I tried making my own char siew, or Chinese barbecue roast pork, for the first time today. People usually buy them because nobody owns a spit and a fire pit, but I learnt that you can actually cook it in the oven, and char it on the stove top!
Given that I now have a batch of char siew, a natural dish to make with it would be what is known as “Sorrowful Rice” or 黯然销魂饭. The dish is essentially regular ol’ char siew rice, or char siew over steamed white rice, with a side of a sunny-side up and some vegetables.
“Sorrowful Rice” is actually the name of a dish from a movie, God of Cookery (食神).
In it, the protagonist Stephen Chow competes in a competition and strives to create the most delicious thing he’s ever tasted. He reaches into his sorrow and memory of a woman, who made him a bowl of char siew rice when he was downtrodden, and she supposedly took a bullet for him. With that, he created the “Sorrowful Rice.”
The sorrow is apparently onions.
I reach into my sorrow and create my own “Sorrowful Rice.”
Grandma, you never got to see me graduate college. You never even got to see me off as I left for New York later that year. You never got to see me do the ‘triumphant return.’ I have yet to return, and it seems I am becoming quite the prodigal son. Will you still be proud of me, even if I am struggling to make something of myself and having racked up a colossal collegiate debt?
What will you say, if you learn that I do not wish to return to the land where you are buried?
On 28th May, 2009, at around 5 AM, you passed away in the hospital. I remember, because I wrote it down.
I also wrote down having heard you cry when Great Grandmother died. It was really painful.
A grandson should never live to see his grandmother cry. Or any old people cry.
I wrote that down in my logs. In my mind, it seemed impossible that you were one to sob uncontrollably, for you were my stoic grandmother; frustrating at times, but always well-meaning and grandmotherly.
I also remember, and wrote down when your youngest son, my uncle, passed away. By traditions and customs, you were not allowed to attend his wake. I can only imagine what grief it must be — grief I didn’t want to imagine, because I remembered the grief you had at Great Grandmother’s funeral.
Many times whenever I am doing something, I would think, “What if she could see me now?” And then I remembered that you can’t, and I am reminded of the finality of death.
Uncle (叔叔), I wrote down what you told me when I visited you on 12th April, 2008.
The first few things he said to me were, “Is the army stressful?” and then he went on about how I should learn to take things easy and learn how to let things go. However I feel that it was more for the benefit of himself, as if he were repeating these to remind himself exactly what he has to do.
But he seems ailing in his road to recovery. He doesn’t wish to pick himself up, saying how exhausted he is and all, and all he does is lie in bed. He doesn’t move much, not even to leave the room or to sit on a sofa. That is bad.
Hope he perks up soon? I’ve even offered going out with him for photography as bribes.
What I did not write down, but I always remember was when you asked me that day, “So what are your plans for college?”
“I’m probably going to apply for college in the United States,” I said.
“That’s nice. What are you going to be studying there?” he asked.
“Journalism? That’s good. I wanted to be a journalist too when I was younger, but I never studied hard, and I couldn’t be one. You should study hard and become one for me.”
You passed away a week later.
I graduated journalism school, but I have yet to find a job in journalism. I am going to keep trying, uncle. With the memories of that robot dinosaur you gave me as a kid, and also that toy guy that you disabled the recoil feature for because it scared me, I will become the journalist you couldn’t be. I could not keep the promise to go do photography with you, but I will try my darndest best with this one.
I should ease up with the onions. This is too much sorrow for me.