Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

“Florida Rednecks Love Moo Goo Gai Pan” - A Short Story by Elaine Chiew from her Debut Collection The Heartsick Diaspora - 2020

“Florida Rednecks Love Moo Goo Gai Pan” - A Short Story by Elaine Chiew from her Debut Collection  The Heartsick Diaspora  - 2020

Gateway To Elaine Chiew on The Reading Life

This is the tenth story of the fourteen works in Elaine Chiew’s debut collection The Heartsick Diaspora upon which I have posted.

“Chinese Almanac” was set in Morristown, New Jersey.  I made a snide comment of comparison with London and Singapore in my post on that story.  In “Florida Rednecks Love Moo Goo Gai Pan” Chiew sets the story in a even worse place, Tampa, Florida.  Tampa ranks very low on all measures, the very title of the story shows 
the  narrator’s very justified contempt for indeginous inhabinets, Florida Rednecks.

Today’s story shows the frequent  potential abuse faced by female immigrants with no money and no local relatives to help them.

Our narrator is a college age woman, Khek Lin,
 of Malay Chinese descent. We don’t learn exactly how she ended up in Tampa.  She receives a letter from her father:

“The summer of 1996, waitressing in Tampa, a Vietnamese boy tried to take me on a date to Busch Gardens, and a lecherous cook pinched my thighs and wanted to buy me a car. That summer too, my father wrote, in formal stodgy Chinese, from Malaysia, that: Crucial funds may have to be diverted from my college education towards my mother’s illness. College may have to be aborted. Translation: I may have to go home in dishonour, not finishing what I set out to do. Flat out broke, I shacked up on a friend’s couch while she and her boyfriend canoodled in a canvas tent in the living room, which was devoid of any other furniture.”

She takes a variety of low wage jobs,  trying to get by and save for college.  The cook at The Chinese All You Can Eat Restaurant where she waitresses tries to bully her into a date to go to Busch Gardens, a combination amusement Park, zoo, and beer garden that is the pride of Tampa. 

The owner of the restuarant where she is a Korean woman married to an Hispanic:

“She  tells her to smile more while the male patrons try to look down her blouse. Male immigrants see an unprotected immigrant woman as fair gams. Tok-Cha took me aside, and I watched her over-painted red lips move. You must treat customers nice, Cake (my name is Khek Lin, damn it), you must treat them nice or they complain. Put on some makeup, your face too much like moon, Cake. When Señor Martinez called her to take her out Friday night, I would watch Tok-Cha paint her lips, carefully outlining the contours with a pencil, filling in the fleshier folds with crimson. The Florida rednecks kept sneaking glances down my blouse. They’d whistle between their teeth, call me Girlie..”

Now of course Khek Lin may have her own prejudices and bias, issuing blanket judgements, suggesting all Florida caucasisns are the same with no real knowledge to back up her feelings.  The term “redneck” is on a par with calling those of Chinese descent “chinks”.

It is fun and sad  to follow Khek Lin’s efforts to get by and dodge unwanted suitors.

This story gives us a very insightful look into an immigrant woman whose life is the polar opposite of the Ultra Rich Asian women living in Belgravia, a very expensive part of London, in “Rap of the Tiger Mom”.  

Each of the stories in The Heartsick Diaspora is  unique, taken together a sense of the multifarious diasporas of Singapore begins to emerge.

I look forward to the remaining stories and suggest this collection to all lovers of the form.

Elaine Chiew  
Elaine is a writer and a visual arts researcher, and editor of Cooked Up: Food Fiction From Around the World (New Internationalist, 2015).
Twice winner of the Bridport Short Story Competition, she has published numerous stories in anthologies in the UK, US and Singapore.

Originally from Malaysia, Chiew graduated from Stanford Law School and worked as a corporate securities lawyer in New York and Hong Kong before studying for an MA in Asian Art History at Lasalle College of the Arts Singapore, a degree conferred by Goldsmiths, University of London.

Elaine lives in Singapore and her book, The Heartsick Diaspora, and other stories, was published by Myriad in 2020 as well as in a Penquin Books.

Mel u


R.T. said...

Hmmm. Interesting. I will look for a copy.
Best wishes from the Gulf coast (among the Florida rednecks):

Suko said...

The title and your review draw me in. Thanks for the intro to this author's short fiction!

Mel u said...

Rt.- best of luck on your blog

Mel u said...

Suko, thanks as always for your comments