black and white illustration of maple pods

By Vanessa Ong

Illustration by Thaila


ma ja.
(good morning Grandma.)

peeping through the blinds,
I see the hazy morning skies,
a bowl of sweet black sesame oatmeal,
little sips of delight.

ma wuo keu takjeu
(Grandma, I’m going to school.)

unwrap the sticky plastic,
chả on white bread, no crusts,
“what -is- that?”
hold back the tears,
wrap, wrap, wrap.

jo ni leu bho jiat?
(why didn’t you eat?)

carry two extra chairs to the dinner table,
arrange six pairs of chopsticks,
delicately engraved red and green characters all lined up,
call everyone to jiat beung,
grandma’s pride written on her face.

ha kiang.
(So good.)

egg tarts are a sweet treat,
flakey crusts and a buttery custard,
share a taste with your school friends,
spat, spat, spat.

wuo bho toe kuong.
(I’m not hungry.)

silent meals,
chowing down as the chopsticks click clack,
three generations in one another’s presence,
together,
we were peace.

ho jiat, bho nang jai!
(If it were tasty, nobody would know!)

cycles of attachment and of shame,
hiding your language and hiding your food,
your culture’s a memory,
now, who are you?


wuo mzai.
(I don’t know.)




Vanessa Ong is a Teochew-Chinese- Vietnamese-Canadian WOC, living and working in Kitchener, Ontario. She is a sometimes-poet, gardener, and interdisciplinary researcher, currently exploring connections between food, gentrification, and sense of place in Downtown Kitchener. As cofounder of Littlefoot Community Projects, she is interested in building a decolonized food justice movement, which addresses difficult topics like affordability, just sustainabilities, land sovereignty, intergenerational trauma, and cultural loss. She spends her time overthinking and curling up in bed when the too-muchness of life takes hold.

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