Ricepaper Magazine Asian Canadian Arts and Culture 2018-11-10T18:32:32Z https://ricepapermagazine.ca/feed/atom/ WordPress Alyssa Leung <![CDATA[Review – “Will You Be My Friend”]]> https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=15391 2018-11-09T22:29:03Z 2018-11-09T22:18:11Z Korean-Canadian singer/songwriter/poet, Janice Jo Lee’s solo show Will You Be My Friend is a conversation-starter musical about assimilating ethnic characteristics to fit in with white people. Originally titled The White Supremacy Smackdown, the show was changed to Will You more »

Korean-Canadian singer/songwriter/poet, Janice Jo Lee’s solo show Will You Be My Friend is a conversation-starter musical about assimilating ethnic characteristics to fit in with white people. Originally titled The White Supremacy Smackdown, the show was changed to Will You Be My Friend to make it more accessible to audiences.

The premise of the show involves the concept of “Westian Friendiology” as explained by an alien scientist from Pluto, Dr. West. As a visitor to Earth, Dr. West believes that the best way for People of Colour (POC) to make friends and find happiness is to become white! His subject is Janice Lee, a lonely Kitchener-based, Korean-Canadian artist who is looking for new friends. Her best friend Leila has moved away and she hasn’t been able to find a good boyfriend. Dr. West solves this problem by providing a new white boyfriend Mike, an activist who is woke and loves nature. Although the relationship goes well initially, there are increasing challenges as she encounters white privilege attitudes from Mike and his friends. People in her life who encourage her to be herself are zealously removed by Dr. West to prevent “contamination” of the experiment.

As a performer, Lee is a charismatic ball of energy, playing multiple characters while singing and dancing. Her most haunting song involves picking up a traditional Korean barrel drum and performing a piece she inherited from her family. The audience also gets to participate by filling out a survey for Dr. West at the beginning of the show in exchange for candy and are invited to sing along in English lyrics to her catchy songs. Admittedly, most of the audience was white on the preview night and there were some people who seemed uncomfortable with the subject of the show. Given the show was mainly a comedy, the jokes presented were very funny with deep meanings about the unfairness of the world.

While the message of the show about the importance of exercising the use of a voice as a POC rings true, perhaps a missing part is the incentive for why white people need to give space to others. As most of the piece deals with pleasing white people and erasing identity, perhaps devoting more of the show to the message would make it stronger.

Overall, a solo performance with fifteen songs while playing a variety of musical instruments is incredibly difficult to pull off and Lee did it with flying colors. A charming performer, she evoked much laughter from the audience with her quirky jokes and charming music. A powerful piece on identity politics, Lee is a force to watch out for in the future.

Written and composed by Janice Jo Lee. Directed by Matt White. Until Nov. 11 at Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson Avenue, Toronto, Ontario. Get tickets here.






Alyssa Leung <![CDATA[“a handful of her in my pocket” by Jessamine Liu]]> https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=15288 2018-11-10T18:32:32Z 2018-11-08T19:00:13Z She sits loud-spoken, settling stiff body on stiff mattress

with soft gray curls kissing

humid air and I watch

her hands sweep upward strokes, needle caressing

beanie baby with rat-punctured holes.


I swear she sparkled with the resiliency

of … more »


Illustration by Patrick B. Fernandez

She sits loud-spoken, settling stiff body on stiff mattress

with soft gray curls kissing

humid air and I watch

her hands sweep upward strokes, needle caressing

beanie baby with rat-punctured holes.


I swear she sparkled with the resiliency

of bearing seven children in one eye, and the fragility

of miscarrying in another.


She sets wool on linen on cotton over my fevered body

smooth lined hands snapping

stray threads, and I listen

as her tsinelas meet marble, reaching

porcelain spoon in fresh bird’s nest, and I lie

with layered blankets and sugar-kissed stains,

the lull of Hokkien pulling me to sleep,

carrying a handful of her in my pocket.


Jessamine is a feminist, a proud WOC, and a recent UBC Psychology graduate. She currently resides in Vancouver, BC, and was born and raised in Taiwan, with roots in the Philippines and China. 

Alyssa Leung <![CDATA[“Factory” by Janika Oza]]> https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=15388 2018-11-08T02:25:34Z 2018-11-07T17:00:06Z On the day Tarun discovered the papers that would change his life, it was also his daughter’s birthday. He couldn’t call to wish her happy birthday, only to hear her burbling through the static—back home, ten hours ahead, she would … more »

On the day Tarun discovered the papers that would change his life, it was also his daughter’s birthday. He couldn’t call to wish her happy birthday, only to hear her burbling through the static—back home, ten hours ahead, she would have just been put to sleep, a day ripe with eating and tearing open gifts already behind her. He imagined she’d grown bigger, with enough teeth now to fill out a smile. He recalled the way her eyes widened as she sucked sugar syrup from his finger, the hum of her tongue against his thumbnail. He wondered what dreams she might be conjuring as he lay awake, perhaps swimming in a pool of gold as he walked to work, or feasting on imagined delicacies, frothy chocolate rivers and mangoes the size of melons, as he stuffed down his lunch. He allowed himself to indulge in these memories, both real and manufactured, before getting up to begin his day.

Photo by Liz Weddon

He woke up with a sore throat. He scalded his skin in the shower, combed his hair into a severe side part, and stuffed his keys, wallet, and sandwich into his pockets. He had learned early on not to bring a backpack to the factory. It jacked up the time that security spent on him, making him nervous as they combed through the contents of his lunch. He carried everything he needed in his pants pockets now. He packed a wad of toilet paper in there too, in case the sore throat progressed into something more menacing. He drained his tea— only half a cup so that he wouldn’t need to relieve himself until afternoon break, slowing his productivity. Then, pulling his hat over his ears, he stepped into the darkness of the morning, feeling the cold air prick his freshly shaven cheeks.

Over the last three years, he walked the same route, lit by exactly twenty-nine street lamps. A few cars sped past him, and a lone sparrow cooed from a low-hanging telephone wire. When he arrived, the morning light was just beginning to show. He flashed his badge to Matti, the security guard with the waxed mustache. As always, Matti scrutinized the badge, as if after years of seeing each other daily, today he might have forgotten who Tarun was.

Next came the metal detector, standing resolute like a plastic Stonehenge, yawning as Tarun stepped through. His roommates—three men: one from Sri Lanka, one from Ghana, the third, like Tarun, from India—didn’t believe him when he’d first told them about security at the factory. He’d assumed that all factories were like this in Canada—they took their production seriously here, ferociously protecting the goods that were churned out inside, like dogs guarding their spoils. But it wasn’t so, he learned. Ranuga worked in a factory that made airplane parts and he could stroll in with a suitcase of knives if he liked, and no one would give a damn. And the call centre where Kwaku worked mornings had never even learned his name, let alone put his photograph on a badge. No, it was just this particular factory—the first one that hired Tarun when he’d arrived in Toronto four years earlier—that treated its workers like they were about to board a plane, which is exactly what most of them had done to find themselves there.

When he signed his contract at the foreign workers agency office, he had to pay a massive sum of money, just over the cost of his one-way plane ticket to Pearson International Airport. He was told that he would earn back the money by working there and his payment would be returned if he chose to leave the factory. Think of it like a deposit, they said, when Tarun had questioned this muddled practice of paying for a job—a deposit for a better life.

Factory was a misleading word. This particular one did more destruction that production. It was where important things came to die. Files, documents, confidential envelopes arrived in duct-taped crates through the gated back entrance, where badge-clad workers would haul them inside. From here they were sorted: the less important ones, such as tax papers and outdated business reports, were sent to the shredder. The remaining files, the ones marked with government stamps or scribbled over with black marker, went to the incinerator.

This was Tarun’s domain. It was hot in there, the air sticky. “Like India,” his boss said when Tarun was assigned to the incineration room, “you’ll be comfortable here.” Tarun never complained, although the air tasted like ash and some nights his chest hurt as he tried to fall asleep, but he knew it meant something since they trusted him enough to promote him. Somehow, through some combination of never missing a day of work, learning the names of the security personnel, shaving his cheeks every morning, and telling stories of his daughters back home, he had gained their confidence. He was a good immigrant, rising through the ranks. They would never suspect him of peering into the files, stealing information like scraps of food.

And neither would he. His last inclination was to jeopardize his already precarious position in his new Toronto life. He lived discreetly with three other men in a one-bedroom getup in Flemingdon Park, spending his nights on the pullout couch. He kept his toothbrush tucked into his makeshift-closet—a suitcase propped up against the wall—to be sure that none of his roommates would mistake it for their own. Several nights a week he shared the leftovers that Sunil brought home from the Indian restaurant where he worked: lumps of battered chicken marinating in pools of yellow grease and dried out rice that took on the flavour of the Styrofoam containers in which it was packed.

He was saving up to bring his wife and two daughters over and was looking forward to teaching them how to ask for a transfer on the bus and where to buy the cheapest produce in Chinatown. Some nights he could think of nothing better than falling asleep with Preethi curled into his shoulder, watching her waist sway as she boiled daal on the stove, or bouncing his youngest on his knee. Snapping back to reality, he would remember that was his old life. Here, it would be different. Preethi wouldn’t understand the bus drivers, nor the television channels. She would grow bored and restless, watching the cars pass by all day through the window, too afraid to venture out with her imprecise tongue. She would hunger for the flavours of home, grow fat on white bread and microwave dinners. The girls would be slapped into the nearest school, bringing home foreign germs and unrecognizable accents. They would learn to be ashamed of their parents, asking for ham sandwiches for lunch, exasperatedly correcting their father’s pronunciation. And he would continue to spend his days at the factory, too afraid of losing his standing to tread a toe out of line, too enamored by the dream of America—the dream he was supposed to be living, to believe that this was it for him. This was, after all, the most hospitable land for immigrants. He would wait patiently in line for someone to notice him: to detect his heroic looks and skillful hands; how quickly he picked up new tasks and how easily he slipped into wherever he was placed. It was then that he would be resettled, as swiftly as paper turned to ash, to where he was meant to be.

When Tarun graduated with an LLB from the Baroda School of Legal Studies, he had pictured himself as a flashy lawyer in a corporate firm or one of those judges in the high court who finished work at four in the afternoon and lived in a gated complex. Still, something about it hadn’t felt quite right. He had always seen himself as going elsewhere. Nowhere in particular, but just somewhere else. He believed, in some cavern of his heart, that elsewhere is where he would be noticed, where his life would be made worthy. If he went elsewhere—America, Canada, places ripe with possibility—he would mean something back home.

He had felt this way for as long as he could remember. Perhaps it was the influence of the American legal dramas that Preethi loved, their ominous soundtrack playing in the background over dinner. He would become one of those fist-slamming lawyers from the shows, with their late-night liquor habits and their shiny interrogation rooms. Or perhaps it was the influence of his buddy Sonny who went to UMass Amherst and would regularly send along pictures of his weekend travels: eating shawarma in New York, pretending to read in the Harvard library. Maybe it was merely that he’d never left, and now he was due. Whatever it was, when he mentioned it to Preethi, she wrapped her arms around his neck and asked if they could visit Niagara Falls. Every weekend, he said, kissing her on the mouth.

In the factory, the light above the door signaled when it was okay to enter—green meant come on in, you’re welcome here, while red was, stay out if you want to live. Tarun often wondered about the documents that were torched away behind the sliding grate of the incinerator. He wondered what fragments of life he had unknowingly tossed down the chute. Papers from a marriage that begged to be forgotten? Police reports detailing the facts that they hoped to erase from existence? Incriminating tax scandals hastily disposed of by the world’s wealthiest? Rejected immigration applications signalling the end of a newly invented life? Memories went down that chute, along with pain and disappointment. Dreams, too, became lost and abandoned. Rejected by everyday dreamers, jettisoned into the crap-heap, to be whisked away, then chewed, charred, belched into non-existence. Their ghosts lingering like smoke. Tarun thought of Preethi’s eggplant curry, smoked in the tandoor until perfectly crisped, blackened around the edges and treacly in the center. He thought of last night’s dinner, soggy and uninspired, eaten straight from its take-out container. He thought of the first time he took the girls out to a restaurant, when he secured his work permit, how they celebrated over rasgulla, the sweet milk trickling down their chins. He thought of what was tossed aside, remembered his own dream, and how it was beginning to resemble a ghost. Then the light turned green.

It was around the anniversary of his first day at the factory when he realized that he wouldn’t be able to work as a lawyer in Canada. As this thought occurred, he felt a hot shame creep up his collar. All those years spent cramming in law school, locking himself away in his study only to emerge when he smelled dinner on the stove, and coming home so late that his daughter was already in bed, for what? He recalled when, a few weeks after his arrival in Toronto, the Bengali family in the neighbouring apartment invited him over for dinner. The man said he was an airport taxi driver, but had a certificate of general surgery from the Dhaka Medical College framed above the kitchen table. Tarun thought it was strange, but didn’t ask questions, thinking that perhaps this man was just unlucky, or tired. He knew the truth of it now, but it was too late: he was here, and no-one could accuse him of not working hard.

If his job could be boiled down to three words, it would be this: rip, scoop, toss. With his mind trained in the discipline of law, he tore open boxes, pulled out the wadded folders, and launched them into the chute. And then again, and again, and again. And again, until his watch read 7:00 and he could stumble, back throbbing and feet swollen, to the punch-out clock, logging his twelve hours, passing back through security before he could leave.

So it went, hour after hour passing with only the constricted hum of the machinery to keep him company. Around noon, he tore open a box that was smaller than the rest. From it, he withdrew a thin file folder. His burgeoning cold tickled his throat, and he sneezed, losing grip of the file. A few sheets of paper slid out onto the concrete floor, and he knelt to swipe them up.

They were sworn to secrecy in the factory; the contract plainly stated that anyone who removed property from the premises or reproduced anything they read was subject to immediate termination. It sounded more precarious than it was. Most often, the documents were littered with a scramble of numbers and jargon that no one cared to decipher, particularly not the sort-of English-speaking immigrants that populated the workplace. As much emphasis as the place put on security, it was really a risk-free enterprise. All pomp and no substance, like the dream of this country itself.

That is, until now, as Tarun stared down at the page in his hand. The first thing that caught his eye was the factory’s masthead. The second was the title: LETTER OF TERMINATION. He scanned the page, drinking in the legal blather like his mother’s milk. Familiar, off-putting. The truth crystallized before he had finished reading—the factory was closing down. Nearly 400 workers would be laid off. Severance pay would be offered to those who had worked there for over five years, those with seniority, or who were elderly. Tarun was none of these. Whatever money was owed him, the money he had rightfully earned back, gone. Swallowed into the bowels of the building.

When Kwaku had been offered a raise in his last job, he brought home three cases of beer to celebrate. They had downed pint after pint, sucking the bitter drink like juice. Tarun and Sunil had reminisced about the beers from home, brands such as Cheetah and Gorkha, names that puffed out their chests. They clanked their cans to Kwaku’s success, to this new concept of upward mobility, to dreams realized. “Like the sky, man,” Kwaku had drawled, inflecting his “a” so that it sounded like he was addressing his ill-assorted legion as “men,” “that’s where we’re headed.” By the early hours of the morning, four wilted men drooped over crumpled cans. Eyes puffy, barely open, Kwaku had croaked, “they don’t even know my name, men.” Tarun’s tongue felt heavy with recognition.

He recalled, now, his baby’s first word: baba. Father. The sounds rich and determined as they sprang from her lips. It was what he most wanted to be called in this moment. It was his most prized name. Lately, when Preethi held the phone up to their daughter’s ear, cajoling her to talk to her father, to say “hi, baba, miss you, baba,” she sat quiet. Tarun pictured her pouted mouth, her balled fists. Once, she started crying, and Preethi hastily scooped back the phone, saying that she was cranky, not to worry, she had just missed her afternoon nap. Tarun’s throat clenched. He had gone away to be revered, and instead he was being forgotten.

Now he stood, holding a choice in his hands. He could ignore it, risking nothing, feigning surprise alongside his fellow workers when the announcement was made. He could watch his earnings and his chances torched to smoke. Or he could stop waiting. His legal mind clicked into action, procuring a final possibility as he bundled up the file and cast it to its death. His deposit. Owed to him if he left of his own accord. The cost of a plane ticket, one-way. The deposit for a better life. In that moment, he knew exactly what that better life was.

Tarun ripped, scooped, and tossed one more box, paying his respects. Then he left the room, heading straight for the manager’s office. In his head, he rehearsed his speech, the gratitude he would express for the opportunity, how the factory had become family, but how it was time for him to move on, forward and upwards. A balance of sweet and firm, just like Preethi’s milkcake, which they would have devoured earlier today for his baby’s birthday.

Tarun met the door and knocked. He clutched his badge in his hand like a passport. Behind him, a light blinked green, as if to say: welcome home.

Janika Oza is a writer and educator based in Toronto. Her work can be found in SmokeLong Quarterly, Homonym Journal, and Looseleaf Magazine, among others, and she is a 2018 VONA/Voices fellow. Find her at www.janikaoza.com.

William Tham http://acuriouswriter.blogspot.ca/?view=flipcard <![CDATA[“Before Cities Come Then Go” by Alvin Wong]]> https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=15302 2018-11-05T17:07:27Z 2018-11-02T14:40:04Z The laundry draped above me. The wires crossed the gap between one building and the next in the starless night. Air conditioning units sat fuming on sills, and my arms swam through the muggy air at every step, laden with … more »


Illustration by Christine Wei

The laundry draped above me. The wires crossed the gap between one building and the next in the starless night. Air conditioning units sat fuming on sills, and my arms swam through the muggy air at every step, laden with grocery bags and the Hong Kong damp.

As far as I knew, we could have been the talk of many, our identities reduced to that one door on the tenth floor of our apartment block that remained a mystery to everyone outside: a Chinese-Canadian and a white girl or gwei mui—which translated literally to ghost girl. The elevator doors slid open and pink tiles pixelated the dim corridor, metal gates pressed in uniform spaces, some decorated with red calendars—a cheap gold sparkle font preserving the ostensible prosperity of the past Chinese New Year. I knocked on the metal gate of room 1005. Elise opened the door; the gate bars striped her unamused look in a living room glowing like sunlight.

“I brought chocolate ice cream.” I shook the bag.

The bribe was enough. She slid open the gate and paced back to her room in the little sanctuary of our apartment. Inside stood simple IKEA furniture in flat matte colours. Yet we were still audience members from our open windows, listening to the faint screeches of buses and the refractions of the warm life going through the shops in the streets below, their distant conversations and doings stir into the orange afterglow that colours the wind at our sill, reaching us with soft echoes. Elise dropped something on the table. A jingle and a crash with an attached lanyard pooled on the tabletop.

“Bring your keys with you, man,” she sighed casually, as if we were back in Toronto.

“Well, doors are what bring us together.”

Her eyes slackened; a lean smile creased her face. Although we lived together we were just friends—two people with their essential separations.

“You think you’re so smooth?”

“I try to be,” I shrugged, before awkwardly placing the seasoning in the pantry above. “I got oysters.” It became a careless remark, sounding as if I went into the ocean. The plastic padding quickly dissolved the fantasy.

“Let’s just go out to eat,” she insisted, peering out of the window which opened onto the evening void.

I was already wearing my “going out” clothes: a t-shirt and beige jeans. Elise merely zipped up into a grey sweater with grey Pikachu jumping amok all over her torso. Out on the street, the after-work hours manifested themselves in the traffic lights and beads of neon from animated overhead signage. Rectangular vans with side sliding doors parked along streets with the stuffed rock of concrete steps juxtaposed against the shiny diamond stores. Slums cheek-to-cheek with the gaudy.

Elise and I walked with little to say, and she blew neon-colored clouds of cigarette smoke into creation, as if breathing the language of watercolors. She only replied with “hmm’s” and soft nods, lowering her shoulders once the talking stopped, trying to keep the voices of the pedestrians, the whistles of cars passing by, and the ringing telephones out.

“Bring your keys with you, man,” she sighed casually, as if we were back in Toronto.

We decided to go to a small noodle place that also sold BBQ pork and unreasonably expensive cuttlefish hooked on a metal rack, dried out in a red-lit glass display. Beyond the glass door, walls in thick coats of seafoam green studded with emerald tiles sweated from the heat while waiters and waitresses wearing aprons over casual clothes tip-toed past folding tables.

“Two seats please,” I said in Cantonese, the words a distant memory. My English replies to conversations with my parents became stunted by an ever-growing silence, our respective words understood only in fragments.

“Oh yeah, just wait a little bit,” the short bun-haired waitress kicked in, her voice a jackhammer of consonants.

“Here is your table,” she pronounced in English for Elise. The waitress turned to me and asked, “Would you and your girlfriend like any drinks?” Elise opened and closed her lips to think, half-approximating what she was asked from a phrase book, and I couldn’t help but blush, hoping it was hidden by the red lights.

“Just a Sprite,” Elise chimed in.

“Cold Lemon Tea,” I ordered once I stopped blushing.

“We actually have a deal on two sprites, one half off,” the waitress suggested, a knowing grin spreading on her face, like she was about to see one of those TV dramas unfold.

“Okay. Two sprites,” I answered. After writing it down on a notepad in squiggles, she marched to a Coca-Cola soft drink fridge behind the long steel counter. Elise held her head up with her hand; the sweater sleeve showed off her slender wrist. Looking at her, I would always notice that her body curved gently. She blinked—the thought dashed away and she narrowed her lips, eyes caught in headlights and looking back at them with the same intensity.


“Oh. Nothing really,” I dodged and she went on to check her phone. The chibi Umaru-chan key chain jumped up before hovering by its string like an actor flying in a stage musical. In the conversations around us, I caught tosses about sports, financial figures, terse fragments of sounds describing a story with a familiar echo to which I could perhaps shout back a reply, but they would hear nothing.

“Why are we here?”

Elise blinked and backed up.

“To get food,” she said over the clinks of bowls onto plastic trays.

“I know, but what are we even doing here? In Hong Kong, I mean.”

She moved back in her seat, hoping to find some comfort in the rolls of cushion behind her. The conversation reminded me of an absurdist play: two people sitting at a table like this one asking why they were there and it would slowly repeat as they babbled on.

“You aren’t getting hot feet are you?” She made a joke at the expense of the humid weather with a little smile.

“No,” I chuckled.

Our drinks arrived in glass bottles. Straws dangled from the top and we both sipped. The bottles half-empty, we were finally able to feel the air conditioning unit’s bliss over the stove-heat inferno.

“Things just kind of feel far away,” I looked to my arm on the table, fingers grasping the marble finish. The family behind us began to pack up, leaving the bench row with me and Elise unsettled, even desolate, perhaps.

“We are in a city we don’t know.” Her finger spiraled around the bottleneck.

“Yeah, but we’re supposed to feel at home here, right? I don’t think it should feel like a camping trip we never leave.”

“I guess so, but it’s not like we’re here to mess around. Tours later.”

Her bringing up tours made me think she was clearly missing the point. We ordered a large plate of rice with Yu Choy and some BBQ pork, cut but clumped together. Putting helpings into small bowls, we chatted mainly of things back home: a life we didn’t quite leave, but became silent watchers of; people in our lives thriving without our knowing it, continuing on in form only through photographs and online status updates. Elise finished eating first and I ended up just eating straight from the plate. She groaned a bit at this—I could never tolerate the senseless wastage of food.
We went home from the shakings of the city, and all the jazz of car horns and traffic light rings settled into the low rhythm and blues of our breaths and cold wind. Before she slept, she sat on the bed, her legs in her arms, swaying just a bit as if listening to music. I just wanted to hold her, wondering what she was thinking about, sharing that silence together.

But I couldn’t.

Our bodies compulsively recaptured the intensities of our aborted connections; always punctuated, defused, negated with a reluctant “oh it’s nothing.” It was like watching her through a window where she continued a distant life that I would catch a glimpse of before she moved out of that frame. Despite my flirtations back in Toronto in frozen yogurt bars and fields, she seemed to forgive me. By living with complications, we were to become adults. Wasn’t it these separations that composed our relationship? We always seemed to evade each other’s advances and would never become the people we remembered each other to be from our habits, her liking of nicknames and the same cartoons that I watched. Before we left she asked me what it was I even wanted in the end. She thought of Hong Kong as a good place to go because people said it was like Europe, thanks to British colonization and their left-behind marble mausoleums. I had only taught her a few words in Cantonese and she was able to get by with English. Yet she sometimes listened to impassioned conversations that she could only approximate from their sounds yet follow as she walked down Nathan Road with its luminescent lettering and neon caricatures.

By living with complications, we were to become adults. Wasn’t it these separations that composed our relationship?

The apartment had two separate beds, but I sometimes found it more comfortable on the couch because the pleather was colder than the mattress. Some nights, it kept me awake with the thoughts of whether there was any more to this room. My eyes couldn’t relax, searching through the spaces between books and the reflection in the old Sanyo CRT. Putting on a pair of cargo pants and taking my keys, I headed out to the empty street hearing the drums of my footsteps and the beat of my heart unmediated by car horns and foot traffic.

Trees blooming in planter boxes of a lonely park provided ample shade. I sat on a swing in a deserted playground to have a smoke. Thankfully, there was an ashtray nearby so I could feel less guilty. The city stretched over the foliage, some apartment windows turned on for late-night snacks or drinks. I remained detached at the fact that the city was a different place, a concrete space without partitions. But its fragments would reach me unsolicited, floating in the stories I wrote about the marine wind of a port city or about small electronic shacks in malls and the glittering symbols of karaoke bars in Mong Kok.

My cigarette was half burned-out and dull, my fingers stained with ash and tar. I scribbled out some quotes for my next column, remembering someone telling me that leaving for a different country was a creative endeavor. What on earth had I created that hadn’t already always existed?

“I figured I would find you here,” Elise came over to the swing next to mine, her legs dangling over the ground. She took a small drag of my cigarette.

We were together. The simple act of sharing a cigarette without any yearnings or hopes that something new would appear past the smoke she exhaled, conjured through the retracted desires we kept inside us.

Taking another drag, I couldn’t help but stifle a yawn. I wanted nothing more than to stay suspended with her over the grounds of this unfamiliar city as it expanded away from us. Our little cigarette-light could never fade into the midnight streets, the desert of television static. And something up in that sky, squirming for darkness, would finally allow a small pinch of starlight through.

Alvin Wong is a Chinese Canadian (Cantonese) writer from Richmond Hill. He goes to York University for Theatre Studies, Creative Writing and Urban Studies where he leads the on-campus literary event, Crossroads Literary Festival. He is currently the senior editor of the publishing press, Inspiritus Press and practices Tai Chi on his spare time.

Gavin Hee http://weshareinterests.com <![CDATA[REVIEW – “Ulam: Main Dish” at the Vancouver Asian Film Festival (VAFF) 2018]]> https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=15373 2018-11-01T04:43:04Z 2018-11-01T04:22:09Z Filipino American Alexandra Cuerdo writes and directs the documentary Ulam, a love letter to the burgeoning Filipino food scene in New York City and Los Angeles. As with any good food documentary, there is a myriad of mouthwatering food … more »


Scene from Ulam: Main Dish, Ricepaper’s partner film and Saturday’s centrepiece spotlight at the 22nd Vancouver Asian Film Festival screening at Cineplex Odeon International Village Cinemas, Vancouver (11/3, 700 pm – 930 pm)

Filipino American Alexandra Cuerdo writes and directs the documentary Ulam, a love letter to the burgeoning Filipino food scene in New York City and Los Angeles. As with any good food documentary, there is a myriad of mouthwatering food scenes with Cuerdo lovingly framing close up shots of glistening longganisa (sausage), perfectly seasoned and slow-smoked ribs, and steaming pancit (noodles). But more than that, the film also talks about the experiences of first and second-generation Filipino Americans, and the struggle to have Filipino food and identity be recognized in the larger American society and even their own Filipino community.

Cuerdo adeptly elicits personal stories and ruminations on the growth of Filipino-American food culture from the award-winning chefs and restauranteurs she talks to. You’ll meet Alvin Cailan (of NYC restaurants Eggslut, Unit 120, Paper Planes, and Amboy) who passionately describes how Filipino food can bring a greater understanding of Filipino culture to Americans when they may only know the Philippines through boxer Manny Pacquio and his homophobic remarks, and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and his deadly drug war. There’s also Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan (of NYC’s Purple Yam) who are able to give an eloquent dissertation on what makes Filipino food and its flavor profiles so unique which include its many cultural influences from trade, war, colonialism, and globalization.

All the restauranteurs also talk about their struggle to get their restaurants off the ground. Running a restaurant is difficult in the competitive restaurant industry when the average failure rate is 3 months, but it seemed especially difficult for a restaurant serving Filipino food. As restauranteur Nicole Ponseco (of NYC’s Maharlika and Jeepney) puts it, the common thought was that that “White people aren’t interested in [Filipino] food… [and] Filipinos won’t pay for it.” The restaurateurs also ruminate on why it took so long for Filipino food to break through – not just because many Americans seemed unable to recognize Filipinos as a distinct culture and people, but also because the Filipino community itself had to shift its specific expectations of what Filipino food should taste like (and how much it should cost). As a Filipino Canadian myself, I recognized this mentality of wanting Filipino food to taste exactly how it did in my childhood, and being reluctant to pay more than what I remembered it costing in the Philippines. The recollections of these struggles and the budding relationships that have developed within the Filipino-American chef community make the growth of the Filipino-American food scene especially remarkable, and helps rise Ulam above merely a video of Instagram food porn.

Cuerdo interviews a total of 11 chefs and restauranteurs. For much of the film, she switches back and forth between several chefs, with a general theme connecting the different stories, and the theme change signaled by the music cues. Cuerdo makes an exception for Alvin Cailan, who has an extended sequence on his produce buying habits, his relationship with his girlfriend, and the opening of his new restaurant, Amboy. Although I appreciated watching more of his story, I also wished I could hear more about the other chefs – i.e., how Romy Dorotan was able to transform from a dishwasher who had never cooked in his life to an award-winning chef. This uneven structure made me wish that Cuerdo had made the decision to interview fewer chefs and delve deeper into their lives and thoughts on the rise of Filipino food in America.

In the end, Ulam is a noteworthy film, mainly for shining a spotlight on a community and food that for so long has flown under the radar. According to an interview with the director, Cuerdo has been getting inquiries from teachers wanting to use the film to teach since there has been so little representation of Filipino-Americans in the media.[1] This film will certainly provide a crash course on Filipino food for the uninitiated, fill the Filipino-Canadian community with a sense of pride at what their fellow Filipinos have accomplished and hopefully encourage more visits to local Filipino restaurants.

[1] http://moveablefest.com/alexandra-rey-cuerdo-ulam-main-dish/

Patricia Lim lives in Vancouver and has also spent time in Halifax, Manila, and Beijing. She has written for Ricepaper, Schema, Converge, and Vancouver Observer. She enjoys examining the connections between culture, history, and identity.

Gavin Hee http://weshareinterests.com <![CDATA[Vancouver Asian Film Festival 2018 – Industry Panel – Diversity & Representation in Canadian Film & Television]]> https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=15362 2018-10-30T23:25:17Z 2018-10-30T23:15:00Z

The past couple of years have been a remarkably better time for Asians in the broader Western media space. A system barring Asians from respectable on-screen roles for decades is now cracking as social, economic, and technological drivers around the … more »


The past couple of years have been a remarkably better time for Asians in the broader Western media space. A system barring Asians from respectable on-screen roles for decades is now cracking as social, economic, and technological drivers around the world pry open the claws of an old, dying guard. A path towards decency finally looks like it is being laid. Much of this change has come in the US, some from Australia. Canada has made contributions as well, but what exactly? And what has been the impact both domestically and internationally? Has our country done enough? And if not, where should it be and how can it get there? Join us for a discussion with industry experts and be involved in the movement. Get your tickets now! The panel will take place at the International Art Gallery Level 2, 88 West Pender Street, Vancouver.


Kashif Pasta | Director of “Welcome to Surrey”
As the co-founder of Dunya Media, Kashif works to tell stories that reflect the diversity of their audiences, resulting in filmmaking that both helps underserved audience’s sense of validation and self-worth, and helps mainstream audiences enjoy richer, more satisfying content.





Lien Yeung | An award-winning multimedia reporter, anchor and producer with CBC News
Lien has covered stories ranging from the opioid crisis to historic wildfires to diversity in media. Her journalism has taken her from the Pacific Northwest to the Atlantic Coast. She holds a Master’s of Journalism from UBC and B.A. from SFU. Lien took the leap to pursue journalism after almost a decade in marketing working with some of Canada’s most recognizable brands.




Sonny Wong | CEO & Co-founder of Hamazaki Wong Marketing Group, Co-founder of Leo Awards
Sonny is a social and marketing entrepreneur with a diversity of business interests and projects that span marketing/media, live programs and events, sustainability, arts and culture, film and television, creativity, and social innovation. He is president and creative director of Hamazaki Wong Marketing Group, an award-winning multicultural marketing-communications agency. Sonny is also co-founder and producer of the annual Leo Awards, BC’s awards program for the film and television industry.



John Wirth | Executive Producer/Showrunner of “Hell on Wheels”, “Wu Assassins”

As an Executive Producer/Showrunner on the Netflix original series Wu Assassins. He has served as Executive Producer on Hap And Leonard; Hell On Wheels; The Cape; Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles; Love Monkey; Ghost Whisperer; The District and Nash Bridges.





Moderator: Bessie Chow | Contributor to Ricepaper, a Canadian magazine showcasing Asian Canadian literature, culture, and the arts.

As a first-generation Canadian-born Chinese, Bessie has long been sensitive to the challenges and opportunities inherent in the definition and defiance of different labels. Her passion for diversity and inclusion has manifested in a range of activities including starting the first station diversity committee at Global Ontario, sitting on media advisory committees for under-represented groups (CNIB, VIRCS), delivering cultural-sensitivity training to ESL instructors and learners, and participating in diversity in governance programs for boards of directors.

Gavin Hee http://weshareinterests.com <![CDATA[[PODCAST] TalkRice – Vancouver Asian Film Festival 2018 Preview]]> https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=15354 2018-11-01T04:24:31Z 2018-10-28T06:04:29Z The Vancouver Asian Film Festival (VAFF) runs Thursday, November 1 to Sunday, November 4 at Cineplex Odeon International Village Cinemas and Ricepaper is excited to be a community partner for another year! Our partner film is the documentary, Ulam: Main more »


Scene from Ulam: Main Dish, Ricepaper’s partner film and Saturday’s centrepiece spotlight at the 22nd Vancouver Asian Film Festival screening at Cineplex Odeon International Village Cinemas, Vancouver (11/3, 700 pm – 930 pm)

The Vancouver Asian Film Festival (VAFF) runs Thursday, November 1 to Sunday, November 4 at Cineplex Odeon International Village Cinemas and Ricepaper is excited to be a community partner for another year! Our partner film is the documentary, Ulam: Main Dish (Sat. 11/3, 7-930 pm) which celebrates a surging interest in Filipino cuisine. Our Bessie Chow will also be moderating the panel, Diversity and Representation in Canadian Film and Television, Saturday afternoon (120-130 pm). Come say “Hi”, bring your friends and family, and spread the word!

Patricia, Gavin, and Vincent met at the office to talk about this year’s program. Have a listen and get a sense of what to expect from this year’s 4 day extravaganza!

Gavin Hee is an occasional contributor to Ricepaper. He aims to connect people throughout the world interested in relatable, meaningful content by Asians. He was born and raised in North Vancouver and spent his formative twenties in Seoul where his concept of globalism transformed. He is particularly fond of pan-Asian themed stories of inter-cultural exchange and he is the founder of weshareinterests.com, a site he thinks you might enjoy since you are reading this. He encourages marginalized voices to build their own world so they are not stuck in someone else’s. Click on his name in the tags below to see all posts. 

Footnotes & Followups
Longanisa sausage
Ube – Purple taro
Bao Down
Lechon Kawali
Lumpia Shanghai
San Miguel Boodle Fight
Pinoy Sunday (2009 Taiwanese film)
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Little League World Series
30 for 30
Panel Discussion: Diversity and Representation in Canadian Film and Television
Omotenashi – Apologies for saying this wrong and flipping the N and T!

William Tham http://acuriouswriter.blogspot.ca/?view=flipcard <![CDATA[“Sticky Notes on a Map” by Nastasha Alli]]> https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=15317 2018-10-12T14:41:03Z 2018-10-26T14:40:02Z There’s a map of the Philippines that hangs across my bed in a gilded bronze frame. It’s from a 1935 Rand McNally World Atlas. I paid $400 for it ten years ago at an antique shop in Toronto because the … more »


Photograph by Nastasha Alli

There’s a map of the Philippines that hangs across my bed in a gilded bronze frame. It’s from a 1935 Rand McNally World Atlas. I paid $400 for it ten years ago at an antique shop in Toronto because the shopkeeper was friendly and I couldn’t resist it. I wanted that map on my wall.

Every time I look at it, I feel a little bit better.

Travel has always meant a lot to me and my family—not because we travelled a lot for vacations, but because it was an act of leaving the Philippines, moving to Canada, and enjoying a lifestyle that would allow us to save enough to go anywhere in the world except the country we were from.

“You could go to Europe!” my mom would proclaim, as she chatted with my dad over MSN messenger in the living room of my grandmother’s house in Manila.

My dad left for Vancouver in the early 2000s under Canada’s revised immigration policy for skilled workers. While he was away, I drank beer and cheap rum in corner stores, snuck into clubs with the rich kids from my high school and smoked weed at the local park while someone paid security guards to look the other way. I loved being 16 in my nearly lawless, chaotic, gritty Manila.

“You know, we came to Canada for you and your sisters,” my dad said, his voice tinny and unnaturally loud as it bounced around the walls of my apartment. I could tell he leaned forward when he spoke into his cellphone’s microphone. My mom shuffled around in the kitchen, putting away cutlery that clinked against each other in the drawer.

“I know, dad, I’ll be fine,” I assured them both. I stood over my hiking pack, deciding whether to toss one or two dry-fit shirts in for my excursion to Mt. Apo in Mindanao province—the Philippines’ highest mountain peak.

It was impossible to hide their worry for me flying off to a region known for armed conflict with Muslim militant groups. But no one was changing my mind; I had a narrow, pointy sticky note taped over Mt. Apo on my wall-mounted map for years. Climbing that mountain, for me, simply meant I could get past whatever challenges lay ahead. Twenty-six hours and three airline carriers later, I landed in Mindanao—my gateway to adventure.

I paid $400 for it ten years ago at an antique shop in Toronto because the shopkeeper was friendly and I couldn’t resist it. I wanted that map on my wall.

When a farmer named Henry came to pick me up in his van shortly before my hike, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew nothing about his agro-forestry farm except its name,. but I did know that at 28, I’d learned some of my life’s biggest lessons by blindly walking into things.

“So how did you hear about me again?” he asked.

“I searched for ‘farms in Mindanao’ on Google,” I admitted, over an AM radio talk show that played in the local dialect. “I’ve never been to Mindanao, so I decided to visit.”

Henry looked at me through the rear-view mirror and cracked a smile. His skin was taut and bore the colour and sheen of years spent under the sun. His gaze was warm and friendly. I guessed he was in his fifties.

“Well, it’s a great place to be.”

We passed through the farm’s wrought-iron gates , then unloaded my hiking pack and a pair of styrofoam coolers. Henry instructed Jon, his farmhand, to gut the fish in the coolers.

He handed me a ring of keys and led me up to my room, which turned out to be the entire second floor of a net-covered nipa palm and bamboo structure. The space could fit two pool tables with lots of room to walk around.

“Make yourself comfortable! I’ll be back for dinner.”

But dinner, as I knew from growing up in the Philippines, could be as early as five or as late as ten at night. Sometime before sunset, I walked to the lodge’s common area and settled myself in a chair. I noticed Jon in the outdoor kitchen behind me as I lit a cigarette.

“What are you making?” I asked. I could see a pot of rice resting on a ledge attached to the concrete sink, while there was Another large pot that held some type of broth, and one kawali (similar to a wok) propped over some concrete, hollow blocks that encircled a low, wood-fueled fire.

“Fish tonight if that’s okay po,” Jon said. “Nag-text po si sir Henry, traffic daw po,” he added.

I’d forgotten how casually the word “po” was used in the Philippines. Most Filipinos use the word “po” as a show of respect, not just in addressing someone who’s older than you, but also for those “higher up” along the social scale.

I mentioned only having had a late breakfast that day, but offered to wait.

“Ah ma’m, they might be later!” Jon stated. “Let’s eat na po when it’s ready. This is my specialty.”

I walked over to his spot on the table, where there were mounds of roughly chopped garlic, onions and ginger on a melamine plate. Two tight knots of lemongrass—I could smell its fragrance despite the cigarette and charcoal smoke—and coarse salt were nestled next to the ginger. The gutted, cleaned fish were waiting in a red plastic bag, next to bottles of soy sauce, fish sauce and some other cloudy liquid. Jon was rinsing a large handful of greens that resembled spinach in the sink.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“I don’t know the English, but it’s that one over there.” He pointed to a little patch of trimmed greens that grew inside old car tires repurposed as garden planters along the path to the kitchen.

Jon scooped the fish with its greens and broth into a bowl and laid it in front of me. I leaned into the bowl, unzipped the hood of my jacket and engulfed myself in its steam.

It was the best fish stew I ever remembered having. The greens were peppery, the broth piquant and soothing. The skin on my portion of fish, blistered from having been doused repeatedly with hot oil, carried a strong scent of lemongrass and ginger, despite the tiny amount of each I saw Jon toss into the pot.

The other farmhands nodded politely after helping themselves to several spoonfuls of soup and a tiny portion of fish on the table. “Thank you po,” they all said, before walking off into the darkness to eat elsewhere. I bribed them to stay by sharing my pack of Marlboroughs and asking about other places I needed to see in the area.

I learned about their families, how long they’d been working at the farm, that the karaoke music from the store down the road would probably go on until 3:00 a.m., and that posting selfies on Facebook was something they still loved to do. After Jon bought a pint of brandy—he refused to let me chip in—someone brought out a guitar and we drank and burned through two more packs of cigarettes.

I could never have imagined making friends with a bunch of farmhands in the heart of Mindanao over a single pint of booze.

Amid crickets that never stopped chirping and a sky as dark and pierced with brilliant stars as I’d ever seen, I realized how pointless it was to let generalizations of people and places stand in the way of traveling to experience something you never have before. I’d have to mark this spot on my gilded map of the Philippines with a little sticky note.

Two tight knots of lemongrass—I could smell its fragrance despite the cigarette and charcoal smoke—and coarse salt were nestled next to the ginger.

As a teenager, I imagined I would someday host parties in a brick-walled loft that overlooked a dazzling cityscape. I’d invite friends over for wine, cheese and charcuterie nights and play folk rock records that were as far away from the sizzling pigs’ ears, Pilsen beer and karaoke machines in someone’s garage that made up the parties I knew from high school.

Eight weeks before graduating, I got kicked out of school and lost the academic honours I’d earned over the last four years. Marijuana was not something my conservative high school condoned, even beyond school premises. I was crushed like a spent cigarette and disappointed my parents like never before. That summer, I wished I was anywhere but the Philippines. I couldn’t wait to lose myself in the markets, farms and vineyards that Anthony Bourdain’s TV crew experienced. Someday, I would visit those places and write about what I ate there.

The desire to travel consumed me. There was so much I didn’t know about how the foods I loved (and had yet to try) were grown; and I knew even less about how they made their way to my plate and cup. Coffee—my earliest love and confidant—was one of these things and I knew I wanted to explore what a Filipino kitchen meant further through coffee. Why did I ignore what my grandmother’s hometown was famous for?

Along the foothills of a mountain range, I met Neil, who picked me up from an inn where I awoke to see rows of golden pineapples as far as the eye could see.

Neil picked me up in a jeep that always needed to have the key in the ignition, unless you wanted to spend an hour starting the engine. As we drove through the pineapple fields, which seemed plentiful from afar, but patchy and parched up close, I knew I had to tell stories about the food that grows in the Philippines, however I could, because no one else was telling them in the spaces that many Filipinos my age lived in. Through winding paths where water buffalo and tire tracks forged ahead, we made our way to a coffee farm, nestled at the foot of the mossy, mystical Kitanglad mountains.

Neil was a wildlife photographer, mountaineer, fifth generation IP (as indigenous people in the region like to be called), farm manager, and father of two.

Through Neil, I began to understand the importance of seeing ourselves as caretakers of the land we stood on. Though the fields around us were depleted of healthy soil from decades of growing pineapples as a monoculture (producing over half of the world’s canned pineapple products), locals here felt that stewardship over the land was still their responsibility. These valleys have supported them for generations and could support a relatively new coffee-growing industry.

Neil had bandages on his right arm, from elbow to wrist, remnants of fighting a forest fire the week before. He waved this off as a job hazard. “Of course, we had to do it,” he said. “But it was hard, we’ve had the drought this year. We had to pump water from the streams and carry it uphill with a lot of buckets.”

As part of managing their natural resources, he told me about working with local communities who have a history of hunting endangered Philippine eagles—majestic creatures with a wingspan that can reach over three feet—that swoop into their cottages looking for food. Up in the mountains, locals have taken to shooting them for dinner.

Hunting eagles in response to hunger was a cycle that would take time to address, Neil said, but there were some things that could be done now. Changing peoples’ mindsets of “what’s good to eat” was one way, he said. “I mean, back then, we used to eat lots of vegetables.”

Neil helped address this problem by encouraging locals to grow food that used to be consumed predominantly here, such as leafy backyard vegetables and grains like millet, which is found in caves dating back to centuries before the Spanish conquest.

“Land here is rich, we need people to realize that. Even if it starts with something like turmeric that just grows around,” he said, pulling out a stubby root from the soil. He brushed off some ladybugs, snapped it in half and handed me the richest, brightest shade of orange I’d ever seen on a vegetable, with an earthy, cumin-like scent. “So, we’re trying to grow coffee now, along with this, to show people that it’s something they can care for and make a living from. Basically, so they won’t go hungry.”

We walked to a neighbouring plot of land with rows of twisty vines that crawled up trellises and last year’s coffee trees, pruned as high as my shoulders. It took three to five years for one coffee tree to bear fruit, which meant that the trees around us were in various stages of maturity. This year’s harvest, while enough to cover expenses for the families who farmed here, was not enough to make a significant profit.

I picked a ripe red coffee berry, scratched away the skin, and marvelled at how this sweet, tiny fruit—after being dried, sorted and roasted—transformed into something that literally fueled the world.

We hopped back into Neil’s jeep and drove to the farm’s main lodge to have a cup of coffee. I told him about how a quote from Jose Rizal, the Philippines’ national hero, was fitting for the experience; I’d seen it posted on Instagram a few days before.

“The one about how you can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve come from?” Neil asked.

I nodded, sipping my coffee. Though we passed the roasting room at least an hour ago, I could still smell it on my clothes. I inhaled deeply into my cup. The coffee tasted sweet, by far the freshest I’ve enjoyed, with a hint of bitterness and definite notes of hazelnut.

Neil excused himself and turned to someone behind us. They shook hands then spoke in a rapid stream of the local dialect; I made out the words “Manila” and “Fedex” from their exchange.

I savoured my coffee, slowly, while people around me continued on with their day. I’d need another sticky note on my map at home, pointing to this coffee farm. Here, like in many other parts of the world, people were simply doing what they could to save something that mattered to them.

“Land here is rich, we need people to realize that. Even if it starts with something like turmeric that just grows around.”

When I wake up in the morning in Toronto, I see the sun peek through the curtains and fall onto the map in my bedroom. The plants that hang from my ceiling cast little twinkly shadows over my sticky notes. That map is a prized possession and something I would save in a fire—an event I have also lived through. Though I can now travel anywhere, I am drawn more than ever to the Philippines, beyond the country I’ve known, where there is much to discover.

Travelling to Mindanao was important because I knew it would help me “unlearn” things, such as the general distrust many Filipinos have towards others from their country. Even within our community, racism exists in many forms. This particular view of those from southern Mindanao as a wholly dangerous people has, subconsciously, passed from my parents’ generation into my own.

I realized that becoming “Canadianized” in this way—to view and treat everyone with respect and openness, to let go of ingrained misconceptions and judgment—helped me appreciate the true riches of my parents’ land: its people. I began to recognize my cultural heritage for what it contains; to celebrate instead of shun and abandon it.

And while travelling to the Philippines has helped me grow in many ways, I feel guilty—a sense of shame, part of a complex behaviour called “hiya” in Filipino culture—over being able to make these kinds of visits to the motherland.

I often think about my parents (and many others) who’ve uprooted their families and started life in a new country. Saving every dollar, relying on no one else but themselves. I admire that. It takes an incredible strength of character that’s hard not to emulate. Would I have done the same?

Though going home fills a void, I know it’s a temporary respite. Many Filipinos, like me, still find it hard to talk about the psychological impact that immigration creates. After all, we’ve been doing it in large numbers for decades. What place did my search for identity have amidst an everyday struggle to survive?

For years, all I wanted was to run to the people and places I loved in the Philippines. There, I thought, I would be understood. I could heal from the loneliness of day to day living in a big city and be myself. In Canada, how I felt was always pushed aside by immediate needs like my next work shift, groceries and rent.

Until I stuck those sticky notes, I couldn’t say “Hey, let’s talk” or “I feel alone” because I thought that asking for help was a burden to the people around me who worked hard to get to where they were.

It took a pair of long dead mapmakers to convince me it was okay to feel vulnerable and lost. That sometimes, travelling to the other side of the world could, indeed, point you in the right direction, even if you take alternative paths. Providing guidance, after all, is the purpose of a map.

Nastasha Alli is a writer, recipe developer and food tour guide based in Toronto. She was born and raised in the Philippines and came to Canada in 2007. She has worked in the hospitality, publishing and technology industries and considers herself a lifelong learner. She publishes recipes and food writing on her blog, and hosts/produces a podcast about Filipino food culture.

Allan Cho <![CDATA[An Excerpt from The Woo-Woo – “Chinese Hell Month”]]> https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=15352 2018-10-25T16:40:35Z 2018-10-25T16:38:53Z

Because she feared starving so much, my mother shopped three days a week at Costco, which meant that we hoarded food, and that eating was almost as essential as money. In our family, a large gift of cash was better … more »


Because she feared starving so much, my mother shopped three days a week at Costco, which meant that we hoarded food, and that eating was almost as essential as money. In our family, a large gift of cash was better than love, but a platinum credit card showed genuine affection. Food, however, was real currency. It was a symbol of our family’s unusual makeup. In the Hong Kong slum of my mother’s childhood, you could sell a whole person for enough rice to last one or two months (depending on how much you liked your children).

“Couldn’t you just sell, like, parts of someone?” I asked my mother one day, several months after she had recovered from our all-night drive to Starbucks by sleeping three days straight. I was genuinely curious, and after being marooned with my mother in the car, I think part of me knew I could lose her. And I was getting bolder, more willing to say the craziest shit, even if it was cruel, to hold her attention. “I mean, what if you only wanted enough rice for two weeks? Like, couldn’t you offer up one of your sister’s legs, and then next week sell another sister’s arm?”

“Oh my fucking God,” my mother declared, sighing. “You really are retarded.”

“No, seriously,” I said, eyeing my sister and wondering how many pounds of rice she was worth and whether trading her in would earn me more time with my mother, who was clearly overwhelmed by three kids. Why did my mother have to be so traditional and have my brother? Why couldn’t she just stop with me? Also, did the exchange go by the pound? And how did each party decide what was fair? Some children were bigger boned than others.

This collective obsession with starving meant that our basement, known as the food room, was basically a makeshift earthquake shelter or a post-apocalyptic zombie survival room for all your end-of-the-world needs. Shelves stocked with every type of pasta. Wheat crackers in obnoxious cardboard towers. Plastic bins became vending machines, spewing out every species of granola bar and rice noodle—fresh and stale—manically stockpiled together. I am not kidding when I say that we might buy six family-sized tubs of salsa, and then in the following weeks, my mother would desperately buy another three or four more.

“It’s for emergencies,” she insisted whenever I sniped at her for hoarding groceries. “See that shovel? We’ll dig out the freezer and find water and frozen waffles.”

If western North America did not plummet into the murky Pacific and we did not drown first, if the Belcarra did not topple backwards down the mountain in a mudslide, and if we survived all the terrible afterquakes, the autopsy reports would show that a family of five found shelter but were poisoned by trying to survive on spoiled goods. A nationwide warning would be issued: Update your emergency rations. Look at what happened to those Wongs—they never checked the expiry date. Hadn’t the idiots heard of botulism?

But every August was Chinese Hell Month, also known by Buddhist monks as the Hungry Ghost Festival, which only fuelled my mother’s neurotic worry about ghosts and starvation. Chinese Hell Month proved that my family couldn’t escape the judgment of our ancestors, who came rushing to our house for an overextended visit, so we were supposed to leave out packaged food for our hungry ghosts. Fortunately, we had a year-round food room with countless varieties, which meant we could supposedly please all our dead visitors from last year to the Tang dynasty. In our family, it was believed that those who had abundant food had tremendous wealth and power. Food could make anyone, including monsters, grateful and happy, so if we fed the ghosts, we could prevent possessions and unnatural deaths.

Excerpted with permission from The Woo-Woo: How I Survived Ice Hockey, Drug Raids, Demons, and My Crazy Chinese Family by Lindsay Wong, published by Arsenal Pulp Press, © 2018. Available online and at your local bookstore.

Allan Cho <![CDATA[An Interview with Lindsay Wong, author of The Woo Woo]]> https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=15345 2018-10-24T23:49:59Z 2018-10-24T04:40:40Z RP: You graduated in the MFA Creative Writing program at the Columbia University. What was that like? How did you decide that you wanted to enter the program and become a writer?

Columbia was very hard, partly because I was more »


Lindsay Wong

RP: You graduated in the MFA Creative Writing program at the Columbia University. What was that like? How did you decide that you wanted to enter the program and become a writer?

Columbia was very hard, partly because I was quite young at the time and the program had some very experienced writers. There’s a huge difference in age and ability when you’re 22 and the majority of the other students are in their thirties and have already worked in publishing or they’re professional journalists at major newspapers. I was also sick at the time (I had Migraine-Associated Vestibulopathy) so I’d have to force myself to attend my workshops and be able to write on deadline while being bedridden. I think because of my neurological illness, I wasn’t completely able to fully enjoy being in a writing program.

At times, I found the workload at Columbia to be challenging due to youth, sickness, etc, and I was one of the very few ethnic minorities in the program. A couple of professors didn’t quite understand what to do with my work, while some students were just baffled and didn’t know how to give me a critique. I’d get notes on workshop submissions that read: “Even though this family is Chinese, they are very American,” while not addressing the prose at all. And I’d be like, I’m from Canada by the way, and what did you think of my writing?

My UBC mentors ( Linda Svendsen and Kevin Chong) had gone to the program and I wanted to be as accomplished and talented as them. I also wanted to live in New York City. It seemed like it was a very exciting place to suffer as a writer. What I love about New York City is that no one cares what you do on the subway, and you can cry all day for a total of $2.75.

RP: Has your background as an Asian Canadian ever become a barrier to your writing?

I feel that being Asian Canadian or being a POC writer makes it tens of thousands of times more difficult to get published in the writing world. There’s this myth being perpetuated where some white writers believe that because your story might be more exotic, it’s easier for you as a minority to get published, but that’s bullshit. It’s racist. I had someone once tell me at a writing conference that I “was so lucky to be a minority because publishers would want me more,” but that’s NOT true. I had an extremely difficult time getting published, and as my agent will verify, we really struggled to find a publisher who didn’t tell us the memoir was “too niche,” “too weird,” or “not funny.”  We had publishers tell us that we needed to make it more like Battle Hymn of The Tiger Mom to appeal to mass audiences, meaning white readers. I think that if your voice doesn’t fit into what publishers think Asian-Canadian or female immigrant writing should sound like, which is typically soft, passive, and muted, then the publishing world will tell you that your story isn’t relatable to the public.

RP: The Woo-woo is a prominent theme in your book.  Do they continue to appear in your life? How do you deal with them?  

Definitely! The Woo-Woo is a ghost that haunts us, whether through physical or mental illness. The Woo-Woo is personal and unique to everyone, I think.  For instance, my Woo-Woo is my own constant battle with fatigue and vertigo. I’d love to be able to do more than three things in a day or stay up past 10 PM, but my Woo-Woo is always there, lurking in the form of a migraine headache that can last months and cause hallucinations. I had an event at The Vancouver Writers Fest at  10:30 AM and another one scheduled at 8 PM, and I remember the stage starting to spin a little because I was so tired, but I really wanted to be there because how often do you get to be on a panel with so many amazing female writers, like Dina Del Bucchia, Uzma Jalaluddin, Carrianne Leung, Shazia Hafiz Ramji, and Beni Xiao.

Sometimes, you just have to force yourself to push through your Woo-Woo and suffer the consequences later.

RP: As an emerging writer, did you ever have doubt that your story would be accepted by audiences, editors, or publishers?   How did you overcome your doubts?

My family and friends describe me as “someone who takes no prisoners.” Attila The Hun was actually my nickname in high school. The Woo-Woo was rejected multiple times. I was diagnosed with MAV (Migraine-Associated Vestibulopathy) and the neurologist told me that I might never read or write again, and I was like, no, I refuse to accept that. I certainly felt moments of discouragement at many points in my publishing journey, but I’ve always had a singular mindset that the right publisher would come as long if I kept persisting.

I think my greatest abilities are having an extremely thick Armadillo-like skin and being able to compartmentalize, so if I receive shitty news, I’ll shove down my disappointment before I’m off trying another route. Rejection doesn’t faze me anymore. It just incentivizes me to keep trying. I have a Chinese dragon tattooed on my forearm. The dragon is the god of hustlers and the patron saint of the relentless and unrelenting. I guess I’m obsessive too. It helps.

RP: How did you decide writing this memoir as your first book?   How did you decide on creative non-fiction rather than fiction?   Are you working on any fiction right now?

Memoir sort of just fell on me.  It started at UBC’s Creative Writing Program in Mary Schlenglinger’s nonfiction class where I realized I had so much material when I first started writing weirdo character sketches of my family, which would turn into this book.  The Woo-Woo would be a horrible novel because there’s way too many strange coincidences, and it would have lazy plotting and character development because real-life is often stranger than fiction. I also wrote YA and fiction at UBC, but nonfiction at the time was much easier for me to write. You have to record and shape experience in memoir, whereas fiction you have to be able to invent and create.

Also, I was waitlisted everywhere for the MFA in fiction, and the nonfiction program at Columbia was one of the only places that would take me!

I have a YA novel (currently titled The Summer I Learned Chinese) which is forthcoming from Simon Pulse in Summer 2020, and I’m currently working on some YA with one of my best friends,  Marie-Helene Westgate, as well as a collection of absurd magical realism Chinese immigrant horror stories.

RP: Has your Asian Canadian background/identity ever given you opportunities that you might not otherwise have had as a writer?

Because I’m Asian Canadian, I feel that I’m so incredibly privileged to be able to draw on two cultures in my writing, and I think my identity and background have shaped my distinct point of view as a creator. I’m not fully Chinese, and I’m not fully Canadian, so having an outsider’s perspective can really allow you to fully experience and witness all of society’s quirks. I think that’s why I’ve always been drawn to writing about dysfunction and insider secrets.

RP: You were recently featured on the front cover of BC Bookworld, with a front cover story.  You’re also featured at the Vancouver International Writers’ Festival, among many other events.   What are your feelings about this new fame?

The attention has definitely been unexpected and strange. It feels completely surreal for sure. I was recently at the Starbucks on Granville and Broadway,  and this one lady wandered up to me and asked me if I was a writer. I pretended that I had no idea what she was talking about, and then ran away! Other than the feeling of constant surprise, it’s honestly a bit embarrassing for me. In real life, I tend to be shy, introverted, and completely afraid of strangers. I am, however, incredibly grateful to all the people who have bought the book and attended the readings and been so generous and kind  to tell me that my story has resonated with them. That means a lot to me. It’s touching and lovely, really.

RP: The theme of migration and travel are important themes in your book, and you even cheekily use the term “Hongcouver.”   How has growing up in this transnational city shaped the way you see the world and how you write?

I grew up in the suburbs of “Hongcouver” where being Asian was being part of an ethnic majority so I always felt this raw and potent connection to Asia, even though I’ve never had the opportunity to travel there. I’m fascinated by how cultures intersect, and how Vancouver has become sort of a mini Hong Kong or Shanghai, as my Asian friends tell me. I think being in a transnational city makes me more interested and invested in being first-generation and exploring themes of diaspora and immigration in my work. Even though I don’t speak Cantonese or have any immediate family back in Hong Kong or China, I am still deeply connected to another culture emotionally and organically. It’s really fascinating the way diaspora works on an intergenerational-level.

RP: What’s your advice for those who want to write and get published? What can they learn from you and your experiences?  Do you have any words of wisdom?

Writing and publishing can sometimes feel like a Sisyphean task. For me, it always feels like I am doing the same exact thing and getting absolutely nowhere. But if you want to be published, you have to be willing to endure the rejections and the judgment of family members who think you are wasting your time and wondering why you don’t have a real job or any money or even health insurance. I can’t afford the dentist and I haven’t bought new clothes in six years so it’s a matter of not being pragmatic and just being passionate and believing in your own work.

I don’t know if I have any words of wisdom, except to take as many writing classes as you can, study with authors that you admire, digest feedback and be willing to revise as much as needed, apply to writing residencies, scholarships and grants, and hope that only your back teeth fall out and that the front ones will make it.  Be willing to be hungry and cranky. But in all seriousness though, a lot of my peers from my BFA and MFA programs have stopped writing, so I think it’s a matter of endurance. How much are you willing to suffer for your art? If I only have $35 in my bank account and it’s a choice of applying for a residency and not eating for a few days, I choose the residency fee, no question.