To most, this year’s Lunar New Year has been about food, family and welcoming the Year of the Dragon. For me, it has been about discovering family history and stories through the arts…and a question that would launch an ancestral goose chase.
Sometime in early January, I was grabbing dinner at my neighbourhood fish + chips joint and was asked by the 70-year-old Asian man behind the counter where my ancestral hometown was. When I tried to tell him, “my parents are from Hong Kong” he said, “no your grandparents most likely came to Hong Kong from their ancestral hometown, don’t you know where that is?” I froze because the truth was I realized I didn’t know.
A week and a half ago, I attended the Red Snow by playwright Diana Tso with Chris, Aram and Heather. Through a moving and beautiful theatrical performance, Diana tells the story of a young woman who embarks on a journey to explore her Gung Gung’s past and the mystery surrounding her deceased Po Po. Following the play, we were treated to a Q&A with Diana, the entire cast and moderated by Heather. During this discussion, we hear how each individual was personally drawn to this project either through a inherent desire to educate others of history of the Nanjing Massacre during the Japanese invasion of China in WWII or in the case of performer Vienna Hehir, she got involved because her own grandfather was a survivor of this forgotten holocaust. I left the play feeling grateful that Diana shared this moving work with us. And the feeling that more than ever, I had to answer the question the fish + chips man asked me.
Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the much-hyped and sold-out performance of Kim’s Convenience by Ins Choi at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts. Not only did this play sell out their regular shows at Fringe last year, their current run at Soulpepper has also been on such a hot roll, the company has added another 2 weeks of shows for May/June. When I first heard about the story behind Kim’s, I thought that this would be a show for Asians by Asians. In fact, the story told of the struggles of immigrant families in Canada and the cultural challenges of the generational gap within these families are a universal story – and Ins Choi tells this story with unapologetic humour and heartwarming emotion. My personal fav is the scene when Paul Sun-Hyung Lee imparts his knowledge and wisdom to his daughter on how to spot a thief by going through all the possible combinations of “black man, black woman with white man, Asian gay man, white woman with Asian man”- a seemingly illogical but valid theory similar to others that most of us can relate to. This is a play that will make you laugh and cry and want to see it over and over again. Watch it here while you can.
….so back to the original question – after numerous phone calls and interrogating at all the Chinese New Year family dinners I have been to, disagreements and agreements, everyone finally came to a consensus on small seaside town in Guangdong Province in China that is apparently my ancestral hometown. Thanks to the fish + chips man, I now know where I am really from.