From the Publisher
“That a writer of Judy Fong Bates’s compassionate talent will add her voice to be heard, and will tell her stories with such insight and frankness, will add to our perceptions of what it is to be human. These stories bear the telling, for they remind us that we are, each of us, the Other.”
“Judy Fong Bates is a skilled storyteller whose stories shine a light on a remote corner of society where Chinese Diaspora meets Canadian mosaic.”
–Quill & Quire
“An exemplary collection. As in Margaret Laurence’s superb collection A Bird in the House, Bates’s deceptively simple narratives expose the hopes and hardships that define her characters’ lives.”
—Globe and Mail
“Vivid and memorable.… [These stories] transcend cultural barriers, striking a common chord with people of other ethnic groups who have followed similar routes to this new country we call home.”
“Sometimes you come across an author whose work is just there: all the parts fit together like a fine machine, care is lavished upon each story – and it shows. Ultimately, these stories have an impact on your life, something that each writer strives for.”
“Absolutely captivating.… Bates weaves a complex display of human dynamics.”
“Entertaining … [these stories] provide entry into an intricate world of Chinese traditions, curses, migrations, ghosts, and dreams of Gam Sun (“Gold Mountain”).”
“Judy Fong Bates’s debut short-story collection is absolutely irresistible.… [Bates has] a fully authoritative voice, reminiscent of Amy Tan’s. All of the characters in this well-crafted collection are seeking the right balance between assimilation and identity loss, and Jody Fong Bates’s first-rate effort to tell their stories will surely bring her good fortune.”
–Barnes & Noble
–London Free Press
“Bates delivers stories you can touch and taste.”
“Bates’s spare, imagery-rich prose will transport you.…”
–Bust magazine (U.S.)
Read an Excerpt
My sister’s arrival in Canada had the effect of a cleaver, slicing up our lives. Three years earlier, my father had sponsored my mother and me to Canada. My mother had to leave my sister behind in Hong Kong because she was not my father’s daughter. She was only twelve years old. My mother spent the next three years becoming a Canadian citizen. She learned the names of the provinces, and their respective capitals, and the pledge of allegiance to the Union Jack. Unfortunately, none of it really sounded like English. Even at age seven, I realized that the lo fons wouldn’t understand the sounds she made.
When my mother saw my sister at the airport, she became a new person. Her tiredness fell away and there was a lightness in her body. Tears streamed down her face, yet she smiled and smiled. She stretched out her arms and ran toward her daughter. They locked each other in a tight embrace. Then my sister released herself. As she looked me up and down, her first words were, “Your nose turns up too much, sort of like a pig.” My mother smiled with embarrassment and brushed it aside. I swallowed a lump in my throat.
We spent that night in my Uncle Eddy’s house. They lived like the lo fons. Uncle Eddy operated a restaurant. He didn’t live upstairs from it. His family lived in a proper house with living and dining rooms. My Aunt Lena didn’t have to work. My mother told me that before Aunt Lena arrived, Uncle Eddy bought her a dresser for the bedroom and filled it with lingerie, body lotions, and perfumes. That evening my mother, my sister, and I slept on a pull-out couch in the living room. My mother slept in the middle, her arms entwined around my sister.
The next day we went home to Cheatley on a Gray Coach bus. My mother and my sister sat together. I sat across from them, beside a large lo fon woman. It was a long journey, and I watched as my sister fell asleep, her head gently resting on Mother’s shoulder, her lips slightly parted and letting out small puffs of air.
My father met us at the bus stop in Cheatley. It was a town of two thousand people, too small to have a real station. An unmarried brother and sister managed a candy store that also sold ice cream, magazines, comics, and bus tickets. Each carrying a piece of luggage, we began to walk the two blocks to my father’s hand laundry.
We must have made an odd-looking sight as we walked along the sidewalk. My father was a tiny man, barely five feet tall. Wrinkles were deeply engraved into his face. He tensely knitted his eyebrows so that two deep furrows formed in the middle of his forehead and extended to the bridge of his nose. He wore an oversized brown herringbone wool coat that had been left in the laundry by one of the customers, and a peaked brown wool cap. His steps were short and close together as he struggled with the weight of my sister’s brown leather suitcase, trying to keep it from dragging on the sidewalk. He remained several steps ahead of us. Even when unencumbered, my father never walked with his head up. His eyes were always fixed on the ground.
Behind him, the three of us persevered against the March wind with our heads tucked into our chests, protecting ourselves from the sprays of snow. I wrestled with my share of my sister’s bags and tried to keep pace with my mother walking in the middle. But after bumping into her several times, she suggested that I walk behind. Mother and I were dressed in old winter coats given to us by one of the ladies from the Presbyterian church. They were shapeless and hung loosely on both of us. Mine had a belt that was tightly buckled, forming a skirt with deep folds around my waist. I was expected to grow into it. My sister wore a blue wool coat, tailor-made in Hong Kong, as smart as the one worn by the doctor’s young wife. Her one free hand clutched the lapels together to keep the wind off her chest. And the wind whipped in every direction the previously obedient strands of her freshly permed hair.
My father, my mother, and I were all small and dark. My mother was round-faced and plump, while my father and I were thin and wiry. We both had high cheekbones and skin that stretched tautly around slightly protruding jaws. My hands were like my father’s. They were large, with joints that were thickly knuckled and square at the fingertips.
Walking with us, my sister was tall, elegant, and exquisite. We were coarse, tough, and sinuous. Her face was a perfect oval with ivory skin the texture of flower petals. But it was her hands that always captured people’s attention. The palms were narrow and the long slender fingers ended in nails that glistened like water drops. When she held them together, they reminded me of tendrils on a vine, seeking and wrapping — vulnerable and treacherous.
We passed the hardware store, turned a corner and came to my father’s laundry, our home. My father set down the suitcase he was carrying and lifted the wooden latch on the panelled wooden door, then opened the heavier wooden door, the one with the glass window, and let us into the first room of the laundry. Because it was winter, we were greeted by a blast of sulphurous air from the coal burning stoves. My sister gasped. My father lifted the hinged portion of the handmade wooden counter that separated the work area from the customers. He awkwardly stepped aside as we filed past him. Silently we watched as my mother’s smile tightened and her eyes grew large with anxiety, while her older daughter surveyed and assessed.