Ricepaper Magazine https://ricepapermagazine.ca Asian Canadian Arts and Culture Tue, 25 Jun 2019 18:37:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2.1 “If Photographs Could Feed You” by Kailin Yang https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/06/if-photographs-could-feed-you-by-kailin-yang/ https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/06/if-photographs-could-feed-you-by-kailin-yang/#respond Wed, 26 Jun 2019 18:00:40 +0000 https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=15699 Every morning, whether the sky is a cloudless forget-me-not blue or a grayscale thunderstorm, my older brother Davy opens his bedroom windows and takes a photo. On his happiest days, he opens all the windows in the house, as if … more »

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Illustration by Louisa Tsui

Every morning, whether the sky is a cloudless forget-me-not blue or a grayscale thunderstorm, my older brother Davy opens his bedroom windows and takes a photo. On his happiest days, he opens all the windows in the house, as if the fresh air could spirit his infectious grin down the streets and past the horizon of dirt brown suburban roofs.

Birdsong, sunlight, and the sharp scent of fresh pine snake through the open windows of my room, clues that Davy snuck in while I was asleep. Davy is like the dust motes in a shaft of sunlight, swirling and shimmering, inviting you to dance, then disappearing into the shadows the moment you reach your hand out.

Davy’s bedroom is beside mine, but the beige walls are too thick for me to hear him breathing. Even if I hold my breath.

This evening Davy will graduate high school, and in two months he’ll leave for university in Vancouver. The beige walls will remain silent, but the windows will no longer swing open in the mornings.

Davy and I have had these bedrooms for the past seven years, ever since the day our parents finally saved enough for the down payment on a thirty-year mortgage. The Canadian dream, my parents called it, the day they got the keys to this double garage house beside the pine forest. We were finally at home in the land of blue skies, clean air, and excellent educational institutions.

As immigrants from the Chinese countryside, my parents paid for their Canadian dream with long shifts at the local Chinese supermarket, doing menial labour because the government refused to recognize their university degrees. My parents hoped Davy and I would become doctors, lawyers, engineers, or accountants so we would never have to work at a supermarket.

But Davy wanted to be an artist. From the moment he first held a crayon, he had an uncontrollable urge to capture the world in images. He doodled on the back of newspaper flyers, in the sandbox at the park, and all over his homework. Mom screamed when she saw his math workbooks covered with sketches of animals where there should have been numbers. She bought Davy a new workbook, along with a sketchbook, to ensure his sketches and numbers went in the right places.

In addition to doodling on newspaper flyers, Davy circled the cameras advertised inside them, drawing stars around the ones he wanted most. Each week, mom and dad threw the flyers in the recycling bin. Each week, they transferred a few dollars from the savings account intended for the down-payment of their Canadian dream into a savings account for Davy’s tenth birthday present.

All this occurred while we were living in a cramped townhouse with thin walls which allowed the neighbours’ arguments to bleed through. Yet the neighbours were silent the sunny afternoon Davy tore open the red wrapping paper and found a DSLR camera underneath. His face split into the widest grin. From that moment on, he took his camera everywhere.

The one time Davy let me use his camera, I almost scratched the lens. When I leaned in to take a close up of some pine needles, the camera slipped out of my seven-year-old hands. Only the neck strap saved it from tumbling to the ground. Davy never let me touch his camera again.

Davy’s doodles were gradually replaced with printed photos and scrapbooks. His crammed bookshelf contains scrapbooks with titles like: Today I Found, Imagine This, Goodbyes.

The Goodbyes scrapbook contains the last photo he ever printed and brought home. A family photo, taken right after his high school graduation. He brought his tripod to commencement so he could set his camera on a timer to take a photo at the precise angle and location he wanted. After posing for the photo, he took off his graduation cap and announced he’d bought a one-way ticket to Ljubljana. The flight was the next day.

Instead of returning Davy’s smile, mom and dad remained frozen like they were still posing.

I said, “Where’s Loo – Blee – Yah – Na?”

“Eastern Europe,” Davy said. “It’s the capital of Slovenia. The mountains and lakes there look like something straight out National Geographic.”

Mom said, “Is it safe?”

“If you want mountains and lakes,” dad said, “go to China.” “I’ve already been to China. I want to go somewhere new,” Davy replied. Mom said, “How long are you going for?”

Davy put the lens cover on his camera and knelt down to disassemble the tripod. “A while.”

“But you have to come back before university starts.”

“I’m not going to university.”

Mom’s voice rose. “You’re what?”

“I deferred my admission.”

“When did you—?”

Dad said, “Davy, you can’t make a living from photography.”

“Don’t worry. I’ve got a plan.” Davy finished packing the camera equipment in his black bag and walked to the car. “It starts in Ljubljana.”

The next morning, Davy tried to take a cab to the airport, but mom and dad insisted on driving him. The whole ride, they pleaded with Davy to reconsider his decision. Concerns about throwing away a bright future did nothing to erase the determined smile on Davy’s lips.

Dad sighed and shook his head. “When you run out of money in the middle of nowhere, don’t call us for help.”

Davy’s smile thinned. “I won’t.”

At the airport, Davy slammed the car door. With his camera bag in one hand and suitcase in the other, he walked through the automatic doors of Terminal One without looking back.

It’s been three years since Davy deferred his admission to university and those automatic doors never once reopened to welcome him back to Canada. All the savings from his part-time job at the art supplies store, which he claimed were for university, went towards plane tickets, hostels, and exotic foods.

Davy’s Instagram feed is a mosaic of cloud-capped mountains and golden beaches, wildflower meadows and cobblestone streets. A million foreign mornings through open windows. Sprinkled through Davy’s feed are snapshots of people. Laughing. Gazing into the horizon. Dancing in the streetlight. Davy has a knack for arranging pixels to capture the moment stories spill through strangers’ eyes, a gift for transforming photographed clients into familiar friends.

My parents print and frame the photos they like best. Our house’s beige walls have morphed into a colourful tapestry detailing Davy’s journey. After touring Eastern Europe, Davy hitchhiked his way south to Turkey, the minaret filled gateway between the East and West. He then followed the footsteps of ancient Silk Road explorers through central Asia, a land of deserts and mountains and mosques, until he reached the green mountains of Northern China.

The morning of my high school graduation, I catch mom pressing her hand against the photo of Northern China as if she could step through the walls and onto the mountains, where she’ll find Davy smiling behind his camera lens. Dad wraps an arm around mom’s shoulders as tears run down her cheeks.

That night, I dream of trekking a mountain like the ones in Davy’s photograph. Davy, with a black bag of camera equipment strapped to his back, is kilometres ahead on the dirt path. He pauses every few steps to angle his camera for a new shot.

Even though I run faster than Davy walks, he gets further and further away. I shout until my voice becomes a whisper, but he never turns around.

If only I’d ignored my parents when they insisted a part-time job would get in the way of my studies. Then I’d have the money to look for Davy.

But even if I could visit all the places Davy’s been, I can’t cross the terminal doors as he did. Each time I consider leaving, I recall mornings where the house’s windows were closed and everyone, save mom, was asleep.

When mom had bags under her eyes from late night shifts at the supermarket, she still woke before sunrise to prepare breakfast. She insisted Davy and I needed to eat well to succeed in our studies.

Once I graduate university and have a stable job, I’ll bring my parents to all the places Davy photographs. If we retrace his footsteps for long enough, perhaps we’ll finally catch him in some countryside village, chasing a shot during the golden hour.

If our family reunites, face to face, for even a few minutes, perhaps I will no longer have to listen to my parents cry when they think I can’t hear them.

And if Davy sees our parents cry, maybe he’ll cross those terminal doors again.

Davy kept the promise he made before he left. Even though his photographs haven’t transformed into a consistent cash flow, he’s never asked our parents for money. He makes enough to live, most of the time. But when he doesn’t, he sleeps on the streets, curled around his camera. Sometimes he roots through dumpsters for dinner because he can’t afford three meals a day. Sometimes he gets so caught up chasing the perfect shot, he forgets to eat.

He says his photographs keep him full, but the angles on his jawline are sharper than they used to be and his smiles are smaller, his laughter softer. If he took off his shirt during our monthly video calls, I swear I’d be able to count his ribs.

His camera is the only thing that remains unchanged. There’s not a single scratch on it.


Kailin Yang is a Chinese-Canadian writer born in Guangzhou and raised in Guelph, Ontario. She is a creative writing major at the University of British Columbia and hopes to become a novelist one day. “If Photographs Could Feed You” is her first published short story.

Louisa Tsui operates out of a colourful box filled with books from top to bottom in Toronto, Ontario. ➤ louscribbles.comlouscribbles.tumblr.com / Instagram: @louscribbles / Twitter: @louscribbles

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An Ode to the Death and Life of Benjamin” by Lyn Medina https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/06/an-ode-to-the-death-and-life-of-benjamin-by-lyn-medina/ https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/06/an-ode-to-the-death-and-life-of-benjamin-by-lyn-medina/#respond Mon, 24 Jun 2019 20:00:26 +0000 https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=15673 The death of Benjamin occurred curtly past the midnight of November eleventh. Twelve years, a short amount for those of his kind has lasted longer than the love of the young marriages told about in the stories by my grandmother. … more »

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Illustration by Katya Roxas

The death of Benjamin occurred curtly past the midnight of November eleventh. Twelve years, a short amount for those of his kind has lasted longer than the love of the young marriages told about in the stories by my grandmother. The inevitable graying, she used to say, once a thing like this happens to you, unfolds in moderation, but does not fail in succession.

First, the wood of the tocador[1]  will lose its sensuous concentricity. The tocador[2] will soon look more like a yakal, made dull, lacklustre, cheapened. Once dense, it will turn hollow; a knock on its side will reverberate a distant echo in approximately the key of B minor. The smooth, unfinished walls of cement, my grandma iterates, already gray, will gradually turn into a shade of domestic eggshell. The floors, despite any effort with a walis tambo[3], or any dusting with an old shirt by way of jerking the foot back and forth in a wiping motion, will gather more dust than was ever possible for an enclosed space. You will sneeze at once, you will sneeze again, and you will sneeze infinitely. The space, she adds, in fact, will cease to be enclosed; windows of capiz, once emanating a gentle eerie light with its tiny frames of mollusk, will at once fall off its hinges, shattering on the ground below as if they were never connected in the first place.

Just as she had described, upon Benjamin’s death, it all happened. In the beginning, it wasn’t so terrible. The cavernous drawers were altogether manageable; and although the walls had an air of malaise, it was really the taste of nausea that was the bother. The floors, at first merely gathering dust, in time were swarmed with long strands of hairs, too. In trying to walk too quickly, a bundle of strands would trip me over; and yet the pain of falling was none compared to the feeling of ticklish tresses between the gaps of my toes.

In an attempt to combat the cold, I plastered large posters on the wall. Darlings and idols, amassed over the years, have finally come to some sort of use. Except nearly every evening, a strong gust of wind would blow a hole straight through them as if a ghost. Thereby, at once, I came upon the idea of manufacturing a Frankenstein plug to fill the break in gluing together: an anthology of Spanish poetry, Blood on the Tracks, a Björksnäs bed frame, some heavy blankets, socks with avocado print on them, and a number of articles collected in a trip to Europe about four years ago.

I would be lying if I said that I didn’t try to revert Benjamin’s death. I heard once that you could fashion a real, working heart, by putting together an unopened can of liver spread, processed cheese, some fried galunggong[4], all soldered together with bits of bronze. Careless that I was, I forgot the part about it needing to be consecrated. Consequently, and though it was in vain, I remembered that I had lost the phone number of my pastor anyway (it was useless, of course, to ask a stranger to bless your makeshift heart).      

Then, I remembered the uncle of my grandfather, who was said to be a babaylan[5]. I imagined him, as my father had once told me, whispering mysticisms to the foreign occupiers in the jungles of Luzon rendering him invisible to their eyes and ready to strike. (If a tree falls quietly in the forest, maybe it was never there). Or how, in demonstrating the grit of the spirits residing in his body, he would bite the head of beer bottles with his bare teeth, ingesting the shards of glass with a gulp. (I am, therefore I bite). And so, with these in mind, I called for his magick. In a silent appeal for nearly a day and a half, I prayed to the ancestors of my ancestors.

It was, however, to no avail. So I made up my mind that, perhaps through time; due to an insincere intention or a pure lack of faith, the magic of the ones who gave me my name, in fact, perchance, had an unprecedented date of expiration, which my father had swept in the emotions of his recounts to me, forgotten to disclose.

Still, in feverish hope to revive my only and beloved Benjamin, following a number of other futile shortcuts and tactics, I had finally decided to consult an expert on the matter. Upon a lengthy discussion of options (of animation, which was a no, on his part; of modifications, which also resulted in a resounding no, on my part; and naturally, I refused to submit Benjamin to any kind of freezing or skin-mounting), we eventually came to an agreement on an affordable and yet luxurious Memory Foam™.  As I do anticipate, the temporary depression upon any kind of petting will inevitably deform the look of Benjamin. A crater upon his visage is certainly not ideal in conveying his resurrection. The incremental return to its original state, however, following the slightest bit of pressure, shall have the effect of Benjamin responding as if in vital motion (an advantageous feature).

Admittedly, when I was told that it would be difficult to hide the scars of the incision, I could not hide my dismay. I did not, by the slightest means, want to be reminded of his cadaverous state. I knew that my wishes, however dire, were idealistic- quixotic even.

As such, the expert offered me a kind of compromise: if I truly wanted this illusion to be grounded in reality, I must then commit the ultimate sacrifice of renouncing the privilege of having both of my two eyes. Through the surrendering of one eye, one measly eye, for the benefit of Benjamin, I would then be rewarded in two ways.

The first is that, in seeing through only one eye, the left eye, my perspective would be entirely skewed in a sense that I will no longer be able to, so much as I try, notice the scars of the incision. No matter which angle I attempted as a point of vantage, I shall not see it; it will not be there. The second is that, in donating my other eye, the right eye, to take the place of Benjamin’s right eye, I shall have the rare and gratuitous honour of seeing the world as it appears from the perspective of Benjamin. Dubious, I know. I was also curious about how this would unfold.

Nonetheless, I had consented to the operation before the expert could enclose to me as to how exactly it would transpire. What can I say, when the serpent gives you fruit, what else are you to do but to extract that fruit dry?

As you are reading this, I can only imagine that you are anticipating the results of my decision. I shall make no further delay in telling you. This double vision, a kind of simulated mirror of the world, as an effect of having each eye in two separate locations, has been miraculous and has entirely transformed the procession of my life. I have become the cinematographer of my own perception; a kind of ad hoc Creator. At any given point, I can choose to close my right eye and view an event from the West, or close my left eye and view it from the East, or see through them both in concurrent discord (which, I have to say, produces a refraction of lights, colours, and shadows, a show most pleasing to the senses). The mode of having such a malleable vision is quintessentially surreal- the possibilities of which are incalculable. Its application in any sort of activity involving the visual is manifold; its resources, inexhaustible until I perish (and I have Benjamin’s immortality, now, to thank as well).

My preoccupation in testing the limits of this newfound ability has, as an understatement, served well to pass the time. Things do not quite appear the way they used to. They are the same, and yet different, but in the good sense of the word. The Graying is still there, though somehow, the double vision makes it appear less dismal, and more ephemeral. If I shut one of my eyes, I could fully neglect half the room.

Best of all, not only have I encased Benjamin into an ultimate and solidifying permanence, (and lately, I have also been considering my very own transition) but I have also acquired this cutting-edge vision: effervescent, imprecise, absolute to which, not even the latest model of a mirrorless Canon camera can compare to.


[1] A classical Spanish style wooden dresser

[2] Native Filipino wood more prestigious than the yakal

[3] A broom native to the Philippines made of soft reed

[4] Tropical fish in the Indo-Pacific region

[5] Pre-colonial Philippine shamans known to practice black magic.


Lyn Medina is Philippine-born and currently working in the Simon Fraser University (SFU) World Literature department. Her work aims to connect a culturally rich pre-colonial past to a disenfranchised present in a manner that attempts to be both sensitive and light-hearted. In order to pay the rent, she might also be found in an open-kitchen restaurant someplace, cooking eggs and acquiring third-degree burns.

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“Chink in the Foreign Devil’s Land” by Raine Lee https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/06/chink-in-the-foreign-devils-land-by-raine-lee/ https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2019/06/chink-in-the-foreign-devils-land-by-raine-lee/#respond Mon, 17 Jun 2019 18:00:59 +0000 https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=15688 “Get out of here! You’re not welcome!” Two white men whizzed by from behind me in a Ford Ranger while I was sauntering back home from the grocery store here in White Rock. My black hair blew gently in the … more »

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Illustration by Wendy Ma

“Get out of here! You’re not welcome!” Two white men whizzed by from behind me in a Ford Ranger while I was sauntering back home from the grocery store here in White Rock. My black hair blew gently in the wind, a few strands swept before my eyes. I could’ve wept like a melting snowflake, making it all the more poetic. Last Chinese New Year, I moved again, to this beautiful place where I can be, but not belong.

“Nut-free policy?” My mother raised an eyebrow when she read the notice I left on the ground. I was visiting my grandparents in Taiwan during a summer break while still in elementary.

“Yeah,” I squeaked, “Adam, Neil and someone else are allergic to peanuts. I think, like, they’ll die if they smell one or something.”

My maternal grandfather, Lee, was seemingly intensely absorbed in his heated conversation with the TV.  “I’ve never heard that before,” mused my mother, as she started cleaning up the mess I made while unpacking. “Foreigners are so strange.”

Lee stopped shouting at the TV for a bit and took a drag on his cigarette before looking our way. He swirled a glass of Kaoliang and grabbed a few roasted peanuts off a plate.

“Dad, stop it.” My mother glared at him. “No one smokes indoors anymore.”

“I DO,” boomed Lee, grinning, then returned his focus to the TV.

The British forcibly paid in drugs to the Ching Chang Chongs in exchange for their tea, silk, and porcelain—Cha-Ching! It’s for all logic—against all ethics.  My paternal great grandfather, the son of a scholar-official of the Qing dynasty, would die from a heart attack at twenty-five when he quit smoking opium too abruptly. The Opium War saw the Chinese crash to a low that only a fentanyl high of the Downtown Eastside would know.

White Rock is, as yet, relatively free of yellow locusts: those who’ve ravaged the housing market for locals. Since moving here—having also been priced out of the city—I’ve been getting the ever-increasing looks of muted disdain.

“Do—you—go—to—school—here?” A lady working at Safeway enunciated each word slowly to my brother and me.

“Oh, not here. I go to UBC,” I replied, assuming she meant White Rock.

Her sharp blue eyes opened up a little, she made a funny face, and looked to my brother.

“I teach,” my brother felt compelled to reply.

“Oh…” she said shrilly, no longer exaggerating her pronunciation, “You teach?”

“Economics,” he replied.

“Oh…” she sneered.

Perhaps they’ve seen one too many Canada Goose-clad students racing down the street in their Porsches. With house prices having quadrupled in price these last few years, rent hasn’t been merciful either. Many are simmering with resentment at the sight of uncouth new money pouring into this once serene city.

When I was packing for yet another move, my friend came to help.

“Their money’s dirty. Most are from exploiting workers back home and through other corrupt means,” he said, indignantly.

“Laundering shit here and taking over!” He worked in the real estate business.

I tossed him a can of iced tea from the fridge in fear that his tomato face was about to burst.

“They’ve got no ethics! None!” he continued. “I literally cannot deal with them anymore!”

Look, I don’t dance now / I make money moves / …If I see you and I don’t speak / That means I don’t fuck with you / I’m a boss, you a worker bitch / I make bloody moves

Cardi B’s song started playing on the radio.

“Well, there you go,” I tittered. “That’s capitalism for ya.”

At the moment I’m writing this, Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings” is playing:

Lashes and diamonds, ATM machines / Buy myself all of my favourite things (Yeah) / …I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it / I want it, I got it / I want it, I got it /…Whoever said money can’t solve your problems / Must not have had enough money to solve ’em

Scratch the female empowerment gimmick; let this be the anthem of those buying out Vancouver.
Thank you, next.

Maybe those inundating Vancouver are now just capturing the logic of capitalism that their predecessors had suffered at the hands of some hundred years ago. Maybe they are the hybrid of the Protestant Ethic and the Struggle Session, wielding the sword of capitalism in one hand and the hammer and sickle in the other. Communism has never been born of a prosperous nation, only a devastated one.

Lee came out of the Second Sino-Japanese War with impaired hearing, lopsided shoulders, a crooked back, and a limp from two bullets lodged in his bone. A 58% sorghum liquor called “Kaoliang” became his go-to remedy for all his ailments ever since fighting the Japanese soldiers in freezing temperatures while he wore straw sandals. He claimed that Kaoliang killed bacteria—and feelings. I can, however, only confirm that it gave him a Rudolph nose.

China, the Central Kingdom, as it’s called in Chinese, has been off-centre for more than a century or two—a blip in history. She was drugged by the British and French in the 19th century and subsequently plundered, massacred and raped by the Eight Nations at the turn of the 20th century. The Industrial Revolution shattered five-thousand years of culture and wisdom; the Chinese had since been mocked as the “Sick Man of East Asia.” Perhaps, in a feeble way of retaliation, at best a crumbling nation could do to retain some pride, Westerners and the Japanese, alike, were etched into the Chinese psyche as the “foreign devils.” Peculiarly enough, in the hating of Westerners, emerged a yearning to be Westernized; yet those Westernized are, in turn, scorned as “fake wannabe foreign devils” or “bananas,” if you will.

A battered dragon—a fettered heart—a walking contradiction.  I was one of four Chinese-Canadians in my class in the early 2000s.

“I can only speak English,” announced my classmate, smugly.

He was the descendant of a Canadian Pacific Railway worker who had fled Canton after the crippling effects of the Opium War.  The other two didn’t know Chinese either, and yet their parents had been recent immigrants; the parents would make it a point to strictly talk to them in their broken English. Some would commend them for adopting Canadian values fast.
They were proudly white on the inside, but painfully yellow otherwise: a banana—a euphemism—a compliment.
Lee’s deafening voice made it so that he was barely aware he was half-deaf.

“SPEAK UP!” He’d often yell to others.

He was never deterred from smoking two packs a day even after an X-ray showed that his lungs were completely black. Only in his eighties did he experience a week-long bout of pneumonia.
“You’re gonna die if you continue to smoke like this!” My grandmother, Lin, nagged, as she piggybacked him out of the hospital.

“GOOD!” yelled Lee.

He lived until ninety-one.

He held in his tears when the bamboo stick slashed his palms. His grandfather had been disciplining him for slacking off in his studies. In a fit of petulant rage, he ran away, planning to make it a day of adventure, and his younger brother giddily tagged along. By that evening in 1938, Japanese troops had invaded An’hui and before they had realized what was going on, all sections to their home were blocked.

A year later, his brother was bombed to death by the Japanese.

“I was deceived…it was my fault.” Lee would often mumble after drinking, but he seldom said more.

He was pronounced dead twice in the next decade. He once mentioned that his friend had saved him by dripping the juice of a loquat in his mouth; as for the other time, he could not recollect.

When the Japanese Imperialists retreated from China in 1945 following the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the brigade Lee was a part of disbanded on the spot in Shanghai due to a lack of funds from the Kuomintang (KMT) aka the Nationalist Party, which was the Chinese government at the time.

He squatted by the streets—a veteran now—but more so a vagabond. In order to just have something to eat, he started to do shuoshu (storytelling) in teahouses, which is essentially busking.

When he had saved enough for a train ticket going home however, he lingered on for another while; he had no brother nor his ashes in tow.  By the time it had been eleven years since he last saw his parents though, he cared no more and began his journey home.

“HEY, WHAT’S THE MATTER?” Lee hollered along with the rest, craning his neck to see better. He could barely push through the crowd at the train station. It seemed as though the train had shut down.

Lee was suddenly yanked by his collar from behind.

“Get out now!” said a hushed voice.

Lee turned around. It was a former fellow soldier from another brigade.

“Now!” The man urged. “The Commies are about to seize this place!”

It was 1949—the Communists had won the civil war—and Lee, dazed, boarded the last troopship, under an alias, that fled the Mainland. Whatever had happened, he became one of the six hundred thousand soldiers to retreat to Taiwan under the KMT.

In the years that followed, people in Taiwan were ordered to sever all contact with the Mainland because amidst the White Terror led by Chiang Kai Shek, the KMT leader, anyone could report you as a Communist spy, and almost every alleged spy was executed. It was Chiang’s catharsis for realizing too late that many of his major subordinates were, in fact, Communist converts or undercover agents.

The veterans brought along all the accents and dialects of the Mainland as well as all the coarse habits from a decade-long war. Dogs and snakes were considered delicacies and compared to rock-hard steamed buns, tree bark, rodents, and blood-soaked noodles, anything edible a luxury.

In elementary, the smell of lukewarm Chinese dumplings coming out of my Thermos had the whole class pinching their noses. My mother was against my having “Lunchables” or sandwiches on icepacks for lunch because, traditionally, Chinese people did not eat cold meals. “They’re bad for your health,” my mother would say. It had something to do with poor circulation and stagnant Chi when you ingest cold food. I’ve always liked dumplings though… just not when it was for lunch.

“Oh God! You’re so Asian!” my peers snarked all the time.

I am, but I also felt what they meant.

At the end of the school year, while cleaning, I found two peanuts sitting inside my backpack.

“Did you do that?” I confronted Lee the following week when I flew to Taiwan.

He was humming to himself, with a cigarette in one hand. He snickered.

“Y’know, my classmates are going to die if —” I continued, whipping out the evidence of his crime.

“Did they, though?” he asked, amused, swiping the stale peanuts off my hand; he chucked them into his mouth.
I drew in a breath, thoroughly grossed out, though not forgetting to think of a good comeback for my squabble with this old rogue.

“Get outta here,” he waved me off, sitting back on his throne across the TV with his eyes closed, massaging the acupuncture points on his wrinkly and bony hands. “You lil’ phony foreign devil brat!”

I’ve always lived amongst foreign devils. They’ve been my peers, teachers, neighbours, colleagues, friends, and confidantes.
Lee failed to pick up the local dialect and didn’t start a family until he was in his forties; even then, he was sure he would be returning home. No one was to touch the two suitcases beneath his bed. For decades, he was prepared—and only waiting on a nod from Chiang.

Half a century later, Lee, muddled, was still in Taiwan puffing on cigarettes, drinking Kaoliang, and eating roasted peanuts with his few and far between metal-coloured teeth. When the time came that people could write to those in the Mainland, he had heard from relatives that his grandfather, father, and mother had all died. While still alive, his mother had supposedly gone blind from crying too much.

Being immobile and demented in the last decade of his life, Lee wore seven layers in the sweltering heat.

“So cold,” he muttered all day, especially when my grandmother changed his clothes and wiped him down. He swapped Kaoliang for sweet things like sponge cake and mung bean pastries—things he never used to like.

“Hey, Grandpa, look at this.” Nudging him, I showed him a property on the MLS listings of Vancouver I was browsing, mainly to see if he was still responsive.

His murky eyes and distant stare said enough.

Like always, he started making hocking and hacking noises, patented by old Chinese men, who all have a mystical source of phlegm that flow like the fountain of youth. I sighed at his unresponsiveness and returned my attention to the screen then sighed again as I witnessed the house prices shoot up—not unlike those at Insite.

“I’m gonna be homeless!” I bemoaned to my computer as I proceeded to lie on the floor, theatrically writhing in anguish.

“HAH!” Lee bellowed suddenly with his trademark surround sound soldier’s voice.

I jumped.  He beamed as though he were capable of clear thinking again. He raised his trembling hands to wipe his perpetually watery eyes that were turning blue as the days passed.

“Home is where you are.”

He coughed out a cloud of smoke and—for a moment—disappeared behind it.  The dragon has only just opened its eyes, yet its glistening glare has already cornered me to the edge of the White Rock Pier; though it, too, has now collapsed, sending me adrift in the ripples of the sea—on and on to places Grandpa hasn’t seen.

February 2019 in B.C.


Raine Lee is a Canadian writer. She is an English Literature major at the University of British Columbia. She was born and bred in Vancouver and is of Chinese descent. Her parents are first-generation immigrants from Taiwan.

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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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