January 3, 2023
We start our days on the balcony together, waiting for sunrise. The silence between us doesn’t feel as easy as it did back home. It always seems like dad wants to say something, but he can’t figure out how to say it. We sit in anticipation of traffic; we sip on Trader Joe’s coffee. When the cars start honking, we know the city is waking up. Every morning here is pink.
The buildings are too shiny & too tall obstructing the river from our view. The Pearl River is the lifeblood of the South supporting Macau & Shenzhen & Hong Kong & Zhongshan, where Poh Poh was born, & Foshan, where the Communists sent dad when he turned fourteen, & Guangzhou, the city that birthed my mother tongue. Guangzhou, the city where my parents fell in love. I ask dad if it makes him sad how the city has changed & he asks me back, What is there to be sad about?
Mom says when they were young, there was nothing to be had. Now, all the grandmas wear fake Balenciaga & all the shopgirls do their makeup like Koreans. Now, all the girls have makeup! I find myself buying five sweaters for five dollars off a rack next to a produce stall. I, who, in California, can’t even walk into a Zara without feeling nauseous. Looking towards mom, who worked in garment factories, I tell her I feel absurd & she says this is a very good deal.
Because we should always be grateful, we visit the Buddha that blessed dad’s best friend’s daughter with twins. They give us shrimp pellet & dad is so excited to feed the koi. Dad, who has always wanted a koi pond of his own, Dad, who spent a month helping uncle build them for white yards in Morgan Hill, Dad, who frankly is too old to be standing in front of Home Depot waiting for some goddamn Toyota Tundra, reaches his hand into the water & pets a small turtle. He sighs, Temples are boring though the animals are great & Why isn’t there any Wi-Fi?
A man on our tour asks, What’s wrong with your daughter? Why doesn’t she ever speak? Mom says nothing is wrong, it’s just that I don’t know Mandarin. He insists that means something is wrong because the grandmas here, the shopgirls here, the teenage boy that washed my hair here, the teenage boy that did my nails here, the taxi drivers here, the university students studying at Starbucks here—everyone that lives here speaks Mandarin. She tells him that I prefer Cantonese & he laughs, Oh? So, she likes clucking like a chicken?
Hearing the cuckoo,
I long for Guangzhou.