Saturday, May 1, 2010


There is always tea. One porcelain pot with steeped leaves. One porcelain pot with water the temperature of the kitchen. One urn with boiled water that remains hot throughout the day. You mix portions of the three liquids to your liking. All day long, whenever you want, there is tea. The pots and urn are among the first things I notice when I return to East Vancouver. After the greying eyebrows of my dad at the baggage carousel, after the more and more condos along Victoria Drive, after the bounty of chayote sprawling in our driveway, after the scent of stir fried ginger embedded into our kitchen walls since 1985, I see a pot, a pot, and an urn. They say, “Welcome home. Drink.”

I drop off my duffle bag in my bedroom, a tiny space fit for a child and bursting with secrets and discoveries. I am a man now; I’m no longer used to sleeping in a single bed. I return to the kitchen and eat.

It’s always been hours-old leftovers in the past few years. I try to book flights that will take me home just before dinner, but there’s always a delay. So I end up at the table by myself while my dad unwraps the innumerable dishes and my mom heats up soup at the stove. The leftovers are the tastiest things I have ever eaten anywhere ever. Salted fish, black bean spare ribs, driveway chayote… In a few days my sisters would come home for the weekly family dinner. They both live a twenty-minute drive away, so it’s easy for them to come home every Monday. I come home every two or three seasons. For the food, of course.

Dinner with the family. Our kitchen table, a round Italian marble behemoth complete with lazy Susan, a gaudy stone symbol that my parents have “made it”, is now too small. I’ve acquired two brother-in-laws, an intelligent nephew, and a niece who can now sit up on her own. We are elbow to elbow and our place mats overlap. So does the conversation. Dad and Mom speak Cantonese and Mandarin. Donna speaks English and Cantonese. Cindy speaks English and limited Cantonese. Ken speaks English and Mandarin. Brad speaks English. I speak English and horrific Cantonese but I choose silence because my parents are quiet and outnumbered. English dominates our dinners and if my parents are not able to join the conversations, then I will join them. We eat quietly and let others do the talking.

There is tea after dinner. When I come home, when there are family dinners, we have to make more tea a few times a day. My parents are no longer used to making tea for so many – the kids have moved out, moved away. When we're all together we upset their new routine. So let’s boil some water. I’ve come home and I want tea with my family.

: Playwright's Notes from the premiere production of Pu-Erh

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