Tag Archives: Banana Boys

From Soya Sauce Chicken to Bi-Cultural Upbringing

My daughter wanted to learn how to make soya sauce chicken. I had been waiting for this moment, because I wanted to pass onto her the family recipe my mother had shared with me. I knew that our younger generation would not appreciate it if something were offered directly to them. If they asked, it meant that they had the motivation to learn.

The soya sauce chicken recipe was special to me, because it came from my grandmother’s kitchen and my daughter was interested in hearing more about it. My grandmother did not have to cook when she was growing up in a big family in Hong Kong. There was a cook to take care of the meals. After she got married, she did not have to cook either. She had ten children with my grandfather and they had a cook to do all the cooking for the big family. My mother was allowed to sneak into the kitchen once in a while and she learned the recipe from the cook.

I showed my daughter how to first marinade the whole chicken (inside and outside) with some Chinese cooking wine and light soya sauce. I “butterflied” the chicken by removing the backbone. This actually was my modification to ensure that the chicken would cook evenly and thoroughly in my saucepan. (The traditional method was to use a huge Wok, and ladle hot soya sauce mixture–see below–until the chicken is cooked. It could take a long time.)  The ingredients for the sauce are: 4 Tbsp dark soya sauce, 2 Tbsp light soya sauce, 1 -2 sticks of brown sugar, 3 scallions, 3 pieces of ginger, and 3/4 cup of water. I placed the chicken in the saucepan, covered it and cooked under low to medium heat and turning the chicken over a few times until no juice ran out by slitting the thigh.

My daughter and I really enjoyed our time together. For me, I loved chatting with her the family vignettes.  For her, she realized for the first time that the soya sauce chicken that was one of her favourite dishes at home had to use brown sugar sticks. She even said that she had much to learn about Chinese cooking, and that was true.

My children came to Canada at a very young age, and while they were exposed to Cantonese (the southern dialect that we spoke) at home, they grew up in a Canadian environment in school and with their friends. My husband and I tried to impart what we felt important in the Chinese culture to them, from speaking Cantonese at home, sending them to Chinese school, telling them Chinese myths and legends, bringing them to Chinese restaurants, and when they were older, I bought them a few Chinese classics in English translation, including the Western Journey (aka The Story of the Monkey King), which I considered to be the Chinese version of Odyssey, and an oriental representation of the search for the Holy Grail.

The question is : How bi-cultural are they?

I look at myself. Except for lessons in school and watching television when it became available, my environment was entirely Chinese.  I received a Sino-Anglo education when I grew up in Hong Kong. We were given British arithmetic textbooks for our mathematics class in Grade 5, which meant learning pound, shilling and pence beside the decimal system of the local currency. (What relevance? You may ask. The answer: Colonial education.) However, this education seemed to prepare me well for my further education and training in England. I also lived there long enough to be able to discuss such trivialities as  English (afternoon) Tea  is different from High Tea.

Still, how bi-cultural am I?

The crux is: When it comes to a matter of value, what system do we adopt? I had a solid foundation of Chinese values before I left home and those long years abroad also enabled me to adopt and understand the western, in general terms, value system. The main difference between Chinese and western culture is the emphasis on family in the former and the individual in the latter, and this becomes accentuated when conflict occurs in daily life. One good example, I returned to Hong Kong to work. On one occasion, I opted to attend my friend’s wedding party instead of going to my grandmother’s birthday party. Even though I promised to visit Grandma to wish her happy birthday before I headed out to the wedding, my parents thought that I should only go to congratulate my friends at the church before I joined the family birthday party. (Thanks to my argument that Grandma would have many more birthdays and the wedding was the one and only one occasion, I won the battle.) However, there were other instances when my Chinese values would prevail.

My children, understandably, are less Chinese than I. In fact, they belong to a new breed of bi-cultural individuals, known as “banana boys” or “banana girls” (yellow in their skin and white in their heart). They speak both languages and know some food and customs, but they do not think Chinese. They can relate to the characters portrayed in Terry Woo’s novel Banana Boys (1999), which has given us many candid discussion on bi-cultural socialization. I have witnessed all these years in Canada conflict between parents and children among immigrants families. The conflict is not just generation gap. It is the juxtaposition and conflict between cultures, and more deep-rooted value systems the two generations have internalized, or fail to internalize. I still follow Evelyn Lau’s books and poetry, ever since I read her heart-wrenching story Runaway: Diary of a Street Kid (1989). She was still a teenager then when she published her book.

There are identity issues for a person born into one culture and grew up in another. Unless the person is able to integrate and internalize, continuous tension between the cultures often lead to a sense of alienation and marginalization. I have deliberately put away my social scientist hat, for I want to speak as a parent about our needs to be sensitive to what our children think and feel.   I can only hope that in the open, multi-cultural society we live in, experience will bring forth understanding, then acceptance and celebration.

Book Club Review: Ru, Kim Thuy

I went to my first book club meeting, and sat down with nine ladies to talk about Ru by Kim Thuy. It was a beautiful book, from the lacy-like cover to the contents inside. We all felt that it was a very feminine book. It also was the winner of the  2010 Governor General’s Award for French language fiction. (Nobody mentioned chick lit here.)

The theme of the book was the memoir of the author, who left Vietnam at a young age during the Vietnamese War and settled down in Montreal to start a new life. It evoked some shared experience among many of us, because there were at least six persons in our group who were either immigrants to Canada or had close family ties overseas. Personally, I had poignant moments reading the book when the author wrote about an altered sense of the past, present and future when she landed in a foreign land. I also related to her need to share with her children the culture and the history of her home that she left behind. As she switched between past and present her vignettes, the emotional journey moved between that of an innocent young 10-year girl to that of a loving mother with two sons to raise. How true is the realization that not until one becomes a mother can one appreciate what maternal love means.

I knew that what she wrote about the hardship leaving Vietnam in a boat, how fellow travellers hid their money, gold and in her case diamonds, and the life in the refugee camp was real. I had professional contacts with Vietnamese immigrants in the camps in Hong Kong and in my work in Canada and they had similar stories to tell. What surprised me though was given this terrible war and  the atrocities that had happened to many refugees that she was aware of, the author was able to treat it in the same dream-like and lyrical style as she did with her other material. Were the details too painful to recall? Or was it that the memory had become distant–like a dream now?

Again, our discussion revolved around personal immigrant experience and sense of identity among our children. Our sentiments ranged from dismay, frustration to resignation. This made me think of Banana Boys, written by Terry Woo. Actually the book was brought to my attention by my children. I was glad to have read the book, and talked about it with them. For lack of a better description, we had a cathartic moment.

In the end, our book club members all agreed on one thing. The best way to be introduce a culture to someone is the food–what could be better than a dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant for all of us down the road.