Eileen Chong is a Sydney poet who was born in Singapore. In 2010 she won the Poets Union Youth Fellowship and was the Australian Poetry Fellow for 2011-2012. Her first collection of poems, Burning Rice, was published in the New Voices Series 2012 by Australian Poetry. The book was highly commended in the Anne Elder Award 2012 and was shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards 2013.
Noodles in Hong Kong
We’d walked downhill along Star Street
and emerged onto a version of Hong Kong
I finally remembered. Traffic, neon signs
and shopfronts like those from my childhood.
We squeezed into the single narrow aisle
of the tea room, locals staring at us outsized
outlanders. No one would share our table.
I had no Cantonese beside the usual ‘please’,
‘thank you’ and ‘I’m ok’. There were no pictures,
which meant we were in the right place.
Wonton mein, swallowing cloud noodles?
Brusque understanding. Two bowls slammed down,
steam rising from soup like early morning fog.
These were the best dumplings we’d had so far:
silken pastry encasing sweet prawns and crunchy
water chestnuts. Each mouthful of noodles
had just the right elasticity. The workmen had stopped
watching us; the news was on the TV in the corner.
We squinted and tried to make sense of the images:
a nuclear warhead, the Chinese flag, marching armies…
Three painters spilled through the door and sat
at our table. They looked hard at us and I smiled.
We finished our tea and paid for our meal. HKD110 –
a small price for perfect clouds with a hint of sesame.
The god of musicians has been trying
to get my attention. Last month, a man
on a street corner in Chinatown stopped me
with his playing. When he finished the song
I uttered a name: Ah Bing. He asked me where
I was from. How does a girl from Singapore know this?
In the Utzon annex of the Opera House
the cellist Wang Jian played Bach solos.
When the audience wanted more he spoke
of a blind street musician and played The Moon
Reflected in the Second Spring. That was the first time
I heard it. In the tunnel at Central Station
it surfaced again. The old man bowed away
at his two-stringed erhu and China swelled
like a mirage: bridges, moon gates, willows.
I emerged into the light and put on my sunglasses
to hide my moist eyes. Immortal Han, I thought,
don’t you only watch over flautists? There is no
Chinese god of writers, so I think of the Kitchen God
when I work. Sticky New Year cake. Sweet words.