The dumplings in my lunch box were the dead giveaway.
I had the strange experience of often feeling like an outsider amongst my own family. Both my mother and father grew up speaking already obscure dialects of languages I have only a marginal familiarity with. My Mandarin Chinese is, or at least used to be, passable. Unfortunately, the Taiwanese side of my family speaks Hakka. The only words I recognize are the insults my grandmother used to, and still does, hurl at me when I was cause trouble. My knowledge of Plattdüütsch, or Low German, is even more limited. There’s nothing like spending an afternoon sitting around listening to your relatives converse in a language you have absolutely no understanding of. It’s an incredibly frustrating and boring experience, especially for a young child, which may explain why I now have very little patience for enduring both people and conversations that don’t interest me.
Insults exchanged in the halls to the occasional fights on the playground.
For the entirety of my school years, from kindergarten through to the 12th grade, I was the only Asian in my class. A fact which probably would have gone unnoticed, considering most people think I’m Jewish. The dumplings in my lunch box were the dead giveaway. Although, I did endure a certain amount of ribbing for my unusual lunches, I probably got made fun of more for the meat loaf sandwiches. My mother, in an effort to become more Westernized, had taken to making things out of Canadian Living and cookbooks clearly from a number of decades earlier. The one actual Jewish kid managed to go unnoticed in the lunch room, because his corned beef sandwiches, always on rye, were close enough to baloney on Wonder Bread thus avoiding too much attention.
Got made fun of more for my meat loaf sandwiches.
My educational experience perfectly illustrated the post-colonial, bilingual nation that we are. To say that I attended a French immersion school wouldn’t be entirely accurate. My school was divided between the middle- and upper-middle-class French immersion kids, “Us“; and the English kids from largely Aboriginal, inner-city, low-income families, “Them“. None of the French immersion students were from the neighborhood surrounding the school. The tensions that existed between the more privileged French kids and the English kids whom we displaced manifested themselves on a regular basis. From the insults exchanged in the halls to the occasional fights on the playground, for the most part, we did not mix. This is not something I ever gave too much thought to as a child, but is obviously something that has stayed with me. It is also something I now see again on a daily basis, living close to the Downtown Eastside.
After finishing high school in 1997, I was drawn to the West Coast, partly to attend university, but also partly due to my attachment to the mountains and lush forests I associate with visiting my paternal grandparents in BC. After a brief interlude living in Montreal from 2000-2005 for more school, and an even shorter stint in Toronto, I returned to Vancouver in 2007, but this time more out of nostalgia for the foods I enjoyed so much as a child in Taiwan. Good Chinese restaurants in Montreal are few and far between.
Food was often the only way to connect with my family.
My fixation on the cuisine of my respective heritages isn’t purely coincidental. Not only do tastes and smells have the strongest connections to our emotional memories but food was often the only way to connect with my family when direct communication was limited by language barriers. Food is a great medium to experience another culture. I love taking people around the city and introducing them to things they’ve never tried before, whether it be at an out of the way bubble tea café in Richmond, or a little known Szechuan restaurant in Burnaby.
Now that my parents have also moved to the West Coast and my family and friends are spread across the globe, my connection to Manitoba remains tenuous at best. I have now lived in Vancouver, cumulatively, longer than anywhere else I’ve lived in my adult life. I may not be from here, but Vancouver is definitely home. I just need to find a place that serves authentic farmer sausage.
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