Tag Archives: Asian

Fish in a Can

I met my childhood best friend in the gymnasium during lunch, just after our second grade began.

During lunch, the gymnasium doubled as the lunchroom, filled with rows of collapsible picnic tables rolled in from the school storage shed, the basketball nets above folded up so as not to provide the children with yet another unwanted distraction.

I remember. No one would sit with me because of my “Chinese lunches.” According to the other children, the food my mom packed for me (leftovers from dinner and the now fashionable, but back then the as-yet-reviled bánh mì sandwiches purchased from the local Vietnamese market) – that food was so smelly and gross and simply unfit for human consumption. So go ahead and let the “Chinese” girl eat it. This went on for quite some time; longer than it should and much, much longer than seemed possible.

Then one day someone did sit next to me. A redheaded girl whose preoccupied mom began packing her sardines for lunch. I remember the heft of the can, the way the girl plunked it down at the table. No one would sit with her either, at least, not after she opened up that can of fish. She was more confused than sad about this, but then maybe her confusion just masked her sadness as it did for me.

It took a while, but we got to talking, then comparing lunches. It was a sobering exercise. Because, whatever else I had (old rice, soggy noodles, weird veggies with marinated eggs), she had fish heads. Whatever else she was, I was still the Asian girl in a mostly white school.

We were a match.

I never shared my lunch, and the girl, my eventual friend, never asked. She never ate her sardines, though she eagerly opened them every day, right after plunking that heavy tin on the table.

We smashed up the fish with her fingers, rendering them into a viscous fish-paste that fascinated (so much destruction in that particular transformation). We took the heads and spines from the sardines and threw them at boys, then girls, then whoever. We were seldom caught (not many snitches in that lunchroom and who wouldn’t appreciate some distraction?).  I was always a little proud we started with the boys, targeting them not out of malice but out of a vague sense of obligation. Anyway, it was something my friend and I never questioned.

Her mother remained preoccupied, packing her can after can of tomato-submerged fish, thinking they made a good lunch. This went on for years.


Bánh mì is now fashionable, so much so that non-native speakers gladly twist up their tongues trying (and failing, failing, failing) for an “authentic” pronunciation of the word, the dish. What they settle for (“Bah, bah”, “me-me-me,”) is, fortunately, often more amusing than anything else. More amusing, possibly, that it should be.

Sardines, however, remain what they are.

Still just fish in a can.








1 Comment

Filed under Childhood, Food, Friendship, Race, Relationships, School, THE PAST

Lady, You Were Right in The Wrong Way

It was the 2008 national election, and we were foolish enough to attend the Canadian equivalent of a “town hall” debate on the outskirts of our hometown, which in Canadian terms meant the heart of our riding (that is to say, assnowhere).

I think it was in a barn somewhere.  There were trees and fields.

Eh, EH?? In Canada, that is a real, complete full word. It's in the preamble of our constitution right next to the clause about all that poutine.

In here...somewhere.

The campaign had taken on an unusually hostile tone.  The leading candidate wasn’t exactly known for his enlightened attitude towards, for example, “the women”, “the gays” or “that Pro-Choice stuff” and surprisingly (remember this is CANADIAN politics we’re talking about here), people showed up to tell him that he was being quite “The Ass”…and/or used the anticipated hype of the protest to demonize him in backhanded support of their own candidate.

Surprise though there was, the people who turned up to protest his remarks, his policies, his worth as a human man were easily outnumbered by the candidate’s own contingent of fervent supporters.  I saw the whites of lots of eyes and frothing at the mouths of many.

What can I say?  They wanted it more.

My younger sister and a few of her friends were among the protesters.  I was going into a degree in political science and felt obligated, somehow, to tag along. Together, skewed the demographics of the night by being in our 20’s and slightly (2 out of seven of us) non-white.

A Word About My Sister: although she cares about Things, she expresses this through a flair for the dramatic and a devotion to the outrageous that I will never be able to match, even in my Best of Times.  Add in a picket sign (big letters; lots of glitter), a wanton disregard for her own personal safety, and a directive to aggravate, and you’ve got yourself a real show.

She was on fire that night, shouting down naysayers, dancing on the top of our rented van, flipping off grown men twice her size who thought that by screaming in her face, they would succeed in their efforts to “shut that bitch up”.

After the debate concluded, a woman came out of the town hall, and with a few others watching – including her teenage children and husband – she took her turn at confronting my sister, who was holding a “I Support Gay Marriage” sign (GLITTER!!!).

“What do you know about marriage, anyway?” accused the lady, her brood and beau encircling her in a gloating human shield of her own domestic triumph(s).

Must be nice.

“I know that gay marriage is legal in Canada!   I know that people should be allowed to marry whomever they want.  I can marry whomever I want, if I want!  Also, you’re a twat for asking me that,” my sister snapped back.

“Look at you.  Look at you!  You don’t know what you want,” the lady scoffed with a smile and a wave of an arm towards my out-of-breath and disheveled sibling. She then looked in my direction by the town hall entrance and noticed my pin, which advertised my support for the same party as my sister.

I saw a glint in the lady’s’ eye as she tilted her head in predatory zeal, readying herself for the attack.  She unhinged her jaw and smiled W-I-D-E.  Pointing back and forth between us with one long, perfectly manicured finger she asked, in falsetto, and as if it was the cutesiest thing in the world, “Are you two sisters?”

I looked back at her and after a brief pause, quietly uttered:

“Why? Because we’re Asian?”

She blinked.

Everyone became silent.

No one moved.


Wah, wah, waaaaaaaahhhhhh!

And this, I swear, was her eventual response, verbatim:

“DUH-Errrrrrrr… NO!  No, I didn’t mean…I mean…DUUUUUUH…DIRK. DIRK. DIRK-Y, DIRK. We were… Gays… Marriage…I…I…I have LOTS of Asian friends!”

“I know what you mean.  I have LOTS of white friends.  On the internet.”

She started sidling away from us, towards her car.  Her suddenly hushed-up husband – who had up until this point egged her on with a boisterous “YEAH, YEAH” here and there – helped by tugging her in that direction by the arm.  The kids wisely hung back in the shadows.

“Oh…HA, HA, HA!  Riiiiight.  You’re FUNNY!  Ummm.  Are you in school?”

Finding his voice again, Husband began muttering, “be quiet, stop talking” in her ear.  The kids and onlookers melted away into the darkness.

“She’s getting a Masters degree,” my sister replied for me, “A MASTERS.  Bitch-es!!!”

“That’s, uh, good!  GOODBYE!!!”

They got into their Range Rover and peeled out of the parking lot.  They may have left a kid behind in their haste.


We went out for pizza.

It was delicious.

Thinking back on The Whole Thing, I don’t know what perturbs me more:

  • Me purposely asking a loaded question just to humiliate an annoying lady.
  • The fact that race was (officially) out of the repertoire of acceptable public speech that night, but homophobia and sexism got a pass.
  • The Lady’s apparent assumption that the two Asian people she saw at the debate were (therefore?) related.
  • The fact that we are related, and to my knowledge we were very likely the only two Asians there.  We were, certainly, among the few Asians there.
  • The fact that, despite being related and only one year apart in age, my sister and I look NOTHING alike (she is tall, dark-skinned and has a small frame while I am short, pale in complexion and rather stout).
  • The fact that the Lady was trying, it seems, to use our relationship as a means to infantilize us and, perhaps, to discredit our views (simple minds don’t think because they’re alike) in a place packed (stacked) with families madly supporting their own popular candidate.
  • The fact that there’s nothing inherently wrong with asking if two people are related.
  • The fact that I never said we weren’t sisters.

What happened that night?  What was accomplished?

Maybe there is no “winner” or “loser” here.  Maybe we just all got caught up in our own bullshit and irony collapsed in on itself and into pure farce.

Or maybe that lady should have checked her fucking tone.


Fuck it.  I won.


Filed under Politics