Photos and Text by Jasper Lo
The ninth poem in the collection To Go To Macau. See the first one here.
To Go To Macau is a collection of poetry. You can categorize it in both genres of cookbook and memoir, your typical Good Morning America grandmother combo. This collection attempts to answer opposing questions two SIPA students have asked me: by a Chinese student during orientation, "But you're not really Chinese right?" and by an American student at a SIPA happy hour, "You were born here? Are you American?" Within these two questions, I explore themes of diaspora, violence, masculinity, race, and migration.
The menu (translator):
dau⁶ fu⁶ siⁱ fu⁶*²
The Tofu Master of 黃大仙
runs his chefs,
demands they pour hot water
into the plastic tofu tray
before sliding the soft mass
gently into their woks.
師父, who once saw his 師父,
sculpt a dragon from a handful of tofu,
with only his fingers.
The 靈魂 of the restaurant
is as important as the body’s,
the Master asserts. But tofu sits cold
on stainless steel stations
while customers sit silently,
together with each other
sending Candy Crush invites
to their nieces and nephews.
Remember Hong Kong’s rise,
the honor they demanded
in the revival of its food.
Remember the call for a 師父,
to restore the clean and clear taste
of the sky, the sea, and the land
a kitchen SEAL to SealFit their cuisine
because CrossFit didn’t have enough kick ass.
But in that era, in their demand for khakis,
for German cars, and shoulder pads;
they called for the Tofu Master’s 師父,
demanded he restore the beginning,
a people grown by the sea.
Here’s Master Tofu, begging his chefs
to warm up the tofu
just for the customer
to turn back the dish
wagging their stylus finger
complaining, it’s not like it was
even if the dish is still sorcery
spun from ladle and hoak,
盲火’s purple tongue
summoned from deep hell.
But the perfect tofu was cast by the snap of fingers
by the Master of Tofu(‘s 師父 also) of 黃大仙,
a grand tofu demon that flew through the kitchen shelves
screaming 你哋騎牛搵馬 ? !
scrambling the staff and all the orders
as 師父 peeled his lips,
smiling at the breathing importance of perfection.
And when the customers with their brick Motorollas
and double-breasted suits
demanded why the hell their tofu took so long
they shut their mouths as the tofu rolled out,
claws, eyes, and nostrils intact.
The customers adjusting their oversized golden rims
exclaiming, 嘩 ~ ~ ~
So as history walks back to the kitchen with the applause of the restaurant
the Master of Tofu knows that nobody in Queens
cares about the subtle tinge of tofu.