Leo Kwan: How Tea Has Chosen me
escaping the japanese, and then mao
My father used to be proud to talk about his bullet wound in the chest from WWII. He was lucky to have lived through such an injury in a time when food, medicine and even bullets were in extreme scarcity in the Chinese KMT Army. A young teenager amongst the recruits of poor villagers, he had joined the army so he could have something to do and did not have to starve.
He came to Hong Kong after Mao declared his reign in 1949. He should be glad that he did, China was soon becoming hell. Political movements during the political idol’s time caused over 30 million deaths through starvation and disasters, and 2 millions (some say 7) through brutality. That was more than the world’s casualties combined in WWII, including the Holocaust and the two atomic bombings in Japan.
Invaders, crooks and the Communists
My mom was smarter. She attended St Mary’s College in Tsimshatsui, Hong Kong, albeit for only two years, soon after the War. She had arrived here in the colony before the Japanese occupation, thinking that it was safer under the protection of the British. She was in her early teens then, bringing with her a wicker suitcase filled with cash. Her elder brother wanted her to hide some of the family’s money in a safer place should the Japanese take their village as well as all their money. Crooks had the advantage after the invaders. The communists had it all later and put my mother’s family through hell, because they had been landowners.
Right before my parents married, my father had only a plank to sleep on and relied on my mom for however little money she had remained. He had a respectable job for his background, cleaning for offices and commercial buildings, but the habit of gambling was taking a lot more than his salary.
Tea in the Thermos
So I was born to a negative income family and the strongest sensation since the earliest memory was the smell of food, particularly the cooking of rice from neighbours. I still remember standing at someone’s door at the sight of the family gathering round the table for dinner, hoping to satisfy my eternal hunger through what came through the nose, only to have the door shut in my face.
Tea came much later when I was five or six, when I was taken to dimsum restaurants in some rare occasions. The drink was not as attractive as the steamed chasiu buns, though I had only little of both. The thermos flask was our family teapot throughout my childhood. My father, however little he had come home, would brag about which was a better tea and the price of it. To us, it was something to make drinking hot water a slightly more substantial routine. We used whatever tealeaves that came by.
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