KARA(“Mois”) – twenty-two-year-old granddaughter, wears a splint on her right (dominant) hand, speaks Cantonese, Mandarin, and English; she is dressed in pajamas. The splint can change form throughout the play.KARA lives with her grandparents.
SARA (“Gadjie”) – twenty-three-year-old granddaughter, has graduated college, but is still looking for a job, while she stays with her grandparents and fixes up their home.
AMERICA (“Poapoa”) – grandmother; 80 years old; has diabetes and arthritis and is forgetful and speaks a different language from her granddaughter; she knows a few words in the language her granddaughter speaks; she is dressed in pajamas sometimes, and at other times in clothing she has altered herself! She is disabled in her hip and leg, has arthritis and dementia, speaks Cantonese, Cantonese dialect, and some Mandarin.
BINGO (“Juju”) – KARA’s grandfather, who is the main cook of the family; he speaks Cantonese and some Mandarin. KARA’s grandparents communicate primarily through Cantonese. KARA and her siblings communicate with their grandparents in Cantonese (to varying degrees of fluency).
DAVID: 12 years old, KARA and SARA’s little brother, very imaginative, really wants a pet puppy, likes watching video game tutorials on the computer.
Note: Any conversation with AMERICA and BINGO is meant to be in Cantonese.
APARTMENT, where AMERICA, BINGO, KARA, and SARA live. There are two rooms, one for AMERICA and BINGO to sleep in, and one room for KARA and SARA to sleep in. There is a living room and a kitchen, where the fridge is a central attraction. The apartment is filled with bags of clothes, stacks of cardboard boxes, and other storage containers and miscellaneous items stacked around. Space is tight. Mice and cockroaches also share this apartment.
OUTSIDE THE APARTMENT: Bowery Street, with an intersection with Doyers Street. You can see restaurants such as Great NY Noodletown, Audrey’s Bakery, small Buddhist store, antique/herbal store. In the background: Transfiguration School, P.S. 124, and Confucius Plaza.
KARA sits at a desk in the living room, reading from a stack of books: Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston, the gangster we are all looking for by lê thị diễm thúy, and The Monastery and the Microscope: Conversations with the Dalai Lama on Mind, Mindfulness, and the Nature of Reality are among the books she has around her.
KARA sees a mouse scurry across the floor. She stamps the ground. The mouse scurries back into her hiding place.
KARA is still sitting at the desk when AMERICA comes out to go to the bathroom.
AMERICA: Ai, nae hoe dong ah. Fai dee, jeark fang dee sam fu, moe gum sut liy!
Oh, you must be so cold… Quick, put on some clothes, don’t be so revealing…!
KARA: Gnoa m dong ah, poapoa!
I’m not cold, poapoa!
KARA continues reading her book. AMERICA comes outside, holding a brown cardboard box with folding paper. AMERICA sets the paper box down on the table and takes out the red, yellow, green, blue, purple paper. She starts to fold them into circular shapes and sets them aside on the table. When there is enough of a stack of folded paper, AMERICA gets another brown cardboard box and fills it with the folded paper.
KARA: Nae joe gun mut yeah ah poapoa?
What are you doing, Poapoa?
AMERICA: Gnoa jeep gun.
KARA: Nae deem gae jeep gun?
Why are you folding?
AMERICA: Jeep gun bae dee zoe seen ah!
For the ancestors.
KARA: Leet deet hai mea yeah ah?
What are these?
AMERICA: Leet deet hai dee boe bae koi dae jing sam fu.
It’s fabric for them to make clothes.
KARA: Poapoa gnoa hoa aim hoa yi see hah jing ah?
Poapoa, can I try to make some?
AMERICA: Moe loa goaa goa. Loa leee goa. Leet goa gnoa see joa hoe doa chee moe jeep hoe.
Don’t take that one. Take this one. This one I tried but I didn’t fold it correctly.
KARA tries to fold.
AMERICA: Hoe, dai yut chee jeep gae hoe.
Okay, that is okay for the first time.
KARA tries to put the golden paper “fabric” with the pile of the rest of the paper offerings.
AMERICA: Heee moe bai hai gnoa doa ah! M duk loe mai nae dee gum chou gway toong gnoa deet!
Hey, don’t put that there! You can’t mix yours looking like that with mine!
KARA: Okay, gnoa joi see ha, hoe ma?
Okay, I’ll try again?
KARA folds again. She comes back. She puts the golden paper on the stack and goes inside her and SARA’s room, where SARA is already asleep.
AMERICA continues folding.
KARA is sitting with a stack of books on the desk in the living room. AMERICA brings out a jacket and shows it to KARA.
KARA: Tai hah! Leet goa hai nae David geen sam ah! Haha gnoa im sue sum loa joa koi geen sam ah. Gnoa hai nae ma mee ga pat men, bai gnoa jee gae geen sam hai ga deng jai doe, dang hai yee ging you ga deng, goa goa deng you you geen sam gwa jee!!
Look! It’s your David’s jacket! Haha.. I took the jacket by accident didn’t I. I was at your mom’s apartment, and I put my jacket on a chair, and there was already another chair, and that other chair also had a jacket hung from it!!
KARA: Ohhh so you must have taken someone else’s—David’s!!
BINGO walks out of their room into the living room.
BINGO: Hoe chee Ga Fong, hai mai!
Just like Ga Fong, huh!
AMERICA: (a look of delight) Hahahaaaa hai ah! Hoe chee Ga Fong…
(a look of delight) Hahahaaaa you’re right! Just like Ga Fong…
AMERICA turns to KARA.
AMERICA: Yee goa nae JuJu im tae sing gnoa, gnoa jou woi im gae duk joa. Jun hai hoe chee Ga Fong. Koi hai ga gnoa dae hoak hao ga loe see.
If your JuJu hadn’t reminded me, I wouldn’t have remembered. It’s really just like Ga Fong. He was a teacher at our school.
KARA: Ohh you and Ga Fong were teachers together?
AMERICA: Hai ah, koi hai gnoa dae hoak hao gao, tong mai koi tong soa you dee loe see goang koi ga goo see, tong mai soa you dee loe see jou lam jee toe lam sue! *(KARA’s grandmother makes the motion of hugging her stomach and bending over, smiling in delight) *Hai yun wai koi hoi joa ga jearng gan oak kae, goang koi ga jai noi, koi dee sing jik, nae jee… Koi jou joa goa an see, joong mae jee, dang hai koi loa joa dai dee yun geen hai ah!!
Yes so he was a teacher at my school, and he told all the teachers about his story… and all the teachers hugged their stomachs bent over laughing!! (AMERICA makes the motion of hugging her stomach and bending over, smiling in delight) And it was because he went to a parent’s house, to talk about their child, their grades, you know… and when he left, he still didn’t know—but he took another person’s shoe!!
KARA: He took another person’s shoe??
AMERICA: Yeen hau ga ga jearng goa man da deen wa lae, wa, “Gnoa lum gnoa you nae dee hai.” Wa, lee deem hoa yee ah, lum ah Ga Fong… dang hai koi im jee… koi jeark gun dai dee loe poa dee loe goang geen hai! Gum Ga Fong hai hoak hao goang bae dee loe see heang, gnoa dae doe lam jee toe lam sue. (KARA’s grandmotherhugs her stomach and bends over, laughing)
And then, the parent, that very night, gave a call his way, saying “I think I have your shoes.” Well, how can this be, thought Ga Fong… And little did he know… he had been wearing another wife’s husband’s shoes! So when Ga Fong told this to all of the teachers at our school, we hugged our stomachs all bent over laughing. (KARA’s grandmother hugs her stomach and bends over, laughing)
KARA: Gum leet chee, nae loa choa joa geen sam, hoe chee Ga Fong ah!
So this time, you took the wrong jacket, that’s just like Ga Fong!
KARA laughs, and walks into her grandparents’ room, where BINGO is watching TV.
KARA: Nae you moe teang doe Ga Fong ga gu see ah juju?
Did you hear about Ga Fong’s story, juju?
BINGO nods in response. It’s the end of the day, and he’s resting.
The news shows coverage from Taiwan news: “The trade war between China and the United States: The Cold War has already begun again.”
KARA: Hahahaa they say the Cold War is beginning again, but it’s really begun already a long time ago.
BINGO doesn’t say anything, but you can tell he is in acknowledgement of this remark. KARA sits on the bed, and they continue to watch the news. He changes the channel to an episode of a singing contest.
The girl’s voice is really beautiful. She sings about the grasslands of Inner Mongolia. Her name is Wulan Tuoya. KARA and BINGO sit there and listen as she sings the song: “I am in the grasslands looking on at Beijing.”
KARA: She says, “I am in the grasslands looking on at Beijing,” because it’s a really small place, right?
BINGO: Mm, hai hoe sai ga dae fong, koi goa nong chun.
Mm, it’s a small place, her village.
KARA listens to more of Wulan Tuoya’s four musician friends who come onstage and start playing string instruments similar to an erhu, but different and called the khuur. Then another artist comes onstage with a drum, a guangu, and Wulan Tuoya sings alongside him, playing a stylized ukelele. Two singers come onstage; one is East Asian, and the other singer iswhite. The East Asian singer and Wulan Tuoya sing a love duet. The other white singer goes offstage. The show continues. KARA and BINGO watch for a while, and at some point, BINGO goes to turn off the television and goes to the kitchen to prepare dinner.
AMERICA continues to sit in the own room, practicing writing characters, words, and idioms. Her notebook also contains other notes for when she is practicing arithmetic in the form of a row of lined sticks. AMERICA wears handwarmers that she made for herself.
KARA brings her stack of books from the living room to her grandma’s room and sits on the bed and starts reading Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston.
AMERICA: Haha Katee, nae dai gum doe shu yup lae!
Haha, Katee, you brought so many books inside!
KARA: Mhm!! I’m reading this book now, and the author, she came from the same village you come from! SunWoi!
AMERICA: Hai mea? Koi ga meang gu mea yea?
Really? What’s her last name?
KARA: Um… it’s in English. Hong? I don’t know… Hong? Hong? Hong?
AMERICA: Yee goa nae im sea duk koi ga meang, gnoa deem jee koi hai been goa ah?
If you can’t tell me how to write her name, how can I know who she is?
KARA goes back to reading, AMERICA goes back to her practicing her characters in her notebook. KARA goes over to look at AMERICA’s notebook. The characters she is practicing seem to be part of idioms or just stand-alone characters that AMERICA is writing from memory; KARA can’t tell.
KARA: Poapoa, you said you were born in Hong Kong right?
AMERICA: Hai ah, gnoa hai Hearng Goang chut sai.
Yes, I was born in Hong Kong.
KARA: What was your childhood bedroom like?
AMERICA: Gnoa goa gan see hoe sai. Dang hai gnoa dae hai hearng ha goa oak hai gnoa baba jik. Seang learng chan lou. Gnoa fu moe, a sook, dee, jea moi doe hai goa doa ju.
Oh, I was so little at the time. But our house in the village that was built by my father. The whole two floors. My parents, uncles, sisters, brothers we were all over there, living.
KARA: Dang hai Hearng Goang yee ga nea? Nae joang you moe chun chik hai goa doe ju?
But what about Hong Kong now? Do you have any relatives there?
AMERICA: Ai, Hearng Goang yee gah. Gnoa im searng goang ah! Gnoa m searng teang ah! Nae jee m jee, noa sum hoe toong.
Oh, Hong Kong now. I don’t want to talk about it! I don’t want to hear about it! Do you know, my heart bleeds and hurts. Those students!
KARA: The students didn’t do anything wrong!
AMERICA: Goa dee hoak san moe joe choa, dang hai goa dee yun bae cheen gu koi dae hang, koi deem hoa yee gum yearng joe ah?
The students didn’t do anything wrong, but the people who paid them to march—how could they do that?
KARA: No, the students didn’t do anything wrong! They were marching on their own!!
AMERICA: Im hai ah Katee. Yee ga dee sun mun, nae yu su sum, m jee mea yeah hai jun mea yeah hai ga lah.
No, Katee. You have to be careful with the news, you don’t know what’s true or false anymore!
KARA: But what about your relatives? Your relatives who brought you over here right? They’re from Hong Kong right?
AMERICA: Dai yut lae hai Dai Sook. Gnoa gu a bak gong hai ah Yee Sook. Koi dae mama you look ga jai noi, you ga dai ga jea, tong mai im ga sook. Dai Sook, Yee Sook, Sam Sook, Sae Sook … moe Sae Sook … joi mae dai im goa jou hai Chearng Sook. (Because he’s at the tail end.) Dang hai koi dae hoe koong ah, moe goong joe.
It was Oldest Uncle who came here first. The one I call great grandfather was the Second Uncle. Their mother had six children, an oldest daughter, and five uncles. Oldest uncle, Second uncle, Third uncle, … Fourth uncle, there’s no Fourth uncle … and the last uncle is called Long Uncle. (Because he’s at the tail end.) But they were so poor, they didn’t have any jobs…
KARA: Then what were they doing?
AMERICA: Mai mung, cheet, gang wun…
You know, pulling, cutting, weeding…
KARA: Pulling, cutting, weeding.. you mean on the farm? They were in the village, not Hong Kong?
AMERICA: Hai ah, hai ga nong chun! Im hai hearng goang, hai hearng ha, gang hai ah, mung, cheet, gang wun. Gnoa jee gae you joe goa, dang gnoa joe duk im hoe (AMERICA makes a motion with her arms of going back and forth unevenly) Nae ma mee doe joe goa ah. Nae, nae moe joe goa.
Yes, they were on the farm! Not Hong Kong… they were in the village, of course, pulling, cutting, weeding, I’ve done it before myself, but I was really bad at it (AMERICA makes a motion with her arms of going back and forth unevenly) Your mom has done it before too. You, you haven’t done it.
KARA: So, what happened? Did they get a job?
AMERICA: Moe, koi dae hoe kong ah, moe gong joe, moe yea sik. Gum koi mama, koi ga chut joa ga dai ga jea.
No, they were so poor, they had no jobs, nothing to eat. So the mother, she married off the oldest daughter.
KARA: She sold away the Oldest Daughter?
AMERICA: Ga mama loa joa dee cheen jou bae Dai Sook, goi koi wun fun gong toang mai loa dee cheen hoi Hearng Goang dap ga chun hoi dai dee goak ga.
The mother took the money and gave it to the first uncle and told him to get a job and take it to Hong Kong and get on a ship to another country.
KARA: Oh, so she used the money to send the First Uncle to the U.S.
AMERICA: Goa an see yee goa nae ga chut nae ga noi jou im woi joi geen doe koi ah. Dang hai soi yeen ga noi im hoa yee joi geen koi dae, koi joong searng koi mama diy diy goa ga hoe sum moot.
At that time if you marry away your daughter you don’t see her again. But even though the oldest daughter couldn’t see her family again, she still hoped her mother and brothers could have good lives.
KARA: Oh, the Oldest Daughter… she couldn’t see her family again…
AMERICA: Gum ga ma ma jou gu Dai Sook gai jook joe goong, joe doe koi hoa yee soong gou cheen fan lae bae Yee Sook chut lae. Dang hai, Yee Sook, koi joe yeen gong, man hak doe boak, doe dou koi dae wa koi shu doe im sai bae cheen! Gum hai im hai hoe hoe? Gum koi jou gai jook doe boak. Geet goa, doe see Dai Sook lae wun koi, mun koi, Yee Sook, you moe cheen soong fan fan oak kae? Yee Sook jou moe cheen bae. Hoe a, wa Dai Sook. Gum, nae hoa im hoa yee bae jee piu? Gum Yee Sook you gou bae jee piu. Gum Dai Sook jou wa dee cheen hai koi dae learng goa lae.
The mother told First Uncle to keep working on a job, until he could send back enough money so that Second Uncle could travel here too. But Second Uncle, he worked, then he gambled all night, until they told him even if he lost he didn’t have to pay up any money! Isn’t that good for him? Well he kept gambling… So when the time came that First Uncle went looking for Second Uncle and asked for some money to send back home, Second Uncle had none to give. Alright, said First Uncle. Well, can’t you pay the fare for the mail? And Second Uncle had enough for the fare. And so First Uncle said the money came from both of them.
KARA: What? I need to tell Juju!
After this conversation with AMERICA, KARA goes into the kitchen to find BINGO. She sees him peeling chestnuts.KARA relates this story to BINGO in an improvisational manner, while she continues to peel chestnuts. AMERICAcomes out of the room and gives handwarmers to KARA.
KARA: So what happened to Second Uncle? He kept gambling?
KARA: Juju, did you know about Poapoa’s ancestor who came to the U.S. and all he did was gamble away his money? So what happened to Second Uncle?
AMERICA: Ah Yee Sook… Katee…
Well Second Uncle …. Kateee…
KARA: What? What?
AMERICA: Nae jee im jee… lee goa jou hai goo see, goa goang bae nae heang jou hai yun wai gnoa geen doe nae hai goa doe, gum doa shu dang hai im searng tai! Jou hai ga gu see. Im hai jun ga!
Don’t you know… this story, you know I was just telling you because I saw you there, you had so many books but you didn’t want to read them! It’s just a story! None of it is true!
KARA: What? Wait why? Why Poapoa? Why poapoa??
AMERICA: Yun wai nae wa nae searng heang gu see ah!
You wanted to hear a story that’s why!
BINGO:Yut yun fu guai, man yun oan (一人富貴，萬人安)
If one person finds fortune, ten thousand people are at peace.
AMERICA: Hai ah, gnoa you hai moang nae sea ga gu see, yong goa goa sing yee, gu jee goa goa sing yee! Gnoa you hae moang nae im fan yik koi! Moe fan yik, fan yik jou im geen joa ga yee see! Soa yee gnoa jou searng tong nae goang lee ga gu see, goa dee yee cheen dee yea.
Yes, and I hope you write a story with that title, that idiom! And I hope you never translate it! No translating it, if you translate it, it’ll lose its meaning! And that’s why I wanted to tell you that story, about those people and things in the past…
KARA: You mean about First Uncle and Second Uncle and the Oldest Daughter who was married away? So all that isn’t true?
AMERICA: No! Im hai zhen ah, gnoa jou hai fat chut lae ah! Nae jee nae seang yut goang dee yea yong gum doa searng jearng lik! Gnoa jou jea joa su su nae dee searng jearng lik!
No! It’s not true, I just made it up! You know how you always say things with such imagination. I borrowed a little of that imagination from you!
KARA: But why, poapoa, can you tell me why?
AMERICA: Gnoa im hai im searng nae sea im searng nae dook ing mun shu, gnoa jou hai goang… nae tou seen goang sea ga book ga yun? (She’s referring to Maxine Hong Kingston) Nae im goang duk bae gnoa heang koi ga meang? Fan yik, yik jou been.
It’s not that I don’t want you to write or read English books, I’m just saying… That person before? (She’s referring to Maxine Hong Kingston) You couldn’t tell me their name? Translation, when you take the translate and add a shun and it becomes transla—shun, well, the “shun” of it changes the whole thing.
KARA nods hesitantly.
AMERICA (continues): You hoe doa hong ah! You goa hong tong mai ga hong dang hai dai yut goa hong jou im tong. Wan you ling gnoi ga hong. Tong mai hong yun but hong. (That last phrase means that not all people with Sino-ancestry are the same. Here, “sino” and “related” have the same pronunciation.) Gnoa dae goang lae goang hoi doe you hoa doa goang hong ga ban fat. Tai ha? Nae doe im goang duk bae gnoa heang leet goa hong hai mea yea yum.
There are so many hong’s! There’s a hong and a hong but the first hong is not the same. And there’s another hong. And hong yun but hong. (That last phrase means that not all people with Sino-ancestry are the same. Here, “sino” and “related” have the same pronunciation.) And we have a barrage of back and forth of different ways of saying hong. You see? You can’t even tell me what the sound is of this “hong.”
KARA: You mean when it’s in English? With no ping yum? (pronunciation/inflection) But there’s no ping yum for Cantonese.
AMERICA: Nae wa hong .. hai mea yea yee see ah? Yut goa jee, doe yum, hoe nan fan yik.
(shakes her head) You say hong… what does that mean? One word—many sounds—difficult to translate.
BINGO: Hai ah, nae jee, ga boe jee, you see doe sea choa jee. (It’s because the characters have the same pinyin when you type them into the computer, so you might type in one thing but get another thing out.)
Yeah, you know how even the newspaper, has wrong characters sometimes. (It’s because the characters have the same pinyin when you type them into the computer, so you might type in one thing but get another thing out.)
AMERICA: Yun fan yik ga.
People can never translate the truth.
BINGO (calling out from the kitchen): Yun fan yik zhen. Deen noe fan yik ga.
People translate truthfully. Computers translate falsely.