Listen to the Squawking Chicken: When Mother Knows Best, What's a Daughter To Do? A Memoir (Sort Of)

Listen to the Squawking Chicken: When Mother Knows Best, What's a Daughter To Do? A Memoir (Sort Of)

by Elaine Lui


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780399166792
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/22/2014
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Elaine Lui is the voice behind the wildly popular and successful blog, which gets nearly 1.5 million unique visitors monthly. She lives in Toronto with her husband and beagles. Listen to the Squawking Chicken is her first book.

Read an Excerpt

“You look like dried monkey flakes.”

That’s what my ma, the Chinese Squawking Chicken,

tells me when she thinks I look like shit on television.

Monkeys are skinny. A poorly moisturized monkey is not

only skinny but brittle. No one wants to look like dried

monkey f lakes. Most people think I’m exaggerating at first

when I talk about the Squawking Chicken. But once they

actually do spend some time with her, they understand.

They get it. Right away. She’s Chinese, she squawks like a

chicken, she is totally nuts, and I am totally dependent on

her. If she says I look like dried monkey f lakes, even if everyone

else thinks I’m camera-ready, I believe that I look

like dried monkey flakes.

This is how it’s been for me my whole life: every thought

has been shaped by the Squawking Chicken; every opinion I

have is informed by the Squawking Chicken; everything I

do is in consultation with the Squawking Chicken. I navigate

my life according to the subliminal map she’s purposefully

programmed into my head so that I can’t tell the difference

anymore whether it’s my own choice or her choice. And that

was probably her objective all along.

The Squawking Chicken has engineered my entire life,

completely intentionally. She has always known who I was

meant to be; I am who she’s always wanted me to be. And

she has spent my entire life pushing me in that direction,

taking credit for it along the way. If I am happy and successful,

it’s because she guided me there. If I am unhappy and

unable to meet challenges, it’s because I didn’t listen. Teng

means “to listen” or “to hear” in Chinese. The expression

for “obedience” in Chinese combines teng with the word for

“speak,” which is wah. Teng wah literally means “listen to

what I say.” I have been listening to the Squawking Chicken

for forty years.

Is it self-fulfilling prophecy that I did indeed fail, and

sometimes disastrously, on the occasions when I disregarded

her instruction? One night she told me, after I’d come home

from college and finished all my exams, that I was too tired

to go out to see my friends, that my friends would still be

there tomorrow when I’d had a good night’s sleep, and, most

ominously, that I would regret not staying home. Half an

hour later as I was backing the car out of the garage, I realized

too late that I’d forgotten to close the rear door. It

caught on to the wall while I was reversing and, as I hit the

gas, the entire door came off. I didn’t listen to the Squawking

Chicken and the Squawking Chicken was right.

“You are controlled by your mother,” a colleague told me

recently. It was said with a mixture of fascination and pity,

mostly pity. Indeed, some who have observed our interactions

do shake their heads, feeling sorry for me that I’ve been

held hostage, emotionally and mentally, by a mother living

vicariously through her daughter. They’re not wrong about

the control, but they are definitely wrong about living vicariously.

The Squawking Chicken has her own story, and

I’m just a part of it.

I decided to write this book during Ma’s recovery from a

long and potentially fatal illness. At first, I wanted to give

her something to look forward to, something to get better

for. But in telling her story, I realized that I was actually

doing it for me—which is what always happens when I think

I’m doing something for her. It turns out I’m the one who’s

benefiting. In this case, it’s to convince myself that even if

the squawking stops, I will always be able to hear it.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

A peek inside the book...

If the world operated on mute, my ma would seem to you like any other Chinese lady -- on the short side of average, small-boned, but obnoxiously dressed. Think rhinestones everywhere, and if not rhinestones then sequins, and if not sequins then feathers. Sometimes all of it at the same time. Her favourite outfit is a denim suit, with rhinestone encrusted patches on the back and up and down the leg. She purposefully wears it with the collar turned up. Like the irresistibly catchy hook in the worst song you’ve ever heard, she finishes her China Woman Elvis ensemble off with a pair of gold and silver Coach runners. If I’m really lucky that day, it’ll be sunny out when we go for dimsum. And she’ll keep her shades on as she walks into the restaurant, her entire head hidden underneath one of those massive sun visors regularly seen on Asians. People will wonder: is it a movie star or a bag lady who’s pillaged a donations bin in Vegas? The face that appears when she finally removes the sunglasses and the hat is so pretty it’s almost ornamental. In other words, by appearance only, ma seems harmless.    
            Turn up the volume and everything changes. As soon as you hear her, you’ll never forget her. It’s the voice, a voice that earned her the nickname “Tsiahng Gai”, Squawking Chicken, when she was growing up in Hong Kong. The volume is jarring, yes. You can’t imagine that something so loud can come out so effortlessly, and without warning. The Squawking Chicken doesn’t give you time to acclimate to her levels. It’s one level, and it’s all-out assault. But it’s also the tone -- sharp, edged, and quick, not so much a booming roar that leaves silence after it lands but a wailing siren that invades your mind, kind of like acid on the brain that results in permanent scarring. 

Reading Group Guide


As the 800,000+ U.S. fans of Elaine Lui's site know, her mother, aka The Squawking Chicken, is a huge factor in Elaine's life. She pulls no punches, especially with her only child. "Where's my money?" she asks every time she sees Elaine. "You'll never be Miss Hong Kong," she informed her daughter when she was a girl. Listen to the Squawking Chicken lays bare the playbook of unusual advice, warnings, and unwavering love that has guided Elaine throughout her life. Using the nine principles that her mother used to raise her, Elaine tells us the story of the Squawking Chicken's life-in which she walked an unusual path to parent with tough love, humor, and, through it all, a mother's unyielding devotion to her daughter. This is a love letter to mothers everywhere.


Elaine Lui is the voice behind the wildly popular and successful blog, which gets nearly 1.5 million unique visitors monthly. She lives in Toronto with her husband and beagles. Listen to the Squawking Chicken is her first book.


  • Elaine Lui tells us that Chinese women are taught to be humble and meek-not exactly the Squawking Chicken's approach. How do you think Elaine has come to reconcile her mother's demeanor with her own? Where in the book did you begin to see Elaine's individuality take shape?
  • Elaine's mother taught her that if she could tell the story of the worst thing that had ever happened to her, she would never be silenced. Do you agree? How are people burdened or liberated by their past?
  • From the absence of bedtime stories to the Squawking Chicken's frank day-to-day advice, Elaine writes about her mother's belief that a parent's role is to provide a crash course in real-world preparation. How does your experience as a parent or child differ from what is described in Listen to the Squawking Chicken?
  • The notion of filial piety appears throughout the book, and eventually we learn that Elaine and Jacek-who have decided against hatching a brood-won't be reaping the returns of an obedient child. What's your take on filial piety? Have your parents expected obedience from you and, if applicable, will you expect it from your children in turn?
  • Elaine discusses the challenge of bridging her ethnic culture with her Canadian identity. "Ma shamed me so that I would not suppress the Chinese part of myself to try to become something I could never be." Shame is often used to repress unwanted thoughts and actions, but the Squawking Chicken uses shame to hone Elaine's self-confidence. Is shame a useful tool for this? How did or didn't it work for Elaine?
  • The Squawking Chicken wasn't shy about buying Elaine's first bra. When Elaine expressed some embarrassment, her mother said: "Your body, this natural. What you need, bra, this natural. . . . If you shame your body, you shame yourself. When you shame yourself, everyone shame you." How have girls and women been taught to perceive their developing bodies? Is this changing?
  • Feng shui is a constant force in Elaine's life-in romance, house-hunting, and career choices. Were you surprised by the way feng shui has influenced her personal life? Do you use anything similar in your own?
  • Elaine says that when the Squawking Chicken's relationship with her second husband came to an end, her mother felt disappointment because "she'd let herself be disappointed. She'd let herself trust a person who only let her down. And, once again, that disappointment was a result of her powerlessness." How accountable can one individual be for another's actions? Do you tend to shoulder disappointment alone?
  • The Squawking Chicken doesn't believe in lauding another person's good looks. ("So what pretty?") Do compliments on physical appearance have value?
  • Do you believe, as the Squawking Chicken does, that a person needs only one true friend? Have you deliberately limited the number of people you call close friends?
  • Elaine identifies her mother's lack of empathy, which often manifests itself in her strict assessment of "Low Classy" people, as one reason she struggles to make and maintain friendships. To what standards do you hold your own friends? Do you think the Squawking Chicken's expectations are, as Elaine believes, too lofty?
  • The Squawking Chicken isn't afraid to share her material successes with others. When Elaine confronts her mother about showing off her new house to friends, the Squawking Chicken replies: "Your daddy work hard. Your daddy buy a big house. Be proud of your daddy!" Is there a line between pride and boastfulness? If so, where do you draw it?
  • How do you think the Squawking Chicken feels about having this book written about her life with her daughter, by her daughter?
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    Listen to the Squawking Chicken: When Mother Knows Best, What's a Daughter To Do? A Memoir (Sort-Of) 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    SO funny! Only con is that some of the language (while fitting just fine in book) might rule it out for younger or more sensitive readers. Still. Hilarious, well put together, thought provoking, great pace, and above all loving and funny. Give it a try!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Great story of mother daughter wacky relationship. Know another book will coming because i felt author must have left alot out. Her mother is a mixture of amazing and heartbreaking and cruel and painfully funny. If the mom read this review she would give me "low classy" rating and I would love that! jg in TX
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Neverther the less it is delusional. that she can write about it no doubt helps that she had nine months in usa then three months of squaks shows whyparents divorced in first place buska