


As if beauty is moist gauze

to my mother’s glum chafed body,


for plenty moons. Eventually

milk stripes the melons

of her breasts, freshly pendulous

to suckle by my brother.

Sweet boy lemongrass;

he softens father of fathers

who powders his bum

feels the sticky grip of a tiny fist

and I learn how a son is named.

Such a blessing to us all.


建募: A call to lead


*Hanja dictionary: A Korean dictionary for traditional Chinese characters

Jaeyun Yoo is a Korean-Canadian writer and physician living in Vancouver, BC. Her work has previously been published in “VanChosun.”

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“Did the servant really have snot?: Reviewing the English Translation of Legends of the Condor Heroes” By Jo-Ann Chiu https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/02/did-the-servant-really-have-snot-reviewing-the-english-translation-of-legends-of-the-condor-heroes-by-jo-ann-chiu/ https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/02/did-the-servant-really-have-snot-reviewing-the-english-translation-of-legends-of-the-condor-heroes-by-jo-ann-chiu/#respond Tue, 12 Feb 2019 17:00:24 +0000 https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=15569 When I agreed to write a book review of the first-ever English translation of Legends of the Condor Heroes, I had no idea I would be opening Pandora’s box of not only nostalgia, but also questions about translation and language.… more »


Original book cover of Legends of the Condor Heroes (Guangzhou Publishing House)

When I agreed to write a book review of the first-ever English translation of Legends of the Condor Heroes, I had no idea I would be opening Pandora’s box of not only nostalgia, but also questions about translation and language.

Condor Heroes is a massive 12-volume trilogy written in Chinese by the late Dr. Louis Cha, under the pen name Jin Yong (金庸).

First published in 1959, the original volumes didn’t have individual titles; they were merely numbered 1-12.  Before that, the stories were originally published in his newspaper, Ming Pao, as a continuing fiction series—but that is a history lesson for another day.

The first volume has since been translated into English by Anna Holmwood and named A Hero Born.  The added bonus of giving the translation an entirely new title is that it is easier to distinguish it as the English-language version.

Legends of the Condor Heroes – English translation (MacLehose Press)

Published in February 2018, Holmwood’s translation has been such a huge success that MacLehose Press plans to translate one volume each year, until the entire set is completed.

Gigi Chang is translating Volume Two, with the title, A Bond Undone.  At the writing of this article, Amazon lists that the title will be available for purchase in late January 2019.  Holmwood is editing that one, while translating Volume Three for its proposed February 2020 publication.

Knowing how different Chinese and English are, I wondered, “Will Holmwood’s translation be reliable?  Can it recreate the effect of the Chinese original?”

For example,  in A Hero Born, Lotus Huang and Guo Jing sneak into the Jin palace.  Lotus injures a servant in order to coerce him into helping them get medicine from the royal pharmacy.

The servant is in tears from pain.  Holmwood describes, “Snot bubbled in his nose.”

I did a double-take.  Did Dr. Cha really mention a detail so funny, about the character having snot?  And did that snot really bubble from the servant’s nose?

This called for a closer look.

The art of translation

“There’s no one way to translate,” says Nick Stember, a translator of Chinese comics and science fiction (and the former translation editor for Ricepaper).  Stember cautions me against making snap judgements when assessing Holmwood’s work.  “There’s no such thing as a perfect translation.  It’s not the English translation; it’s a translation.  It’s like in jazz music, like an arrangement.”

Adding to the confusion, the Condor Heroes trilogy exists in three different editions:  1959, 1976, and 2003.  Each edition features significant revisions by Dr. Cha himself, including characters being edited out entirely, when he later decided them to be superfluous.  The 2003 edition in particular was not necessarily well-received by all fans; some still prefer the earlier versions.

Moreover, Condor Heroes was banned in Taiwan until 1979, so underground versions were produced that barely resembled the originals.

With three different versions of the “original” Condor Heroes, unauthorized versions floating around Taiwan, as well as numerous TV and film adaptations—is there even an “original” Condor Heroes anymore to begin with?

Stember also pointed out that the differences between Chinese and English make translation between the two languages especially difficult.

“Chinese has no verb tenses, no subject, and has lots of freedom,” he says.  “English has more synonyms, more words.  Chinese is more concise and the same adjectives can come up again. But translated directly into English, it can be repetitive.  In English it is considered bad writing if you use the same adjectives.”

Stember gives one other tip on how to assess a translation.  “We often talk about what’s been ‘lost in translation,’ but rarely talk about what is gained in translation,” he says. “Humour is most cultural-specific.  If a translator can successfully translate the humour, then it’s a good translation.”

By taking on such an ambitious project, of such a famous Chinese literary work, Anna Holmwood is surely setting herself up to be a lightning rod for criticism.   What would compel her to take on such a crazy task?

“The folly of youth,” she says with a laugh.

From Anna

Anna Holmwood answers my Skype call from her home in Malmö, Sweden.  We spoke twice last year, in August and in September.

“The figure of ‘translator’ is very vulnerable,” she says.  “They mediate between the culture of those who can and can’t read the original language.  You’re their only access.  People can resent you.”

Even more so when the figure is Jin Yong and his legions of fans.

Holmwood, who has a master’s degree in modern Chinese studies from Oxford University, began working as a professional translator in 2010.  Two years into her career, she noticed that Legend of the Condor Heroes hadn’t been translated in English before.  With the debut of A Hero Born in February 2018, she is the first person in 59 years to begin doing so.

“I thought it would be career-defining,” says Holmwood.  She was right.

Success of A Hero Born has “far exceeded expectations.”  St. Martin’s Press has purchased the US rights for the first four volumes and will begin publishing a US version of A Hero Born in 2019.

Given that the 2003 edition is a bit controversial among fans, I asked Holmwood why she chose that one.  Her reason was simple:  That was the edition requested by Dr. Cha’s representatives.  Who can argue with that?

Holmwood completed the bulk of translating the 120,000 words of A Hero Born in 18 months, but in total, it took five years of behind-the-scenes work to bring it to publication.

And yes, there were times when she had doubts and worries about potential criticisms from Condor fans.

In times like these, Holmwood credits her Taiwanese husband, who previously worked in television, for his encouragement and support.  “He said, ‘You can’t stop people from voicing their opinion.  You have to believe in what you’re doing, and deal with the anxiety.’”

Legends of the Condor Heroes – DVD cover (TVB Jade)

The name controversies

The most hotly-debated topic online is Holmwood’s choices in translating names.  Some allege her of being inconsistent.

Until Stember educated me on how to assess a translation, I also noticed the differences and questioned why Holmwood appeared to be inconsistent.

Some names were kept in their original pinyin, in Chinese order, with surname first (“Guo Jing”).  Others were translated directly into English, with surname at the end (“Ironheart Yang”), while some were translated into a subsense (“Apothecary Huang”).  And still others were changed entirely from their original Chinese (“Kholjin”, “Gallant Ouyang” and “Mercy Mu”).

[For readers who aren’t familiar with Condor Heroes, the actual names of Genghis Khan’s four sons were kept in their original form, whereas the daughter, Huazheng, was presented as a Chinese name.  Huazheng was part of a fictionalized love triangle storyline among the hero, Guo Jing, and his true love, Huang Rong.]

For the character Huang Rong (黃蓉), I looked up “蓉” (“Rong”) in the Oxford Chinese Dictionary.

“‘Rong’ doesn’t translate into ‘Lotus,’” I say.

“There are some dictionaries which do,” says Holmwood. “More often it’s translated into ‘hibiscus,’ and less commonly as ‘lotus.’”

“Why did you change Huazheng (華箏) into Kholjin?” I ask.  Kholjin is an entirely different name!

Holmwood explains that she researched Mongolian names and had found that Genghis Khan did have a daughter named Kholjin.  She thought it would be more authentic to use an actual Mongolian name in the translation.

For the record, Holmwood does give detailed responses on why she made the name choices she did.  However, given the limits of our interview time, I felt that I couldn’t do it justice, so I’ve abbreviated her actual response in this article.

[For readers who want to learn more about why Holmwood made some of her choices in name translations, the preface and appendix of A Hero Born gives some explanations.]

The other point that arises from our discussion is the fact that there is a dearth of Chinese-English dictionaries, compared to translation dictionaries of other languages.   Ditto for the names of Genghis Khan’s daughters.  Prior to our interview, I did attempt to research local resources, but couldn’t find any.  My next step would have been to seek a university library and higher levels of help.

“I believe in the choices I made,” says Holmwood.  “For me it was more about creating a feel across the whole text and take into the needs within the context of a paragraph.  Do I go for something poetic, or something that is accurate?  Sometimes poetic is more accurate in the context of literary translation than the ‘accurate’ translation.”

Good point.  Holmwood changed the name of Guo Jing’s mother from Li Ping (李萍) to “Lily Li.”  “萍” (“Ping”) actually translates into “Duckweed,” so hands down that Holmwood made the best decision in giving the hero’s mom a more palatable name as “Lily.”

“A translation is never finished,” says Holmwood.  “In 10-15 years’ time, maybe someone will come up with an alternative translation of Condor Heroes.”

But until then, Holmwood’s is the only one.

Yes, the servant really did have snot

But it didn’t bubble.

In the Chinese text, the servant really does arrive with “汗氷、眼泪、鼻涕” (hànshuĭ, yănlèi, bítì): “sweat, tears, nose mucous.”

In English, “nose mucous” has a serious connotation, such as when speaking to a family physician.  If you want to be funny, usually you will use the word “snot.”

Chinese only has “鼻涕” (bítì) for nose mucous and is neutral.

Using Stember’s tip as a guide, Holmwood did a great job.  She did alter the translation, yes—but for the better, and she did it without altering the character of Dr. Cha’s text.  Kind of like taking someone whose face is already beautiful and applying makeup skillfully on it.

I did some more spot checks.  The original draft of this article featured more examples, but it began to read too much like an academic dissertation.

What I learned from this journey is that a good translation isn’t necessarily about a word-for-word, dictionary-like approach.  That could get tedious, especially if the two languages have very different structures, such as Chinese and English .

What’s important is whether Holmwood can capture Dr. Cha’s talents as a writer:  the unique personalities he forged in his characters, his wisdom of human psychology, and his sense of humour.  I would say she did.  And it looks like I’m not the only one who thinks so.

Most touching for Holmwood is when people of American-Chinese heritage let her know how happy they are that because of her, they can now read and enjoy the full text of Condor Heroes in English.

“That really moves me,” says Holmwood, “because I’m half-Swedish, so I know what it feels like to have two cultures that you are immersed in, but one you still don’t have full access to because you’re not a native speaker.  Hearing that kind of feedback makes me feel like it’s all worthwhile.”


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“Family History” and other poems by Yoshika Watson https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/02/family-history-by-yoshika-watson/ https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/02/family-history-by-yoshika-watson/#respond Fri, 08 Feb 2019 09:03:52 +0000 https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=15542 Möbius Strip

We thought my life

was following the same

curves as yours, Mama

but I was slowly

curling into the






of a möbius strip

and when I finally

straightened I became

the inverse of … more »


Illustration by Na Wang

Möbius Strip

We thought my life

was following the same

curves as yours, Mama

but I was slowly

curling into the






of a möbius strip

and when I finally

straightened I became

the inverse of you.


You always said

history repeats itself

but did you know

that when life looped

back again, we would

be on opposite planes?


I ran away from

the same thing

that saved you

because in my

orbit, your legacy

became my curse.



Months have folded into years yet

you’re still not married. You said,

“after college, Ma.” so I held

onto that paper thin promise

as years folded into years.


I see you read and reread directions

when folding an origami crane,

when trying a new karaage recipe.

You worry that you’ll make a mistake

but never think to consult my advice.


My hands are creased and crumpled with age

they remind me that I want to be a grandma.

My hands will teach your future daughter

how to fold origami cranes. We’ll practice

until she doesn’t have to look at the directions.


Until I was a mother my life was a blank

sheet of paper waiting to be shaped.

I want to help you find this same blessing

but now I worry that you’ve grown

paper wings to fly away from me.


Family History

After “I Go Back to May 1937” by Sharon Olds


When my mom was growing up in Saitama

she was a tomboy who liked competitive sports.

she would challenge her friends to play

tennis and ping pong—and would always win.

her friends nicknamed her “Skeleton”

when they learned that word in English class

and compared it to her lean athletic body.

I wish I got to meet this version of my mom

because I’ve never know her to like sports.



When my dad was growing up in Wisconsin

he had never seen the ocean and had only

been to two states. What he knew was sitting

between his parents in a pickup truck,

inhaling a cloud of their cigarette smoke

as they argued about bills and kids.

While my dad took it all in, I imagine that

he dreamed up his own future family,

one that wasn’t complicated by divorce.



When my parents met in New York City

they both knew they were ready to get married

but neither one knew just who they would marry.

They left that decision to a man who matched couples

by pointing at them one by one, drawing

from a crowded room full of eager men and women.


Meaning was assigned to these new couples:

proof of their commitment to the movement,

an active step toward world peace,

and the promise of sinless children.

They thought it a blessing to be in that room.

After years of being told he was too young,

my dad was relieved to finally have a wife.

And my mom couldn’t stop herself from thinking

that her new husband looked like Tom Cruise.



Sometimes I wonder what other lives

my parents would have it they weren’t matched.

If the choice was their own, who would they pick?


For my mom, I picture a cosmopolitan life in Tokyo.

She would marry a salary man who would give

her gifts from business trips abroad—

perhaps tea from London and sweets from Taipei.


My dad would create a quaint Midwestern life

with a housewife who wears necklaces with

pendants shaped like crosses and claddagh rings,

the type of wife who fundraises for the PTA.


But I always stop there. Yes, these lives

would make more sense than reality

but believing in them would mean taking

all that I know and swirling it together,

forming small whirlpools until it all dissolves.

And I can’t because I have always wanted to live.

Yoshika Wason is a mixed-race Japanese American Nisei who is a teacher currently residing in Japan. She is a former Editor-in-Chief of ASIAM, an Asian Pacific Islander American literary magazine, at Boston College. Read her chapbook “Extra Bold” and other work here: https://yoshikawason.wordpress.com/

Na Wang is a part-time illustrator from China. She is interested in illustrating and photographing. You can find her at her personal website:  http://www.zcool.com.cn/u/14231696

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East Vancouver ’00 https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/02/east-vancouver-00/ https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/02/east-vancouver-00/#comments Mon, 04 Feb 2019 18:46:44 +0000 https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=15558 My first plane ride
took me to rain
splattering against the windows
of the cab
fingers were tightening
over mine
I knew
this was no vacation
the squat house stood
on the corner of autumn
dreamlike in its strangeness… more »


Illustration by Christine Wei

My first plane ride
took me to rain
splattering against the windows
of the cab
fingers were tightening
over mine
I knew
this was no vacation
the squat house stood
on the corner of autumn
dreamlike in its strangeness
and declaration of home
the driver opened our door
I followed my father out
into the cold
to help with the suitcases
and paper boxes
the rain fell steadily
dao le 1
I said, forgetting
it could no longer be

1 Mandarin: to have arrived.

Lucy Yang is born to first generation Chinese immigrants. She teaches high school English in Vancouver and is completing a master’s program in literacy education at the University of British Columbia. She finds inspiration in voices that fall between fault lines, looking for their echo among the mountains.

Christine Wei was born in Taiwan and currently based in Vancouver. Christine’s works are mainly inspired by nature and people’s everyday journeys through life. She illustrates with the hope that her whimsical and sentimental imagery can provide people a tranquil segue into challenging but necessary discourses.   Follow her work online at https://christineweiart.com/

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“False Comfort” by Amy Wang https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/02/false-comfort-by-amy-wang/ https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/02/false-comfort-by-amy-wang/#respond Mon, 04 Feb 2019 16:03:16 +0000 https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=15544

A year before I leave him for the last time, we take a trip together. Rachel is three, and we drive down to Maine in the summertime. By this time, I feel as though I am sleep-walking through the most … more »


A year before I leave him for the last time, we take a trip together. Rachel is three, and we drive down to Maine in the summertime. By this time, I feel as though I am sleep-walking through the most important moments of my life, willfully dulling the bad memories in such a way that affects my ability to recall the good: Rachel’s first steps; her unrelenting and charming babble-turned-chatter; the night Matthieu and I decide to conceive again. The ocean air awakens me from my long mental slumber; as soon as I am confronted by the vast, unending blue before me, I only want to submerge myself.

I spend an hour on my own—time is a precious commodity with a young child—bobbing up and down in the water, covered in goosebumps. When the clouds roll in, the fog obscures the horizon, so that I am no longer able to distinguish water from sky; there is only grey surrounding me. Teeth chattering and hands wrapped across opposite shoulders to retain some measure of warmth, I make a commitment to myself to stop running. I will return to the hotel, I tell myself, give Rachel a kiss, and make a plan.

Far in the distance I hear someone calling out my name.

“Leanne, Leanne!” And then again, “Leanne!”

Who else, but Matthieu? Certainly not Rachel, who would have called me Maman, or my dead mother, who would have called me bao bei, but theirs were the two voices I would give anything to hear instead.

By this time, I feel as though I am sleep-walking through the most important moments of my life, willfully dulling the bad memories in such a way that affects my ability to recall the good.

My mother died two days before my 30th birthday, quick and quiet at the brush of midnight. An hour prior to her death, my mother’s last words to me had been “you’ll need to lose weight if you want to find a husband.” She needn’t have worried, for over the course of the next three seasons I lost 25 pounds, revealing new planes on my face that made me look at once sparser and more substantial.

It was during this period of mourning that I met Matthieu. Tall, bearded and Quebecois—the type of man my mother would have frowned upon. “Not Chinese,” she would have said in a huff the moment Matthieu left the room. Even worse—Matthieu was a bassist for a jazz band, working as a barista during the day for the same grimy coffee shop-cum-bar that commissioned him for cheap entertainment in the evenings.

Matthieu wasn’t much of a singer, but his friend Nina was. When they performed, I found my eyes drifting towards her more often than they did for Matthieu. Despite her Kansan, churchgoing background, there was something feral about her when she opened her mouth wide to sing.

One night, I requested a song for her to sing.

Strange Fruit.



“You know it’s like … the most heavy song ever, right?”


She studied me. “Alright. I’ll play it second to last.”

And so she did, cuing only the pianist with a whisper after a successful and forgettable cover of “Ticket to Ride.” The audience, dwindling to moony couples and cracked-out businessmen, was restless, whispering among themselves as an asynchronous collective. Love was the only topic they had come to hear songs about: its absence, consequences, and disappointments, and then again, its endlessly-propagating rewards, all id and no ego, and the last thing anyone wanted to be reminded of was the kind of pain that didn’t manifest itself in navel-gazing melancholy.

But Nina, she had arrived somewhere. Her voice had weight to it; it travelled. The lyrics were inextricable from their history but this time, crucially, it was Nina’s melody, freely improvised, that arrested me in full force. I sat transfixed, refusing to look over at Matthieu, who I knew had been stealing furtive glances at me all night.

It was during her post-show glory that Nina liked to divulge all her secrets.

“You know,” she said, “Matthieu was never this peaceful when he was with me.”

“What? When were you guys together?”

“Many years before, don’t worry.” I was worried that she felt the need to tell me not to worry. “It was when we were still in school. It didn’t last—obviously. We weren’t right for each other.”

My mind spun with questions, but I asked the only one that mattered at the time. “How did it end?”

“I don’t know, we just sort of broke it off,” she said. “I mean, he was going through a tough time, Matthieu was. Less well-adjusted.”


She blew a line of smoke, tilting her face away from me. “Leanne, don’t worry so much. I’m telling you this to make a point. He’s happier now than he’s ever been, and I’ve seen him go through his fair share of women. The good thing about you is that you’re relatively sane.”

I laughed, despite being uncomfortable with the characterization. “Yeah, we’ll see about that.”

Love was the only topic they had come to hear songs about: its absence, consequences, and disappointments.

T’es fou? Come back here, you crazy woman.” Matthieu’s voice tears me from my reverie. He’s at the shoreline now, holding Rachel to his chest with one hand, waving at me with the other. I am far enough from him that I can pretend he is here for someone else: another woman who isn’t plotting her escape, who would stay to make it work. Time suspends itself in the water, and for a few moments I consider what it would feel like to drown. Matthieu would have to set Rachel down and retrieve my body from the undertow, swimming until he reaches an approximation of where he saw me last. He would tire from treading water, angry waves crashing overhead, salt burning his eyes and still he would try to call out for me.

And I, meanwhile, with brine in my lungs, would be submerged down below. Gulping water; larynx spasming; my trachea engorged. Anoxia, as I know it best—I am a lab biologist by trade and know very well the effects of oxygen deprivation on mice—within 30 seconds I would be brain dead. In the aftermath of Matthieu’s outbursts, usually in the violet hour between dusk and dawn, I dream about dying. Death by overdose, death by accidental blunt force trauma, but none more poignant and vivid than drowning; at some point, there has to be a moment of stunning clarity just before the precipice; the last, worthless gulp before the lungs flood with water.

Would he swim out for me?

Or would he simply watch as I disappeared?

A strange thing about Matthieu, or perhaps not so very strange at all: he is always protective of Rachel even as he allows himself to hurt me. It is perverse but almost touching, and this alone, I suspect, is what still binds me to him.

Most nights at home during my pregnancy, I would lie prone on the couch, Matthieu’s hands on my stomach as he embraced me from behind. We liked to watch and re-watch scenes from Lost in Translation, and I would laugh when Matthieu made atrocious impressions in a thick French accent.

“Puh-rease Mr. Harris, puh-rease!”

“You’re ridiculous,” I would say, and laugh despite myself.

“Puh-rease Leanne, am I really that ridiculous? Puh-rease?”

“You are.” I remember turning towards him, managing only a half-hearted adjustment on the couch, belly up like a half moon. “You should stop before I laugh Rachel out of me.”

“Is she kicking now?” He asked, sitting up. “Do you think it’s ok for us to laugh this much?”

“Yes, of course. Do you want our daughter to grow up without a sense of humour?”

“Well, if she isn’t funny then she’s not a true Fournier. I’m just making sure everything is okay avec mes femmes.”

No longer a woman or his woman; I was one of two, never again an island unto myself. When he asked if I was hungry, he was asking after us both; even when he made love to me, I felt as though we were three bodies moving in tandem, Matthieu so pre-occupied with not hurting Rachel that I once complained I couldn’t feel him at all.

“You bitch,” he whispered, as though speaking softly would dull the blade of his words. “Don’t say that to me again.”

And then, as ever, when I was left crying, he would return with an apology. No pause between I love you and I’m sorry; the two have become synonymous in my mind.

Anoxia, as I know it best—I am a lab biologist by trade and know very well the effects of oxygen deprivation on mice—within 30 seconds I would be brain dead.

Shivering now, I take one large breath, diving face-first into the white-crested waves, and head back towards the shore.

Not knowing which version of Matthieu to expect, I ready myself for his worst. But he only takes off his sweater and hands it to me, retreating to our room with Rachel in his arms. I look back towards the water, wanting to memorize its greatness, and am reminded of the first time I was this close to the ocean. I was fourteen, in the Bahamas with my parents on a similarly overcast day. In a petulant mood, I camped out on a lounge chair with our belongings, fully clothed and an outlier among tourists trying to make the most of the day.

My mother, after lathering herself in sunscreen, was finally convinced by my father to tiptoe into the water. I turned to read the book I had brought with me and was quickly lulled to sleep. When I woke, bleary-eyed and dazed, I tried searching for my parents, but only white beach chairs were around me, left behind like skeletons on the sand. I began to walk towards the water, finally spying them in the distance, farther than I would have ever imagined the two of them venturing out.

Ba! Ma! I called out, but there was no way they could have heard me. So I just stood there, watching my mother, who had never learned how to swim, attempt to kick and splash in the ocean in my father’s thin arms, looking happier than I had ever seen her. I couldn’t have known then that in another two years, my mother would file for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences, and that my father would make a shadow attempt at creating another family before his new wife left him too. I thought myself invincible and felt certain that I would find something better than the shoddily constructed relationship my parents seemed to have, feeling outrage when my mother, after years of heartbreak, still took my father back in, seeking false comfort in something she already knew to be broken.

Amy Wang is a Chinese/Korean-Canadian writer based in Toronto.

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“Belatedly, Home” by Jie Jane Zhang https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/02/belatedly-home-by-jie-jane-zhang/ https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/02/belatedly-home-by-jie-jane-zhang/#respond Sat, 02 Feb 2019 18:00:55 +0000 https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=15533 It is mid-August and the air is nearly viscous when Hailey steps off the plane. Walking through the jet bridge, she’s not technically outside, but the heat and humidity are palpable even in this metal corridor, making sweat immediately break … more »


Illustration by Andrea Alcaraz

It is mid-August and the air is nearly viscous when Hailey steps off the plane. Walking through the jet bridge, she’s not technically outside, but the heat and humidity are palpable even in this metal corridor, making sweat immediately break out under the sweater she’d needed to survive her frigid flight. Out of the freezer, into the broiler. She shuffles towards the gate door, towards air-conditioned bliss and a non-rumbling bathroom, of which she’s in dire need.

The other passengers from the plane make equally desperate, but dignified, walks towards the terminal, taking their first steps in a grounded establishment after fourteen hours in the sky. They are a haphazard two lanes of people: seniors and families with babies generally slowing down the left side, but everyone seems to be in some level of hurry. A plane’s worth of people who travelled across the world to finally make it home. Already Hailey is hearing more Mandarin being spoken than she did half a day ago, when the same group of people boarded from the Pearson International Airport in Toronto. She tries to catch some words as a last-ditch effort to pick up some commonly used phrases—although it’s a futile effort. She won’t remember these scraps of sentences, not without a foundation to attach them. The syllables buzz like flies around her and she wishes her mind was flypaper, but it’s not. She barely speaks Mandarin. She hasn’t been in China since she was a baby. This isn’t her home.

There are ten stalls in the washroom and all of them are full; there are seven people standing in front of Hailey, each waiting their turn to relieve themselves. Hailey is directly in front of the sinks and is thus afforded a perfect view of herself in the wall-length mirror stretched above the ladies bending over, washing hands, splashing faces, checking teeth. In the lower range of average for both height and weight, with thick black hair tied in a ponytail, and wearing a striped t-shirt and blue jeans, a sweater tied around her waist: Hailey looks younger than her age. She doesn’t think she looks especially Canadian or Western. Under the fluorescent lights that seem to be ubiquitous in airports the world over, her skin is washed sallow, as though her colour had been desaturated by thirty percent. But her hair is still neat and tight, and she looks otherwise orderly. There is nothing in her appearance, she hopes, that gives away the fact that she is a fish out of water. Maybe she looks tired, but many others do too. Maybe the way she’s clutching the shoulder strap of her purse reveals some level of anxiety, but that’s acceptable. As long as she doesn’t look frightened, or like she’s about to have a breakdown.

Hailey will not have a breakdown. She is fine. She’s finally made it to Beijing! And she really only has one job to do while in China. It will be easy. If she makes it through the airport without losing anything, retrieves her checked bag, and doesn’t start sobbing once her aunt and cousin find her, then she’s basically done her job. Everything else is whatever—she didn’t make a checklist of places to see or things to eat—it was too overwhelming and she’d felt too guilty—so she’ll just go where other people usher her and do her best not to seem like a complete imbecile in conversations. It would have been completely different if her mom came with her. Hailey would have made more of an effort to be a tourist, to experience China, to do fun things and make sure mom had a good time. She’s ambivalent about herself.

A few days prior to her trip, her mom said to her, “I wished circumstances had been different.” Hailey had been up to her neck trying to sort through various legal documents; she’d wanted to get it all organized before her trip to China, but she’d underestimated the amount of time and energy it’d drain. Resentment had been simmering at low boil all day, and her body burned as she’d struggled not to snap at her mother: they could have been different—so many things could have been different.

If you and dad had spoken more. If you guys had taught me more about my family and heritage. If you’d taken me back to China, at least once, as a kid. If you had been more careful and hadn’t broken your leg, leaving me to make the journey by myself. You let me grow up alone and now I have to do this alone and it isn’t my fault, so why do I have to do it?

But Hailey, twenty-six and ostensibly an adult, could no longer shoot blame on her parents without having some of it ricochet backwards. She had never pushed them to talk to her either, had never asked questions about her father’s family, about what it was like for her mom to grow up as a second-generation Chinese who rarely went back to China, about why they even married in the first place when his English hadn’t been fluent and her Mandarin barely passable. She’d never asked them to bring her to China. For a decade, she’d been old enough to book her own trip, but she never did that either. Fear and discomfort outweighed any curiosity or sense of obligation. Hailey had never felt close to her father, so his history had always been a faraway thing—not much different from knowing that her best friend had a schizophrenic uncle or that her boss was deathly allergic to cucumbers. Half a world apart, that side of her family had no influence on Hailey’s upbringing. He’d never offered information, she’d never prodded; as time passed, she grew used to the silence and maybe he had taken that as apathy. So continuing their separate orbits around the same, distant star. It was much easier to ignore all that and live her own life— he’d abandoned them, after all. Why reach out to a closed door, just to find that it was locked? Even as she matured, and childhood anger mellowed into pity, she still felt a divide between them, just wide enough that she never could muster up the courage to breach it.

It was a game of the chicken and egg: who should have moved first? Now, of course, it was pointless to speculate. But the regret was heavy and real, a sickness, so she’d decided to go to China with her mother to pay her respects. To finally do something to appease the country that had, after all, given her blood. But then her mom, stressed out and sleepless, has slipped down a flight of stairs, rendering her unable to travel.

Thus, here stands Hailey Wen, in line at a bathroom in Beijing Capital International Airport, making her long-awaited return to the motherland, sans mother. A phone-full of pre-translated Chinese sentences at the ready. Swallowing down her helplessness. She has to do this. There is no one else.

She is nervous about Customs. She looks Chinese (and is Chinese) so the agents will probably speak Mandarin to her. She wants to actually pass as a Chinese person (because she is a Chinese person) so she really wants to speak Mandarin back to them. Waiting in the line for foreigner visitors, Hailey reviews the phrases she’s memorized:

I’m here to see family. (Wǒ huí zhōngguó kàn jiārén.)

I’m staying with my aunt for two weeks. She is coming to pick me up. Here is her address. (Wǒ hé wǒ gūmā zhù zài yīqǐ, tā huì lái jiē wǒ. Zhè shì tā dì dìzhǐ. Wǒ huì dài liǎng gè xīngqí.)

I’m sorry, I don’t understand. (Duìbùqǐ, wǒ bù míngbái.)

I’m sorry, my Chinese is not good, can you say that again? (Duìbùqǐ, wǒ de zhōngwén bù hǎo, nǐ néng zàishuō yībiàn ma?)

I am from Kingston. (Wǒ zài Kingston zhǎng dà.)

My mother is still in Canada; my father has passed away.

Do I look like I fit in? Do I look lost? Untethered?

You can call me by my Chinese name.

The agent takes her arrivals declaration card, examines her entry visa, scans her passport and says, “Wén Huālì?” “Yes—shì wǒ,” Hailey says. That’s me. The officer nods and returns her documents, waving her on ahead. She goes, churning with relief and disappointment. It’s probably for the best. There’s too much suppressed inside her. Maybe if he had asked the right question, she’d burst open like a dam. My father is dead, yes. He passed recently. He committed suicide. My aunt is his elder sister. I have to look her in the face and apologize. I don’t know the right way to do this. I don’t remember her at all. My father never spoke about her. In fact, my father and I rarely spoke to each other. My parents divorced when I was seven. I know that’s not a very common thing in China. But both my mom and I are very westernized. And my mother was so unhappy. I guess my dad was too. I think the divorce made him even more unhappy. But I didn’t know it had gotten this bad. He never told me. Again, we rarely spoke. I wasn’t a very good daughter to him, but I’m trying to do better now.

Obviously, she didn’t have the Chinese words for any of this. She could barely manage it in English.

At the baggage claim, seeing her suitcase peacefully gliding down the conveyor belt, her throat sticks. Unlike the people who hold that minimizing distance to the carousel will compel their luggage to arrive faster, Hailey hangs out in the back of the stretched-out crowd. She had been staring at a baby’s dozing face resting on its mom’s shoulder when she noticed the flash of red from the corner of her eye. Her neck flushed hot suddenly; she’d gone overboard. Used too many ribbons.

The first time she remembers taking a flight, Hailey’s mother had tied a strip of scarlet cloth onto Hailey’s child-size backpack. “For luck,” she’d said. “Chinese people should always carry some red on them when they travel, so they don’t lose their things.” And maybe they worked, because Hailey never lost her luggage. This time she hadn’t wanted to take any chances, so she’d tied multiple ribbons onto her suitcase next to the weathered original, a line of neat knots with varying bow lengths. For materials, she’d scoured her own apartment and the house in the suburbs, appropriating any scrap, a red bag she could cut up, a dishcloth she could shred, any yarn, anything suitable. Even at the time, it had felt excessive, but her anxiety moved her more than her logic. Only now, as she bumbles her way through three layers of people, knocking shoulders and apologizing in English by habit, she feels embarrassed. Why did she tie so many? The handle of her luggage is completely covered in what seems like a child’s craft fiasco. The memory of the Air Canada agent’s bemused expression as Hailey had weighed her suitcase flashes in her mind. She must have seemed eccentric. The shades of red didn’t even match.

She drags her suitcase to a less crowded space, hurriedly checks that its contents are safe, and starts untying the ribbons, one by one, cramming them into her purse. She hasn’t seen her aunt in over twenty-four years. Hailey wants to at least give the impression that she’s a normal person. Someone self-confident and respectable. She doesn’t have the language skills to justify her maniacal, caffeine-fueled, midnight rush-packing decisions.

But she leaves one ribbon attached, just in case.

Before leaving Canada, her aunt had sent Hailey some photos of herself over WeChat. A petite, middle-aged woman with a triangular smile and a bouncy, shoulder-length perm, her snowman shape was much more welcoming than that of her tall, whip-thin father. In her aunt’s face, Hailey could see traces of her own features: the pointy chin, the rounded cheeks, the soft wisp of eyebrows. Hailey always thought she resembled her mother more than her father, but seeing photos of her aunt, she realized she actually took after her paternal grandmother.

Her father had never mentioned it. Growing up, Hailey knew that her father had a sister elder by two years and two brothers: one three years his senior and one four years his junior. His parents raised them in a crowded apartment complex in Beijing. After graduating university, her father was granted an international scholarship to continue his studies in engineering and had obtained a master’s degree from Queen’s University, where he’d met Hailey’s mother. Their wedding was in Kingston and Hailey was born in Kingston, but her parents brought her as a one-year-old to China, to present to his family. Hailey and her mother hadn’t been back since. Hailey’s aunt might as well be a stranger, except they look alike. And they have the same last name. And she is the one who opened up her home to Hailey, sending WeChat messages that were painstakingly translated by her teenage son, who had top marks in his English language classes.

Hailey presses her thumb against the most recent WeChat message on her phone. Have a safe flight. Yīlù píng’ān. We are excited to see you ! : )

She had been more warm to Hailey in the past few weeks than Hailey’s father had been in the past few years. How could they be siblings? Did her father also have an extroverted side? She would have never thought so. But maybe Hailey hadn’t known him well enough. All her knowledge of him in retrospect feels so superficial, so cheap. He was her father. What did she truly know about him, as a person? Why hadn’t she talked to him more? Why had she kept an arm’s length away from his life? Did she take the divorce so badly that it manifested in a refusal to engage beyond the bare minimum? It seems ludicrous to her now. Her aunt will want to know about her father, and that Hailey has nothing substantial to tell her makes her want to step back onto the plane, jet back to Toronto, and return to the blissful ignorance where her father had been an afterthought.

But her purse is an anchor, weighing her down. Tucked in it: the report from the police station, the death certificate from the hospital, the obituary clipped out of the Kingston Whig-Standard, and a modest handful of photos from her childhood. Most were from her mom’s albums, and a few she’d found at her dad’s apartment, loose, just lying on the kitchen table. There was a photo of her dad giving baby Hailey a bath in a bright yellow plastic tub, his hair in wet clumps too. Her dad sitting at a table, baby Hailey in his lap, his parents on either side of him—he’s smiling slightly. Her dad holding her hand on the walk to kindergarten, child Hailey looking over her shoulder to the camera, eyes pink from crying. Her dad asleep on the couch and toddler Hailey sprawled on top of his chest, her cheek mushed into his shirt buttons and drool slipping down her chin. There is the bright sunlight from a window splitting the left side of the photo. Her father’s hand rests lightly on Hailey’s back, as if to keep her from falling. Both of them are, inexplicably, only wearing one sock each. Hailey has no memory of this. She must have been no older than four.

There is one photo—a candid shot—where they are both laughing, her father’s fingers posed above Hailey’s plump toddler stomach, ready for a tickle. It took this evidence for Hailey to realize that they have the same smile.

The last phone call with her father had been a short one. It was two days before he killed himself, three before the police called her mother. They had gone, in order, through the usual list of topics. Work okay? Yes. Eating well? Yes. Sleeping enough? Not bad. Boyfriend yet? No. Mom okay? Yes. Need money? No, thank you.

He’d paused when the niceties ended. “I’m thinking of going back home to Beijing.” Hailey had said, “That’s cool.” The back of her neck prickled, her stomach had lurched. She knew he wanted her to go with him. She could feel the question in the air, invisible, suddenly pressing in. She didn’t know if she wanted him to ask or not. She didn’t want to go with him, but the thought birthed a thick wash of guilt. Her own father.

“Not sure when yet,” he’d said, quietly. “Soon, hopefully.” The question never came. Hailey didn’t know if it was because he’d anticipated her answer, or if, like her, he’d been too afraid to ask. Maybe he also felt like a failure when the conversation ended.

Past the arrivals gate, amid the wild throng of people shouting, calling, crying, she finds them. Her aunt hugs her so tightly that tears are squeezed out of Hailey’s eyes. Her young cousin grins at her, his expression kind, familiar, as if he’s known her for years. Her dad’s smile.

Hailey unzips her suitcase and removes a dark grey urn, nearly mummified in red, white, and gold ribbons. Her aunt takes it with weak hands, her shoulders heaving with stifled sobs. She cradles it to her chest, curling over it, murmuring words that require no translation. She looks up at Hailey, eyes glassy. She croaks something.

In a hushed voice, her cousin repeats in English, “He loved you so much.” Hailey can’t trust herself to speak, but she manages to say, “I know,” and hopes that’s a start.

Born in Beijing, Jane immigrated with her family to Canada when she was four. She has lived in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Ottawa, and Montreal, apparently making her way eastwards across Canada as she grows older. She is in the process of completing her PhD in Psychology at McGill University, but her first passion has always been writing. Although her given first name is Jie, she goes by Jane, her middle name. This is her first short story submission to a publication.

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“What’s In a Name?” by Bianca Weeko Martin https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/01/whats-in-a-name/ https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/01/whats-in-a-name/#respond Wed, 30 Jan 2019 18:49:41 +0000 https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=15576 Bianca means white. My parents gave me this name because of the colour of my skin — or, more precisely, the relative lightness of my skin compared to all the other babies in a Jakarta hospital in 1996. I can … more »


Illustration by Bianca Weeko Martin

Bianca means white. My parents gave me this name because of the colour of my skin — or, more precisely, the relative lightness of my skin compared to all the other babies in a Jakarta hospital in 1996. I can picture the room, which in my mind is a field of little baby beds—a body, mine, swaddled in clinical fabric and fleece— and the face which sticks out pale and strange among a sea of tan. The babies that surround me have sun-kissed cheeks before the sun even had the chance to meet them. At the age of four, we moved to Canada and my early life in Jakarta receded into the dream of some tropical faraway world.

My mom’s name is Wawa Rosiana Tjong. As a child I hated it. I thought the sound of Wawa was strange, and saying it only further outed me as an immigrant in front of the Scarborough kids with whom I was so desperately trying to assimilate. When asked about my mother’s name I would, quite hilariously, reply with a nervous “Florentina” — her Catholic baptismal name. Wawa is actually a simplified version of her full name, which is “Tjien Hwa” (劍 华); Hwa-Hwa becoming “Wa-Wa”—I didn’t understand any of these seemingly arbitrary naming conventions back then. While I grew up speaking Indonesian with friends, family, and strangers, I felt confused in the late hours at home when I heard my mom and her siblings speaking a language I did not recognize.

I thought the sound of Wawa was strange, and saying it only further outed me as an immigrant in front of the Scarborough kids with whom I was so desperately trying to assimilate.

Tjong is my mom’s surname. That’s probably Zhang in Mandarin. I have always found it interesting how fluid family names can be outside the Western world, either taking the form of something assigned by a colonist or, as in this case, altered to suit the linguistic needs of the ruling power. Family names that read like palimpsests of power relations rather than inheritance. In Indonesia, ethnic Chinese people who had been living in the country for centuries were forced to change their surnames to those which better matched the Indonesian language under the Suharto regime. My mom’s surname, however, had already undergone Dutch colonial romanization before Suharto’s New Order period and perhaps for this reason was exempt from the demands of the name change policy; although carrying such an obviously distinct family name at this time in Indonesia was cause for threat too.

Hwa—as in Tjien-Hwa—typically means flower, delicate and beautiful. In my mom’s case, it instead recalls a ship called Chung Hwa. My mom was born in 1966, the year Suharto took power. The Chung Hwa was packed with Chinese-Indonesians returning to China in the wake of this ominous political change. On board was my mom’s eldest brother, aged seventeen, whom she wouldn’t meet for several years. It didn’t even register to me that my mom was part Chinese (and that I, in turn, was Chinese too) when I was growing up, which probably says a lot about the internalized inferiority bred in the environment within which my mother and her siblings grew up. I remember one night driving home from the airport with my parents; I was eighteen and had just come back from a summer spent travelling by myself in Bali, and unclear about the dynamics of my own cultural identity I had repeated to my mom what I‘d heard over my extended stay among Indonesian locals: did you know that the Chinese in Indonesia are greedy and materialistic and take up positions of influence in a country not their own?

“When I was growing up in Indonesia, I had to have a mark on my identification card that separated me as being Chinese, do you know how hard that was?” she retorted with a strange and bottled-up agitation.

As I, on the other hand, grew up and into the world of Western academia, I developed a system of values that seemed to conflict with my respect for my mother. Through elementary and high school, I excelled in classes and was taught to praise quantifiable forms of knowledge and intellect. In architecture school, I learned to love assertion, aspire to boldness, and take up space as a Young and Exemplary Independent Woman, who could lead and innovate in a field where generations ago only men dominated. My female role models were those who read and researched, could debate eloquently, and typically ran their own firms and finances. In contrast, my mom began to shrink from supreme matriarch to a simple woman swept up inconsequentially in her husband’s great voyage to Canada. My mom was infinitely loving and good. But I couldn’t talk to her about the new and exciting things I was learning. And at this I felt frustrated: frustrated with her, and frustrated with who I was becoming and what place I might have in my own unit of society—if my family seemed to function so perfectly at the reigns of this immaculately feminine mother-figure, what could I ever offer as I strayed farther and farther from the model set forth before me?

My mom was born in 1966, the year Suharto took power. The Chung Hwa was packed with Chinese-Indonesians returning to China in the wake of this ominous political change. On board was my mom’s eldest brother, aged seventeen, whom she wouldn’t meet for several years.

I thought of my mom as weak because she was loving, and dumb because she never patronized others. But she speaks four languages and worked every day to support the higher education that had been out of reach for her. Everything I love about myself, and that in turn other people are drawn to, I’ve learned from her. She lived in a political environment which practically taught her she should hate herself, and she became a more adaptive and loving person as a result. Most people placed in similar situations would only grow more spiteful and closed. My mom’s maternal family has Hakka origins, and this denotes strength and hardiness, the ability to persevere historically in poor agricultural conditions, to protest even traditional foot-binding. My mom, Wawa Rosiana Tjong: part-Javanese, part-Hakka warrior woman; Wawa, falling in love with a foreigner and moving halfway across the earth to a mid-sized town in Canada, braving the new sensations of cold and anonymity, prizing nothing more than her children and the talents they hoped to nurture.

Even now, living far from home, I still have to remember to be patient, to step back from “the canon” and remember the numerous and varied ways in which intelligence and strength manifest themselves. The transcendent beauty of mothers, of the feminine, is that their energy lies in things impossible to measure and often easy to dismiss. Sometimes a name is enough to remind me of all these things. Tjien means sword, sharp and potent. Hwa recalls the outward softness of a flower, and the resilience that it can mask. These are names that bear witness to a history of discrimination and memories of separation, not only in their meaning, but also the cultural vandalism of their letters. Bianca is simply something that came out of all this, a bit of white that didn’t completely belong, a blank slate now rich with all the lessons of her mother and the life she lived and gave.

Bianca Weeko Martin is an artist and student of architecture, based in Toronto but enamored with the world. She was born in Jakarta and is of Indonesian, Filipino, and Chinese ancestry, and Canadian nationality.

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“A Dichotomy of Identities” by Laura Wong https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/01/a-dichotomy-of-identities-by-laura-wong/ https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/01/a-dichotomy-of-identities-by-laura-wong/#comments Wed, 23 Jan 2019 07:20:01 +0000 https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=15550 I am a Vancouver-born Asian Canadian and have lived in this city my entire life.    While I am a fifth-generation Canadian on my father’s side, and consider myself very “Canadian,”  I am also of mixed heritage, which adds complexity rather … more »


Yee family clan, photo from Laura Wong. Mamie is at the centre, third from the left.

I am a Vancouver-born Asian Canadian and have lived in this city my entire life.    While I am a fifth-generation Canadian on my father’s side, and consider myself very “Canadian,”  I am also of mixed heritage, which adds complexity rather than clarity about my identity.   I very much connect with my Chinese heritage because of my wonderful grandmother Mamie Wong.  Throughout the many years of eating delicious, but ginormous meals and while being berated for eating too little in typical 奶奶 (mama in Cantonese) fashion, I learned more about her life story and in the process came to admire her and the way she understands her own identity as a Chinese Canadian woman. I once interviewed Mamie about the years she spent in China for over three hours.

Mamie was visiting China during the Sino-Japanese war in the 1930’s, and had witnessed a very tumultuous time in China. She can distinctly recall hearing airplanes fly over the small village in Canton (now Guangzhou) where she lived and the panic that filled the village when news would arrive about the approaching Japanese army. Mamie’s time in China instilled in her an intimate knowledge of Chinese culture, which she carried with her through all aspects of her life. Her experience in China gave her a unique perspective on Canadian culture. Mamie’s outlook on both cultures is very interesting because to her they are completely intertwined.

When Mamie left rural Regina, Saskatchewan for Canton (Guangzhou) with her three younger sisters and younger brother, she was only nine years old. At the time her parents had planned for her and her siblings to receive what she called a “Chinese education” and by this, she hypothesized her father, Yee Clun, wanted them to learn about Chinese culture and to learn his native language of Cantonese.   Mamie and her family took the trip across the Pacific in 1932 on the “Empress of Asia” which lasted for eighteen days.    She remembered quite vividly having to sleep in the lower decks of the ship and the heavy rocking of the boat as they sailed, finally landing in Shanghai.

Cosmopolitan Shanghai was a world lit on fire for Mamie.  Being born in Regina in the 1920s made her fairly used to being a minority, so it was interesting to see the diversity of Shanghai. Compared to quiet Regina, Shanghai was an extremely busy city, bustling with crowded streets. It was a complete culture shock to Mamie. During their short stay in Shanghai, all seven of them shared a hotel room that was situated above a nightclub. She distinctly remembered the harsh cold of the city seeping through the thin walls of their cramped tiny hotel room. Luckily for Mamie, her family only stayed in Shanghai for a couple nights before going to Hong Kong.  The family stayed in Hong Kong for a time, as their boat only docked there for before departure for Canton.  Though Mamie does not recall much from her first trip there, her family was forced to return to Hong Kong as the war with the Japanese escalated.

Before heading off to Canton to go to school, the family stayed in a nearby village for a short time.   A rural village, Mamie had to shower and use the bathroom outside.  She noticed certain things were done differently and particular details that seemed off to her.  For example, there were chicken heads displayed in the windows of storefronts and ancestor worship rituals.  As she was very young the nuances of these traditions and ceremonies were lost on her, she viewed them at the time as “superstitious and needless.”  In most of the homes in the village were little holes in the floor, along with a lot of incense. She postulated that these holes were perhaps there for both ritualistic and pragmatic purposes. Mamie found out later on her life that her father was actually an atheist and that he did not personally see the need for his family to participate in the religious aspects of Chinese culture. This ideological outlook would later affect the way Mamie and her husband Ding Wong raised their four children, as they grappled with their Chinese identities along with their Canadian ones.

Mamie is in the front row, sitting first from the right.

Mamie’s public school life in Canton was rather short-lived. She learned how to read and write in Chinese and being treated well by her classmates.  However, by 1938, her family was forced to leave to Hong Kong when Canton was occupied by the Japanese. Mamie, her siblings, and her mother escaped to Hong Kong after hearing from neighboring villages that the arrival of Japanese soldiers was imminent. Though she never encountered any soldiers, Mamie remembers staying in a barn overnight and the prickly feel of the hay through her clothes. The journey while arduous was relatively safe.

Upon returning to Hong Kong, Mamie felt as though it was even more crowded than the previous time she was there. Her stepbrother, who was adopted by her parents during their time in Canton, and her father stayed in Canton and did not go to Hong Kong with them. The rest of the family lived in a room above a restaurant, where her, her four siblings, and her mother all shared one double sized bed. Mamie and her siblings attended high school in Hong Kong. She appreciated the fact that there was running water in Hong Kong, but not clean enough to drink.  In December 1941, the family returned to Canada on the Empress of Japan.  Because the ship was owned by Canadian Pacific Steamships, it was renamed the “Empress of Scotland” since Canada and Japan were enemies during World War II.

Mamie and her family’s return to Canada was not an easy one. Initially Yee Clun had not intended for his family to return to Canada, as he had already retired and wanted to live out his retirement in China. However, the war was escalating between Japan and between the Communists and the Kuomintang, which forced the family to flee back to Canada. Yee Clun was going to return to China again after World War II had ended, but he could not do it because he was an avid supporter of the Kuomintang. Instead, the family settled in Vancouver.  But Mamie’s mother was nearly turned away at the Canadian border because she was not born in Canada and she had left the country for more than five years.

When Mamie was 28 years old, she got married to a young man named Ding Wong. Together they started their own family and had four children. Ding was born in Hong Kong, but due to his parents’ divorce at an early age and the war with the Japanese, he lived much of his life on his own. His father was an opium addict, making him unable to provide a secure home for Ding. At the age of 26, his mother sponsored Ding to join her in Alberta where he went to highschool; he later obtained his accounting degree at the University of British Columbia.

Mamie strongly identifies with her Canadian identity. She situates herself as a Chinese Canadian but recognizes that she is really an outsider to Chinese people from the mainland. Ding also had a very interesting relationship with his heritage. He strongly relates to being Chinese; however, he greatly resented his life in China and never visited again.  His attitude towards Chinese culture translated into the way their children were raised.

Mamie and Ding had decided to raise their children within Canadian culture. They took conscious efforts to do so: they did not teach them Cantonese, they did not celebrate Chinese New Year, and they also did not celebrate things like the Moon Festival. The family did take part in Christmas, but they did not attend Church or do anything outright religious.  Yet, even though there was a clear effort to raise their children “Canadian,” aspects of what can be thought of as “Chinese-ness” were still imparted to the children. Ding strongly believed in education, his own grandfather was a scholar of Confucian texts, and he always would tell the kids, “No one can take your education away from you.”

The family also mainly ate Chinese food and Mamie usually shopped at Chinese grocers, as she continued to use her Cantonese even while only speaking English to her kids. Mamie and Ding did not have a traditional marriage for the standards of 1950’s marriages. While Ding did work and fulfill the role as a provider, he also took an active part in child-rearing and housekeeping. Ding would bathe the children, change their diapers, wash the dishes, and vacuum. He was an equal partner in all components of the marriage, though Mamie does note that he did have quite the temper. Together they found a way to balance the blend of Canadian and Chinese culture.

Although Mamie and Ding never pressed their children or grandchildren into having a “Chinese education,” both of them saw the value of both Chinese and Canadian cultures coming together.   Mamie would never admit it out loud, but she likely faced discrimination simply for looking Chinese. It would not have been uncommon given that she was born in 1922. This did not take away from her love of Canada and her ability to navigate between the dynamics of the two cultures.  Mamie’s relationship with her own identity helped inform my relationship with mine. Growing up, I never thought of being “Chinese” as cool. There were not a lot of Asian people in the Western media that I could relate to, so I did not have any idols. My grandmother is my idol. She taught me that a person can fit into any place, be it Regina, China, or Vancouver, as long as they carry with them the lessons passed down to them from their family. Her parents showed her what it meant to “Chinese” and she shows me what it looks like to accept every part of oneself. In her tiny frame, she is a solid, unwavering presence and she knows exactly who she is.

Laura Wong is of Asian Canadian of Filipino, Spanish and Chinese descent. She recently graduated from Simon Fraser University, where she majored in History.

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“Of Cannabis and Character in Canada” by Suzanne Wong Scollon https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/01/of-cannabis-and-character-in-canada-by-suzanne-wong-scollon/ https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/01/of-cannabis-and-character-in-canada-by-suzanne-wong-scollon/#respond Tue, 22 Jan 2019 21:00:26 +0000 https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=15532

It almost didn’t happen.  I was on my way to Whitehorse, Yukon to meet my future husband.  It was May 1968.  Ron Scollon had been planning a trip to Alaska since Black Day in July 1967.  They were burning down … more »


It almost didn’t happen.  I was on my way to Whitehorse, Yukon to meet my future husband.  It was May 1968.  Ron Scollon had been planning a trip to Alaska since Black Day in July 1967.  They were burning down Detroit, and Ron’s aunt, uncle and cousins were in Alaska.  They returned and showed slides.  Ron vowed to go to Alaska the following summer.  Ron ran Estudio de la Guitarra with Dick Schneider, who made guitars.

Ron’s friend Layne Longfellow was teaching at Reed College in Portland, Oregon where I  majored in psychology, and my friend Mira signed up for his seminar in humanistic psychology.  She introduced us one sunny April day on the lawn.

He told me about his friend Ron who had studied classical guitar in Mexico; was fluent in Japanese, and had written a brilliant paper on psycholinguistics.

I was interested.  Meanwhile, I was infatuated with Layne.  We hung out and became acquainted.  On May 13, Ron’s birthday, he phoned and told Ron about me.

“I don’t want to hear about any woman!” exclaimed Ron.  “Every time I call, a different woman answers the phone.”  I don’t know what Layne told him, but he finally relented.  “Okay, but if anything happens, SHE goes.”  No woman was going to ruin his trip.  When I heard under what conditions I would make it a crowd, I thought I could bail out, take the train to Juneau, stay with my roommate’s family and work in the salmon cannery.

The semester ended.  A classmate had arranged to deliver a Chevy El Camino to Kenai, Alaska.  Since Oregon doesn’t have any sales tax, everybody wants to buy cars there.  Back in the 50s my father’s business partner flew to Oregon to buy cars for them.  He started teaching me to drive, but I still didn’t have a license.  I kept failing the parking test.  No matter, I could drive with my learner’s permit.  My classmate, Tom, had a license.  He agreed to let me accompany him to Whitehorse, where I would disembark and wait for Layne and Ron to arrive from Detroit.

We set out and drove to Blaine, Washington.  On the way, we picked up a Canadian who was well-dressed with short, red, curly hair.  We were dressed like hippies in jeans and work shirts.  I was barefoot.  When we got to the border, the officer asked the hitchhiker where he had picked US up.  He took us into his office for interrogation while the hitchhiker waited with the caretaker.

“Penicillin, codeine, or…?”

“Do you use drugs?” he queried me.

Stalling, I replied, “Penicillin, codeine.”  I had just had a wisdom tooth removed.  If only I had retained my wisdom.

“I mean marijuana, LSD,” he said, turning to Tom.  The fool confessed, though we had nothing on us.  I figured if I denied it, they wouldn’t believe me, though like Bill Clinton, I had not inhaled.  The officer pulled out a form and informed us that we were forbidden to enter Canada.  If, after seven years, we showed improvement in character, i.e. no drugs, we might be allowed in.

We said goodbye to the hitchhiker. He informed us that the caretaker had told him it was because I was Chinese that we had been interrogated. They have been keeping Chinamen from crossing the border in either direction for over a century, though I did not know that at the time.  We drove into town and spent the night in the car.

Opium, Chinamen and Prostitutes before and after Exclusion

Prior to the Exclusion Act of 1882, the border between Canada and the USA was loosely controlled. It was a “Smuggler’s Paradise,” from Puget Sound to the Straits of Juan de Fuca and Georgia, together now known as the Salish Sea.  In 1880, Canada and the U.S. stopped the opium trade.  B.C. opium manufacturers began to supply large quantities of prepared opium to the U.S. via Portland.

After 1882, trade was strictly regulated by U.S. border agents; many merchants arranged for illegal immigration from China to the U.S. via Canada. In addition to smuggling opium, aiding and abetting the landing of illegal Chinese immigrants in the U.S. from Victoria became lucrative. Physical borders reflected symbolic borders separating Chinese from white, with Chinese merchants closer to white Canadians than labourers.  Not only by race, but also class governed smuggling along the Pacific Coast.

Chinese merchants arranged travel and labour for immigrants from China to the U.S. and Canada for jobs on the railroad and lumber. They helped Chinese entrepreneurs establish their own businesses and purchase land claims for mining. White employers hired large Chinese gangs to clear land, lay railroad track, work in mining camps as well as cook in the homes of wealthy whites.  Chinese were smuggled both ways to work for the Canadian Pacific Railroad.

In the early 1890s, the Merchant Steamship Company carried illegal Chinamen for $6 per head, raised to $10 then $50.  Later, they were transported from B.C. to the U.S. for $120, with $50 down.  Smuggling of persons and opium generally operated smoothly.  Chinese were paid $450 to transport a woman from China to Victoria for prostitution.

Character Improves Overnight

In the morning, we went back to try again.  It was a new shift, and they let us through.  Who knows where that form was, with its defamation of our character, probably on its way to Ottawa.  Nowadays, it would be in the computer. We had to surrender all arms, which we did not possess.  Neither did we possess any drugs. We had to prove we had enough funds to get through Canada. Our only expenses were gas and a bit of food.

We drove off to Vancouver, stopping in Chinatown to purchase Chinese sausages and ramen for the road. We drove up the Fraser Valley past Hope, parked by the side of the road and slept in the open bed in the back of the car. In the morning we were awakened by water balloons thrown by a couple of kids.  Welcome to Canada.

We stopped at a café for coffee and breakfast, then continued on to Dawson Creek.  There was nothing but forest. As we drove farther up the Alaska Highway, we began to see snow on the side of the road. The road itself was smooth, packed dirt, neither muddy nor dusty. There was not much traffic. We saw boys paddling a canoe around icebergs in Teslin Lake.

It was late when we got to Whitehorse, though not dark because of the midnight sun.  Tom dropped me off at the riverboat Klondike where hobos slept, and he went on his way.  It was grounded, not on the Yukon River where it is now. I found a spot and had a good night’s sleep.  In the morning, I walked into town and found a Tlingit Bahai woman whose name was on a list given me by Maxine Peet, a Reed College student also Tlingit from Petersburg, Alaska.

“What’s wrong with you Americans?”

“What’s wrong with you Americans?” she wanted to know.  It was June 2, and Robert Kennedy had just been assassinated, less than 2 months after Martin Luther King.  She couldn’t let me sleep in the house where she was babysitting, but she let me sleep in her car. Then she introduced me to a white Bahá’í who owned a restaurant and knew a divorcée who needed a live-in babysitter.  I told him I was waiting for friends who would arrive in 2 weeks.  He said he’d give me room and board plus five dollars a day.  In those days the Canadian dollar was worth more than the U.S.

I had phoned Layne and told him to look in general delivery for a letter that would tell him where to find me. I looked after the girls until 5 o’clock each day, then went out looking for people to hang out with. There was an English woman and a reporter for the Whitehorse Star who told me about the last living prostitute from Dawson City, now living in Whitehorse.  I met her, but I did not write about her. Instead, I wrote horoscopes for the member of parliament candidates from the Yukon which were published in the Star. I painted “YELLOW CAB” in the office window. I left Whitehorse with more money than I arrived with.


They arrived on June 17, pulling up in the  Ford pickup owned by Layne’s father at 5 o’clock sharp.  Ron was in the passenger seat. He had curly, brown hair and two weeks growth from the road on his cheeks.  He wore a viyella shirt with a campbell tartan plaid. He was stout, though they’d eaten little but Ritz crackers and peanut butter on the way.  Sparks flew, but not between me and him.  Ron took the truck to go pick up Esta and take her to dinner. Her family, the Sparks, owned the electric company. They had met on the Riverboat Schwatka, which toured Miles Canyon on the Yukon River.  Esta was the guide.  Layne and I went to another restaurant for our rendezvous.

The next day we set off, only to stop for rice, flank steak, apples, New Zealand spinach, flour, oats, sugar, canned milk, onions, garlic, ginger and eggs.  Oh, did I mention we also had a bottle of scotch?  And one of rum?  And no doubt a 6-pack of Dr. Pepper.  We went to Miles Canyon to fart around on the garbage can supports we used as merry-go-rounds.  We stopped for the night at Twin Lakes, where I cooked rice and stir-fried flank steak with New Zealand spinach on my Czech Primus stove using my Mexican enamel pot and mess kit. They were both amazed at what I’d been able to cook up, and it was a great improvement over the Ritz crackers and peanut butter they’d subsisted on for two weeks. After dinner, Ron got out his Yamaha guitar and sang “Suzanne takes you down to her place by the river . . .” by Leonard Cohen. They each had a guitar under the cot in the back of the truck, which was covered with a canopy. I slept in the front seat.


We arrived in Dawson for the solstice.  While I cooked Chinese food at the Lucky Inn Café, the guys went walking around and met Eleanor Millard, who was campaigning for Pierre Trudeau.  We went up Midnight Dome to watch the midnight sun.  Every night, we would watch the sun crawl along the mountain ridge and go to sleep when it started coming up, sleeping until noon.  Ron would get up first, make a fire and practice scales on his guitar.

We went on to Alaska where we spent a month.  As it turned out, Ron missed Esta and drove back to Whitehorse where he parked his truck on the shore of Lake Schwatka, played his guitar, composed songs—one about Esta—and walked into town to the library to read and listen to music.  I was left with Layne to find a cabin on the Eyak River where I missed Ron, but I didn’t know why.  I swam across the Eyak River, which came down from the glacier.  It was a national forest in the territory of the Eyak Indians, whose language our professors had been documenting.  The last speaker passed on just last year.

Golden Horn

We hitchhiked back to Whitehorse, found Ron and set out to climb the Golden Horn with Esta.  Her family had given her a 25-dollar grubstake, which we used to purchase chicken thighs, rice and broccoli, which I cooked under a lean-to in the rain halfway up the mountain. Layne still remembers the delicious curry that he couldn’t believe was cooked in the rain in the middle of nowhere. The next day we climbed the mountain.  Ron spent a lot of time grazing on blueberries, delaying us so that it was dark by the time we broke camp and crossed Moose Creek balancing on a log under the full moon.

We left Esta and drove back down the Alaska Highway to High Prairie, Alberta.  My friend Layla Smith, now a Zen Buddhist priest, had gone up the McKenzie Highway with her family a few years before. When we got to the junction, I said, “If we turn here we can get to Yellowknife.”  Ron thought it was just like me to take a left turn, 90 degrees, and go off on a detour.  None of us was ready to go back to civilization, so off we went.  Yellowknife may be in the middle of nowhere, but Ron’s cousin Chuck Jeffries now lives and works there.

We saw a lot of the Northern Lights out there, where there are no city lights.  There were also shooting stars from the Pleiades meteorites.  Lots of fields of orchid-coloured fireweed in burned-out forests, thus the name.  It grows on Whidbey Island where I now live, but only a Northerner can appreciate the effect of acres of fireweed where no other flowers are visible, just black tree trunks and branches.

We also picked luscious raspberries covered with dust by the side of the road. The highway was so dusty that we rolled up the windows whenever a car approached and rolled them back down after the dust settled.

Lost Time

We stopped at Jasper National Park and camped near the northeast entrance at a campground with strawberries growing through the tarmac. Then we went to Banff and climbed Sulphur Mountain. Ron and Layne had climbed it on their way to Whitehorse.  Ron was so tired of listening to the news of assassinations and running on schedules that he left his watch at the summit of Sulphur Mountain.  What good would it have done to know what time it was when the teahouse was closed and the cable car shut down for the night?  They were so exhausted they had to lift their thighs to get into the cab of the truck. They went to the hot springs and swam until they were relaxed, then slept on their cots.

We three also hiked up to the teahouse, had tea and chili then walked out to the fourth and highest summit where the watch was buried.  I lost my nerve at some point coming back, but Ron was there to lend a hand.  We also missed the teahouse and walked all the way down, but we were in better shape after weeks of hiking up north.  We swam in the hot springs and had a good meal at the Rundle Restaurant.

Coffee, Honeybees and Honey

The Georgia Strait had a headline, “Coffee burns holes in your genes.”  I remembered it, so I avoided coffee while I was pregnant.  Later, though, we drank it with honey and milk.  At the city park where we camped, honeybees swarmed into our honey jar, so we had to keep it covered.  Ron left Layne and me, and hitchhiked down to San Diego, where he had been accepted into the guitar performance program at San Diego State University.

Back across the border at the Blaine Peace Arch, I had met my honey, though I did not yet know it.  Nine months later, I phoned to wish him a happy 30th birthday.  He was planning to drive up to Alaska again, but I had agreed to serve as cook at an archaeological dig for the National Museum of Man (now known as the National Museum of Civilization).  They sent me a bus ticket from Portland to Vancouver and a plane ticket from Vancouver to Prince Rupert. There, I got postcards from Ron who was camping near the university in Fairbanks.  He had enrolled to study Eskimo and was working for the physical plant.

On July 20, 1969 we watched the moon landing on a black and white television screen at the home of a First Nations family. Then, in early August I hopped on the MV Taku and rode up the BC coast to Alaska getting off at Haines.  From there, I hitchhiked to Fairbanks, saw Layne’s Shell pickup parked downtown and put my backpack in the front seat.  Ron had bought the truck from Layne’s father.  Later we met in the street.  He had moved into the dorm by then, having had trouble finding places to park the truck.

“I have an extra bed in my room,” he said, and we were roommates for almost 40 years.

He did not end up studying Eskimo, nor enrolling at the University of Alaska.  Instead he accompanied me to Honolulu, Hawaii, enrolled at the University on the GI Bill and finished his B.A., M.A. and PhD, while I did the equivalent of a Chinese major.  Our baby Rachel was born there and became the first baby on campus.  We passed her back and forth between classes.  Ron got a grant from the National Museum of Man in Ottawa to spend a year at Fort Chipewyan, Alberta to research oral narratives.  Our professor Fang Kuei Li went there in 1928 and recorded narratives dictated by Francois Mandeville.

Ron’s first academic job was at the Alaska Native Language Center, Fairbanks in 1978, and we spent five years there.  Ten years later, we went to Taiwan to teach and research the Confucian discourse system, then to Korea and Hong Kong.  We became “experts” in first inter-ethnic communication between Alaska Natives and non-natives, then in intercultural communication between Hong Kong Chinese and North Americans.  Our textbook, now in its third edition, is the most widely used in the field, not only in Asia and America but Europe, Australia and South Africa.

Ron had wanted to be a Canadian, but Canada did not want a guitarist with no skills they needed.  Now his son and two grandsons are dual citizens.

Cannabis and Chinese are now legal in British Columbia.

Suzanne Wong Scollon grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii, graduated from Reed College and earned an MA and PhD at the University of Hawaii. She married Ron Scollon and they did fieldwork in Ft. Chipewyan, Alberta then worked at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks and opened a bookstore and publishing house in Haines, Alaska. They taught in Taiwan, Korea, Hong Kong and Georgetown before returning to Haines. Ron died of kidney cancer in 2009. Suzanne continued the consulting business, served as a visiting professor at Thammasat University in Bangkok, and retired to write creative nonfiction. She lives in Freeland, Washington.

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Three Untitled Poems by Ken Lem, translated by Lei Jin https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/01/three-untitled-poems-by-ken-lem-translated-by-lei-jin/ https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/01/three-untitled-poems-by-ken-lem-translated-by-lei-jin/#comments Wed, 16 Jan 2019 18:00:44 +0000 https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=15507

Working hard regardless of criticism,
I have succeeded;
Another year has passed by,
I would climb one story higher.
Rest and build up strength,
Will win every war in the business world.
Making big profits with a small capital,
The … more »


Working hard regardless of criticism,
I have succeeded;
Another year has passed by,
I would climb one story higher.
Rest and build up strength,
Will win every war in the business world.
Making big profits with a small capital,
The day is coming;
Who else can make this happen?
I wish an instant success
With the change of generals and guards,
With the wrongs punished.
Obey the law,
No reason to worry that the orders can’t be followed.


Annoyed, filled with anger and rage
A moment ago, I am proud with success and so happy.
Down to my last breath because of anger
I am crestfallen and afraid.
Business is booming in holiday season
And there is no business while I am down on my luck.


The same generals with a different king,
All the hard work does not lead to any merit;
The same medicine with a different name
How can the medicine be effective?
A new person could be the same old one.
Cut the weeds and dig up the roots
That’s the only way to go.

Ken Lem was a teenager when he came to Canada from China as a paper son in 1923, shortly before the Chinese Exclusion Act came into effect. Initially, he worked in a laundry, but quickly moved into the restaurant business, eventually becoming a co-owner of the Home Café in New Liskeard, Ont. However, illness forced him to sell his share of the business. After he recovered, he moved his young family to North Bay, Ont. and never owned another business.

Lei Jin is a librarian currently working at Ryerson University Library & Archives. Lei worked as an editor/translator in China prior to leaving her home country to pursue post-graduate studies in Communications, and then in Library and Information Science in the United States. Lei’s translated works include Henry Miller’s “The Air- Conditioned Nightmare,” which was published in China in 1996 and then 2004.

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