Baguettes

Old Cantonese man with a wrinkly face smiles
As young Malaysian Chinese girl shyly points to the poulet au champignon noir
A reduction of a historical dish to infantile terms in a
Colonizer’s language

He fills her takeaway box to the rim and she knows
This gesture of nourishment
It reminds her of her late grandmother who would chide her for eating too little
And as he turns to slide the box into the microwave
She briefly caught a glimpse of 婆婆’s silhouette heating up leftovers on the greasy ancestral stove

Cutlery or chopsticks?
He inquired in Cantonese, holding up a packet of plastic spoon and fork on one hand and bamboo chopsticks on the other
European or Asian?
Colonized or resisting colonization?

Comment on-dit “chopsticks”?
“Les baguettes!”

They both laugh because once again the colonizer’s tongue
Fails to encapsulate their epistemology

A stick of bread, to describe the warmth of laughter-filled reunion dinners where three generations gather on round tables?
A stick of bread, to describe the ancient philosophies behind our food and the way we eat them?
A stick of bread, to describe the alienation of 50 million Chinese migrants when their accents are poked fun at, their customs shamed, their beautiful eyes mocked?

Vous parlez français?
Je suis… en train de… l’apprendre


He nods with understanding
And for the first time since she arrived she felt
Okay
About not mastering the language

So of course
In an act of solidarity she picks up les baguettes
And eats without care

 

Painting by Wang Yuping, “Golden Pheasants”

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