Monday, June 22, 2015

A Different Sort of Dumplings

I picked up the book because I thought it was talking about dumplings. Regular dumplings. I don't know the influential Hong Kong author either- her pen name is Lilian Lee (or Li Bi Hua, Li Pik Wah). Her stories have been adapted into many Hong Kong films, of which I haven't watched or even heard of, except 'Farewell My Concubine' 《霸王別姬》. It was just a book stumbled upon at the library.

李碧華的短編小說集《餃子》The cover doesn't indicate otherwise. When I looked at the short stories within, the titles suggested something else. The moment I finished the first story, the giggles started. Five delicious dark little creepy tales of human greed, passions and deviousness, and a good dose of superstition.

The book began innocently enough with 《潮州巷 · 吃滷水鵝的女人》It introduces us to Yue Ming (月明) whose mother brought her up singlehandedly from age seven onwards when her father apparently left the family for another woman. The mother continued running a successful business selling braised geese cooked in one of the best braising sauces in town. However, it was later revealed that all these years, the father had contributed towards the pot of secret sauce used for braising geese, with his chopped up body parts. UGH. What's even more chilling is Yue Ming knew it all along.

“媽,“我聲音帶著感動,”我不要。想吃自會回來吃。同他一起來。” 我不肯帶過去。雖然爸爸走了,可我不是。我不會走,我會伴她一生。
“你拿著。做好東西給男人吃 — 它給你撐腰。”
“我不要 —”
她急了:“你一定得要 — 你爸爸在裏頭。”
“不,” 她正色地,一字一頓,“你爸爸 — 在 — 裡 — 頭!”

The second story《鑰匙 · 吃燕窩糕的女人》is mysterious and full of puzzles. It wasn't that scary. Something about a time warp between 1933 and present day, and the appearance of items in a safe deposit box for him that stupefied protagonist Paul Chiu (趙保羅) who was gay and didn't even like women that way. Yet he was plagued by images of this mysterious woman who seemed to like eating bird's nest cakes. She might even be the past owner who used to live in this current flat he lived in, or perhaps his lover in his past life. Locks and keys. Lots of metaphors to do with past lives and whatnots.

The third《尋找蛋撻 · 吃蛋撻的女人》and fourth《貓柳春眠水子地藏 · 吃眼睛的女人》speak of sad women in search of young love, missed chances, true love and not finding a dependable life partner. The fourth title was mind-boggling till I realized that it was set in Japan. 水子地藏 referred to Jizō or Ojizō-sama, the patron deity of deceased, miscarried or aborted children.

The final story is also the most gag-inducing. If you don't have the stomach to read about aborted fetuses, unfaithful men and vengeful women, STOP HERE. 《餃子 · 吃嬰胎的女人》Apparently this last story has been made into a movie with the same title 'Dumplings' (plot summary in English on Wikipedia) directed by Fruit Chan Gor (陳果). Hahahahah. I would have totally watched that. Instead, I stumbled upon the book first, which is less explicit but no less graphic. The starkness of the words on static pages is horrifying.

Of women ingesting fetuses to conserve their youth. The idea of 回春, what most women want through bottles of cosmetics or surgical procedures, like the consumption of collagen and uhh placenta. This story is of Auntie Mei (媚姨) who procured and sold them as filling in special dumplings clients happily paid for. Auntie Mei was supposedly 60 but looked like in her mid-thirties. She also had a painful history as a young doctor performing legal abortions in China that was enforcing its one-child policy. She didn't question and did her job well, resulting in this 'career choice' later in life when she went to seek better prospects in Hong Kong where she had no lack of rich and famous clients. The author painted Hong Kong as a city consumed by humans wanting to get rich, and the rich wanting to stay young and beautiful.


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