Seeking Investors - Irreplaceable Earth
Written By: Denise Lee
INT St. John's Newfoundland - Paddy O'Reilly's Bar - 10PM
Newfie Fisherman: What are you lass?
My Brain: I see your face and I don’t understand it, I need to figure out what stereotype you are.
Denise: My name is Denise, I -
Newfie Fisherman: (interrupts) Wait my girl, let me guess your Portuguese, no. Chinese! No Spanish?
Denise: I was about to say -
Newfie Fisherman: Ya don’t have an accent, you speak good english, how did you come by that?
My Brain: Which is a polite way of saying: …… You don’t sound, the way I thought you would, because you look like you should sound like this. Herro my name is Jenise Ree. So rappy, to meet you. Laaa…. Naaaa.
Denise: Yeah I'm grew up here in Canada. I'm working in Newfoundland for a few months.
Newfie Fisherman: That's alright but, no, I mean where did you really come from b'y?
Denise: Yes b'y I'm from "Toron-a" also known as Toronto.
My Brain: I knew what he was trying to get at, but I didn't fee like telling him my life story.
I am what is called a CBC. Which stands for Canadian Born Chinese. There are also BBCs, which are British born Chinese, and ABCs which are American Born Chinese.
But closer to the truth is I am a "banana", which means I am yellow on the outside and white on the inside. Because I can't speak Chinese. But I know a lot about Chinese culture. However I know a huge amount of Canadian history, English culture and Western Religion and pop culture.
I lost touch with my past a long time ago, and I don't know where to find the answers about where I came from, what my family used to know, or anything about what I lost when we came to Canada.
So when people ask me how I got here I say. Well I took the bus here, because now I live in Montreal, and driving here is a traumatizing experience, people in Montreal they just walk into the middle of the road, in the middle of rush hour, head down, looking at their phone, they don’t even look up, they just go forward, like lemmings.
I say none of what just went on in my head to the fisherman. I smile and glance away.
Newfie Fisherman: You ever kissed a fish, it's good luck!
Newfie Fisherman Hands me a shot, and points to a fish on the wall.
Denise: Thanks and no, I haven't but if it brings me good luck.
I down the shot and then I am handed the fish off the wall, I kiss the fish, then hand it back to the good natured bar keep. I leave the bar and head home.
Where am I from? The question echoes in my head as a walk down the snow covered streets. The first time I was asked this question, I didn’t know what to say. My parents have lived in so many places, and when they came to Canada it was because my Dad was studying to become a police officer. Instead he met my mom, she got pregnant, they had my brother, and my Dad had to leave Malaysia so he could help my mom raise my brother in Canada. He never became a cop, but he found a good job with a steady income instead.
In Taiwan, grandfathers are called a-gong or gong-gong. There is no differentiation between maternal and paternal grandfathers. I met my Malaysian grandparents a few times, and I remember calling him Gong-gong, but that is as far as my recollection goes. The rest is document in pictures.
I stop for a moment to watch as tug boats and oil tankers dock their boats.
My mother, a catholic, has always been a very determined woman. She works very hard and has always supported me any way she can.
FLASHBACK TO SCARBOROUGH, ONTARIO, 1980
A Chinese teenager, slightly pregnant is packing a suitcase in her orange and brown room, her younger siblings are in her room, looking at her stuff. Her youngest sibling sits on the floor and plays with a toy car. She closes the suit case hugs her siblings and the youngest refuses to let go of her leg. She tickles him and the second sibling takes the hand of the little boy and hugs him while he cries.
VOICE OVER: My mother decided she was going to raise that baby boy (my brother), with or without anyone’s help. My grandparents, devout Catholics were no longer on speaking terms with her. She had been cast out and she decided to leave home.
She passes by her parents room, leaves a note on the bed. Then exits.
VOICE OVER: My mom didn't have much but she had my Dad and a car, so together they rented a little apartment and they moved in together.
FLASHBACK TO FRUIT FARM, SECURITY GUARD WORK, ACCOUNTING FIRM.
VOICE OVER: They were relentlessly poor, my dad worked as a fruit picker for the first three years, every summer, then in the winter he would work as a security guard. My mother worked as an accountant and as an administrator for a local glass manufacturer.
FLASHBACK TO HOSPITAL, TINY APARTMENT
VOICE OVER: When my brother was born his first crib was the drawer from my parents chest of drawers. So when I was born they used the 2nd drawer and when we were bad they closed the drawers. Very effective parenting by the way.
FLASHBACK TO MALAYSIA
EXT GRANDMOTHER'S HOUSE IN MALAYSIA
VOICE OVER: The house where Popo lived had no glass in the windows. The heat there was like nothing I had ever experienced. I felt like I was melting and remained glued to the couch throughout the day. But in the evening when it cooled down a breeze would blow in through the cement square windows. Then Popo puttered around, keeping house, sweeping out lizards and insects, and giving out hugs. Sometimes the lizards would climb lazily up the walls. Just chilling there. Waiting for their next meal.
FLASHBACK TO MY DAD WITH HIS SIBLINGS RUNNING AROUND THE HOUSE
VOICE OVER: My dad, he was born in Malaysia, you know that place that keeps banning pop stars from performing? Yeah, that place. He is the youngest of 9 children, my grandmother “Popo”, bless her soul, she passed away in 2017, she was a hundred years old… we think….. Popo was born during the time before they issued birth certificates. So we might have rounded up.
FLASHBACK TO CHINA FARMLANDS AND CLERKS OFFICE
VOICEOVER: Popo was born during a time when reading and writing were not common knowledge, and if you wanted to write a letter to someone, you had to pay someone else to write it for you, then send the letter, then the person at the other end, would have someone else read the letter for them. This would go on for years, until they were taught how to do it themselves.
Wouldn't it be great if Twitter worked that way, but only for specific people who were no longer deemed fit to tweet themselves.
I have always felt like a very shy person. I would go out of my way to avoid interacting with people. I hate the sound of my own voice.
FLASHBACK TO HIGHSCHOOL
INT Cafeteria, High School
Voice Over: Lunch time was always a terrible time for me, particularly in high school.
DISSOLVE TRANSITION TO WORK
INT Cafeteria, Work
Voice Over: Even as an adult, I get very anxious if I realize I’m going to be eating alone, amongst groups of people that all seem to be bonding so easily.
I didn’t realize that I was kind of different, from other people, because I grew up in Toronto, and when you grow up in Toronto, your school is full of different faces. You get used to many different colours, many different languages, shapes and sizes.
FLASHBACK TO MALAYSIA
The first time that I travelled was with my parents, and we went to Malaysia, to visit my family. My brother and I couldn’t understand anything anyone was saying, and I felt so isolated. This is my family, but I can’t understand you. Their english was minimal so we had very little to talk about.
But the food was amazing, and even though I didn’t know what anyone was saying, I felt a great deal of comfort, and love. My grandmother would use sign language mixed with Mandarin to communicate, mostly she wanted me to eat, and if I ate, she was happy. She made me my favourite hot chocolate, it was a hundred degrees in the house but I drank it anyway.
FLASHBACK TO RAINFOREST
In Malaysia, , I encountered reptiles, ants and centipedes that were enormous. They were beautiful, deadly and strange. My father recently went back to Malaysia, to see his mother one last time, and to travel with his brother. They had both just retired after 25 years of service. When he returned I asked my dad whether the rainforest was still beautiful, sadly he told me that it had changed. The rainforest, that used to be so huge, mysterious and grand. So much of it had been cut down, to make way for Oil Palms, which produce Palm Oil.
"The rainforest is being demolished by palm oil plantations."
My dad grew up in Malaysia and remembers the rainforest as an everlasting presence, full of animals, insects and life.
All the original plants within the forest, gone. Everything. All of the diverse species of plants and all of the insects, animals and life, no longer exist, it’s just row after row of oil palm fields. Malaysia, Indonesia, Nigeria and Thailand are the largest producers of palm oil.
Strangely, when he told me about the destruction of the rainforest I felt more pain then I had felt in a long time. This beautiful symbol of health, vitality and strength was just gone.
Feeling small, is nothing new to me. I reflect daily on the fact that I am merely a tiny organism drifting on a piece of spinning rock, in a boundless universe filled with space, light and carbon. But on a macro level I am even smaller then that. On the hierarchical scale of people, I barely even register. My greatest contribution to life on earth is my fierce determination to recycle and pick up litter, which in the grand scheme of things doesn't even register.
The little knowledge I have gathered about my Chinese heritage has been from the internet, I googled Chinese Grandparents Tips and this is what came up:
Many of these values can be seen in traditional Chinese proverbs. These are common sayings that might very well be spoken by a Chinese grandfather.
"A book tightly shut is but a block of paper." In order for a book to be of any value, it must be opened, read and studied.
"A gem is polished by rubbing. A man is perfected by trials." Character is built by facing hardships and challenges.
"Dig the well before you are thirsty." It's important to plan ahead.
"Keep your broken arm inside your sleeve." Don't put your weaknesses on display.
"When you have only two pennies, buy bread with one and a lily with the other." It's important to feed one's body, but it's also important to nourish a love of beauty.
"The palest ink is better than the best memory." To be sure of remembering something, write it down.
"A child's life is like a piece of paper on which each person leaves a mark."Chinese grandparents are mostly very mindful of the marks they leave on their grandchildren's lives.
For some reason all of the tips are metaphors, which makes me think that perhaps that is why I like puzzles and riddles. The constant puzzle that plagues me these days is just trying to decide why I am here on this earth, and what the hell I am supposed to be doing.
I have a constant nagging at the back of my mind, that perhaps I should just give up the rat race and sail out to the open sea. Then travel directly to the plastic garbage island, and begin to build a home there, or help clean it up. Not sure which of those decisions would kill me first.
Irreplaceable Earth - The journey of a young woman searching for her past so she can save her future.