Epiphany of Hotpot
Moving from city to city at a young age, away from my family and relatives, shaped my passions and how I view the world. These two chants connect blurry fragments of my childhood to my hopes for the future.
A Chinese dinner banquet is a total war zone.
Passing soy sauce bottles,
Mixing aromas of exquisite spices,
Some tables even rotate.
Don’t make so much noise when you drink soup,
Don’t talk with food in your mouth,
Don’t move your feet around,
Don’t sit there like a dumb girl while the adults make a toast,
Don’t you dare stick your chopstick in your food,
Do you want your ancestor’s ghost coming for you tonight?
Of the uncle
Of the pet
Of the cousin
Of the aunt
Of the sister
Of the nephew
Of my mother
Might be getting married,
This is your auntie,
She changed your diaper once when you were two.
This is your fourth cousin,
She got into Yale last spring.
This is your great-great-great-uncle,
He brought you a cup of bubble tea when you went to elementary school.
Go say hi! Go have a conversation! Now!
Be a good girl.
Mama threw me a look
here and there.
Not to warn me or shut me up,
But to signal a delicious dish was coming up
and it is time to stay focused
on the food.
For she was just like me,
Sincerely confused by the
under the smiling faces of our relatives.
When I was young,
I dreaded the ride back home after a large dinner party.
I had no idea if I
did anything wrong, or
said anything impolitely, or
ate anything too ferociously, or
sat in a chair that significantly violated the feng shui of the table.
Did I act like the girl I’ve been raised to be tonight?
The older I grew,
The more I wanted to escape.
No more dirty looks,
or evil smirks.
No more superstitious rules,
and exaggerated cultural taboos.
Baba couldn’t believe that
His only daughter can’t even get along
With her own family.
It’s all because she’s not a boy.
He explained to them.
Only Mama understood me
In this big wide world,
And that was enough.
I pretend to scroll my phone
But I can barely focus,
so I stare at my toes instead.
I hear the summer breeze playing with my siblings,
I hear my mama’s broken English conversation with the movers,
But I can’t hear your voice.
It’s almost time,
Aren’t you going to say goodbye?
How I adored your scent of fresh paint and new wooden furniture;
How I ran my fingers through the textured pink wallpaper;
How I dropped my palette and painted you a colorful tattoo;
How I winced and whined all night when I first returned from the orthodontist;
How I rolled off my bed accidentally
and cuddled with your hardwood floors until my neck hurt the next day;
How I cooked my first bowl of spicy instant noodles when Mama went to look for a new job;
How I planted the little cherry branch sneakily behind the pool,
With high hopes that it would grow taller than me;
How I anticipated you to love and nurture me,
And now I thank you.
The mere existence of you
reminds me of the dedication in our hearts
when Mama took me by the hand and left that dinner party.
The women of China deserve a different path,
A chance to shine.
Even if it means stepping out of the comfort of being provided for.
Even if it means applying for a job for the first time.
Clutching onto our suitcases,
Mama rushed me onto the airplane to New York City,
And we said goodbye to everything we’ve ever known.
Zai Jian, Shanghai City Tian-An Dong seventh building.
Gao ci, Yong-Sheng The Hill twenty-third floor.
See you, Sunset Park Fifty-Second Street.
Bye-bye, Forest Hills 103rd Street.
So long, Flushing 6002 Lawrence Street.
Farewell, Richmond 141 Cranford Avenue.
To me, you are not hardened cement,
wood, and bricks.
When Mama had to work late nights,
You were my quiet companion,
Teaching me how to be comfortable alone.
I turned up with hopes for the future,
Now I depart with more hope
and your warm blessings.
No, you are not a gleaming, luxurious mansion,
But your humble rooms provided way more than shelter.
The door locks behind me.
I leave with more than I came with.
One last glance, moving on.
I’m going to soar higher.
I bid you adieu.
Alright, here I go.