Little Tea Time Writings

Madeleine Thien „Simple Recipes“

“We are banana kids,” said one of my friends to me. If it came from anyone else I would have instantly thought that it is racist, but she is Czech-Vietnamese. Although it still sounded weird. She explained it to me, saying that it is because on the outside they still have yellow skin but inside they are as white as any (white) European person. She said that at home they might even keep some of the traditions, cook traditional meals or speak Vietnamese but outside home they speak Czech and behave like Europeans, that their values are different than those of their parents.

I remembered this when I was reading the story, especially when I thought about the contrast between the parents and the children. The parents are the first generation of immigrants they were born in Malaysian and they have different values and traditions and they handle even food with respect and gratefulness, which is visible from the way father prepares rice or the fish, as if it was a kind of ritual and also the way him and the mother eat their food, slowly savouring each piece. The parents keep the traditions and language because it is who they are and it links them to their home country and family they might have there. All these traditions form their identity which is maybe even more important to them in Canada, where they face the unknown and so having something familiar might make them feel secure.

The children are the second generation immigrants. Even though the son was born in Malaysian he refuses the language and traditions probably because he sees Canada as his home and he needs to find out his own identity in the middle of two very different traditions and cultures. There is also the fact that the son probably wants to fit in with the other children and the traditions would make him even more different than he already is, another thing is that he might not see the usefulness of Malaysian language and traditions in a western country such as Canada.

The clash between them represents the clash between two different cultures and worlds. One in which even preparation of food is seen as ritual and food is handled with respect and gratefulness, because of religion or because of the fact that in Malaysian people might be poor and food might be very expensive and throwing something out is wasting and seen as ungrateful. The other, the western culture, takes almost everything for granted, food is available in big amounts in near shops and people earn more money and thus are able to buy more food and select what they like and dislike. When the son does refuse the food that was given to him the father sees it as being ungrateful and his reaction is even, we would say, violent but that could be because in reality he probably feels that they are already different and fears that this difference will set them apart even more and he will lose his son, and later even his daughter.

There is also clash of views about what is important. The father sees meal as not just occasion to eat but also to gather with the family. For the father  it is a ritual of sharing food and showing gratefulness for what they have and a social activity and opportunity to interact with family. That is how the father was brought up and tries to pass it on to his children. The son on the other hand refuses this, maybe because he might have witnessed something different at his friends’ homes and he grows up in a place where food is in abundance and he can be picky like any western child.

Both the son and father face similar situation and that is finding out who they are now in a new country. The father has to learn the different habits and try to understand them. The son has to find his identity as child of immigrants being raised between two different cultures and he basically has to make up his own not just identity but maybe even culture from the two.

The misunderstanding is also caused by the fact that neither is capable to see it from the point of view of the other. The son does not understand that the father wants to keep the link between the family and Malaysian because it is part of their identity and also it might really make him safe in the new and unknown. The father on the other hand does not understand that the son might not see the link as a strong one since he spent greater part of his life in Canada. The father also does not understand how hard it might be to be different for a child who wants to fit in and sees Canada as his home.

In the end the author speaks about “the simple recipe” and one could think she means the recipe for rice, but the recipe she is looking for is different. She probably wants to find an easy way how they as immigrants could find their new identity in new country but also a way how the older generations would understand the younger ones and vice versa so there would be less of the conflicts and misunderstandings like those in the story.

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