Monday, May 31, 2010

BOOKS

My first August in Toronto was sticky. Two blocks out the door and my back was so slick with sweat that my shower from ten minutes ago had come undone. I lamented that each shirt was good for only one wearing before it became salted by my perspiration -- the laundry room was seventeen floors beneath me in the pits of my St. Jamestown housing monolith, a journey for this young man who was used to chucking dirty clothes into a broken hamper and hours later they would magically* return clean and alley-fresh from the clothesline. (*Mom did my laundry). In July my hair was blown cool by the Pacific; in August my flesh was humming from the muggy stank staid Great Lake. I had moved to the other side of the continent with nothing but the promise of adulthood and two hundred pounds of books.

I'm a bit of a book collector. Not obsessively obsessive, but obsessive enough to have held out for eight years until I finally located a Bantam paperback edition of The Catcher in the Rye that is maroon with yellow titles. I do not like the Little, Brown and Company edition that is white with a rainbow in the corner. I prefer buying Grove Press editions of plays because they were often designed by Roy Kuhlman and he is the greatest, don't argue. I refuse to buy used books that have previous owners' notes inscribed because I don't want my thoughts to be sullied by another's. If the pages are dog-eared or -- god forbid and condemn -- highlighted, there's no way I'm taking that blasphemed book home. I've wrapped my Stanislavsky books in white paper to protect the beautiful seagull logo on the covers. I was devastated when the move across five provinces yielded crushed corners on a few of my (many) Ingmar Bergman books. I now avoid going into bookstores for fear of exiting with five unexpected purchases and a fifty-dollar dent in my money clip. Going into a bookstore means see-you-later for three hours.

That August I had to go to the bookstore. My fingernails had never sweat so much before. I had never inhaled air so steaming and stagnant. I needed an answer, and who else could enlighten me more sagely than that store on Queen Street West, Abelard Books, home of texts previously cherished and antiquarian. The bookseller accented his side-parted silver hair and neat white beard with black-rimmed glasses. He tucked in his shirt and spoke softly. He was an expert.

"I don't have an air conditioner. I'm from the west coast. Will my books rot?" I asked as I wiped the stinging drips from my forehead.

He shut his tome and crinkled his pasty brow. "No. You don't have anything to worry about."

Saturday, May 1, 2010

PU-ERH

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