Monthly Archives: May 2000

My favour Chinese New Year Snack 我最愛的農曆新年小吃 (narration)


The Narrative

This was done in remembrance of my grandmother 
 who passed away last summer. 

I used to make these things with her together
 when I was little, really little. 
 Every year, she made well enough of this Chinese New Year snack
 for every extended member of the family , 
 so that everyone would have something sweet and crunchy to take home
 when they came to greet her in the first lunar month
 according to custom.
 And, she always remembered to hide away
 an extra batch of this snack for me. 
 She knew too well 
 that was my favorite New Year specialty.

She was very busy...busy working to ensure 
 every little detail was taken care of 
 and every ritual was fulfilled 
 so that the gods and deities would shower the family with blessings 
 and prosperity.

When I was little, I understood very little about these traditional festivals 
 or what my grandmother was doing or intending. 
They were just all fun   very fun:
 the preparations the rituals, 
 the food,
 the stories,
 the colors, 
 the inter-family visits,
 and the overall enthusiasm. 

But things started to change 
 when my brothers and I began to gain height and  weight,
 literally and symbolically;
 and when my parents' business began to take flight. 

My brothers and I learned from our schools new knowledge,
 new ways of seeing,
 and thus new ways of being:
 Those logos, perspectives, the individual...
 all different from what my grandmother held out to me 

As for my parents, they also saw their achievements 
 had nothing to do with blessings.  

So we all turned our back against her, 
 telling her that:" don't be superstitious/silly" 
 or that "we are busy"
 or simply no-show irrespectfully.  

As we did not see love, we reciprocated no love. 

To us, all colours that used to burn so brightly had lost their glory,
 and these dying traditions 
 were of no match for things that were 
 and exciting. 

Despite our ungratefulness, 
 she carried on many laborious traditions.
 She always dragged my unwilling mother on.
 For major festivals,
 a grant aunt or two would come along.

These little lumps of flour deep-fried
 are called Chiem-Yuong in Cantonese, 
 silkworm pupae in English.
 Now I realize that this snack is 
 a symbolic remnant of security and prosperity 
 of the old peasant society, 
 where silk
 was a much counted on commodity. 

Through making these flour pupae, I crafted myself
 a space to come closer to my grandmother
 as well as women of her days. 

By repeating this process all by myself 
 day after day,
 I experienced physical and emotional fatigue.
 A repetitive job done alone is tedious 
 and makes one feel entrapped and alienated.
 Especially when one loses one's community.

This is my response to this work of labour.
 Would this also be the experience and the discontent of my grandmother
 and the women of her time?
 Even if it was so, they might simply choose just to endure
 as women then were so driven to care.

Like my grandmother, I also resorted to external help.
 At some point, some women friends came over to re-live with me 
 the lost food-making community.
 Around a table, we told each other stories and gossiped slightly 
 while our hands were busy.

By working together, women of an earlier time, 
 supported and informed each other, 
 brought insight
 and healing to each other
 while they  "exploited" their own feminine labour. 

I love the food. 
 I kept eating them while I was making them. 
 But at the same time, I also found contentions in these tasty snack. 
 The vivid image of 
 pouring hot water over silkworm cocoons 
 haunts me constantly.
 The sight of those twisting and turning tiny white bodies
 that eventually give in to our desire for pleasure and luxury; 
 And those gentle hands that raised the caterpillars 
 could be the same hands that took their lives without mercy.

And the eggs in the recipe...
 In my grandmother's time, eggs were largely from free-ranged hens... 
 To better represent her time, especial effort had to be made 
 to seek out what now has become an expensive option to the 
 common factory-produced commodity.

And yet, even with my most earnest heart, 
 I know what I have done is just a representation of 
 the impressions of the traditions 
 that my grandmother left behind in me
 as memory.


My favour Chinese New Year Snack 我最愛的農曆新年小吃

This work was an installation with an audio component. It explored my relation with my grandmother as well as with the culture that buried with her as the place I called home modernized and westernized. The relation was recalled through a tedious process of making a Chinese New Year snack, Chiem Yuong — a tiny sugar coated fried dough that resembles a silk worm pupa.

My reflection of our relationship was captured in a softly spoken narrative, which would gently play into a dimly lit space when the motion sensor was activated. The deep-fried “pupae” were scattered all over the place, leaving only the rim as a foot-path. In the center, were the tools and materials for making these “pupae”. 

The Narration (text)