Monday, August 30, 2010

"Hungry in Guangzhou" by Kow Shih Li- A Malaysian Short Story

"Hungry In Guangzhou" by Kow Shih Li-, 2009, 5 pages Malayasian Short Story  1 of 5 in a Series of Posts
About three week ago Jovenus of Biblio Junkie and I decided we would do a joint posting in honor of Malaysian Independence Day which is observed on August 31.     I more or less got the idea for this project from Novroz' posting  in honor of Indonesian Independence day on her blog , observed on August 17.   I ended up doing a series of five posts on short stories by Indonesian women, all written in the 21th century.   I really enjoyed doing this project and wanted to see if I could expand the idea to other countries.   At the time I did a Google search on independence days world wide to see how many South and South East Asian countries observe an independence day.  I noticed Malaysian Indepedence Day is observed August 31.   I was very interested in posting on Malaysian literature in part because Malaysia is less than two hours away from my home in Manila.    Also most historians see Malay culture as having a large influence on pre-colonial Filipino history.  

Jovenus has done a great overall post on Malaysia (for which she has a special knowledge and affinity) which explains the history of Malaysia and its struggle for Independence.   She also talks about some of the best know Malaysian writers of today.   I decided as my contribution to our project to post on five short stories by contemporary Malaysian writers.    This will be done in a series of five posts.

"Hungry in Guangzhou" by Kow Shih Li  (some times her name is listed as Shih Li Kow) begins in the city of Guangzhou, (formerly known as Canton) a very large city in southern China.   Kow Shih Li was born in 1968 and has a degree in chemistry.    She is a well known author of short stories and has just been Long Listed for the very prestigious and lucrative (35,000 British pounds) Frank O' Conner prize for best collection of short stories for her book, Ripple.     The ancestoral home of the female narrator of "Hungry in Guangzhou" is Guangzhou.   She is there on a business trip from her home in Kuala Lampur.   She cannot find a feeling for comfort there try though she will.
Guangzhou has intimidated me from the moment I arrived. I feel out of place buying a common lunch of soupy noodles although the food and restaurant setting are familiar. Cantopop alternating with Mandarin chart-toppers on the radio cuts through the hustle bustle sounds. A press of hungry office workers crowds the counter. The people wend their way between plastic chairs and tables. The smell, the heat, the bodies, the noise and the oily floor don't faze me. I'm smooth, I'm cool, I tell myself.
"Hungry in Guangzhou" is about being out of place in what should be your home but for a few accidents of history.

On the three-hour flight back to Kuala Lumpur, I work some more, crunching numbers on the laptop. I'm dead tired but I've earned my right to feel good about a very successful working trip. It is night when I touch down and I'm dying for a hot drink. I find an all-nighter, an Indian Muslim restaurant, and I pile a plate full of rice, tandoori chicken and pappadoms. How much, I ask the dark-skinned man standing at the end of the steel buffet counter. Six-fifty, he says. Drink, he asks?

"Hungry in Guangzhou" is a simple story.    No real plot, no surprise ending etc.     I found the description of the market restaurant very well done. .    I would happily read more of her stories and wish her the best of luck in the Frank O'Conner Short story competition.     Look for four more post on Malaysian short stories soon.  

The story can be read online here.

My next post will be on "The Stalker Within" by Sabarina Abu Bakar.

Mel u

1 comment:

  1. Nice one Mel. Although with a plot, Kow is describing two contrasting scenes of how she feels more at home in Malaysia than Guangzhou even though people in Guangzhou share the same ancestry as she is.

    And food is what connects multicultural Malaysians more than any other symbolic or actual activities. It is these fusions that made Malaysian cuisines its varieties and flavours.


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