Then my father poked his chopsticks just below the fish eye and plucked out the soft meat. “Amy, your favorite,” he said, offering me the tender fish cheek. I wanted to disappear.
~ Amy Tan, The Opposite of Fate
Is it an odd thing to miss, fish cheeks?
I have a sudden longing for fish cheeks.
Half because they really are one of the best things to eat, a marvellous poem of tenacity and tenderness. Half because they were always plucked out for me with love by my grand-folks and parents.
And even though tonight I read that Amy Tan’s dad also did this as a gesture of love, it is still a unique and wonderful memory of my childhood for me.
Quite possibly, I will not eat this for a long time yet. After all, when we buy fish at New World here, we don’t buy whole fish, we buy fillets with no real features of life on them.
My thoughts stray to culture. I’ve been thinking about it a bit this year, maybe because I live with 3 Caucasian boys who would possibly be mortified if they should be served fish head for dinner one night?
Maybe because I’ve started feeling like I’ve been missing part of myself in my interactions here – feeling like a part of me has somehow been discarded; like I have no history, like there is little here to remind me of another life beyond the one I have now (read: no crazy tall buildings, no National Day songs, no packed trains, no real egg tarts, etc) – and yet, it is there, somewhere. Maybe because I didn’t realise it was Chap Ngo Meh (Chinese Valentine’s Day / 15th Day of Chinese New Year) on Sunday, until it was announced in a church I visited (and my friends sang a Chinese song for it)?
And yet when I am in Asia I feel a humongous hole within me, missing the people in New Zealand who have most shaped the present me, the splendid freshness of the air here, the cafes, the scenery, the laidback lifestyle, even the trees.
Sure, the gap between countries is closing slowly and they have in New Zealand the French Film Festival, dragon-boating, lantern festivals, Italian delis… but it’s not the same. It could quite probably never be the same.
They still don’t sell fish with their heads on here, or understand how people can have maids and two cell phones and still have no time, and most of my friends here might struggle to envisage a wet market with live chickens squawking, some headless; people haggling over fish, the wet smelly lively bustling crazy mad mess in Hong Kong that I grew up bewildered by / despising, then being fond of.
And many of my friends and relatives in Singapore will probably not understand how I could do nothing at all and call it a holiday, or live in a house colder than the outside in Winter, or be happy in a place where the shops close at 5.
Well then. There is too much to this to sum up in a blog post right now. It is past 11pm on Tuesday night. It is time to stop the pen (or the fingers on my keyboard, in this instance), and say hello to dreams…