The The Chinese Knot by Lien Chao

The The Chinese Knot

byLien Chao

Paperback | April 22, 2008

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Award-winning author Lien Chao weaves together these emotionally charged short stories focusing on Chinese immigrants in Toronto's multiracial neighbourhoods.

In a public playground Wei Ming finds herself strangely alone, but she takes an unusual step when she observes the prejudices at work among the parents and children; middle-ages and divorced, Katherine mulls over the possibilities of spending a loney life and marrying a stable and safe Chinese suitor whose food tastes are from a different region; making an impulsive phone call to China, Yi Mei discovers her love for a "wanton woman" Ai Hui, whom she left behind more than a decade ago; Teacher Lu is an advisor, a refuge and even a prospective bride to her various students . . . The female protagonists of these and other stories find love, face loneliness, confront crises, and overcome racial stereotypes as they evolve and grow in an ever-changing milieu.

About The Author

Lien Chao has observed Chinese life though her work in the community as well as her interactions with Chinese immigrants in ESL clasrooms. She came to Canada in 1984. Her first book, Beyond Silence: Chinese Canadian Literature in English, was published in 1997 and won the Gabrielle Roy Award for Canadian Criticism. Her works linclude M...
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Details & Specs

Title:The The Chinese KnotFormat:PaperbackDimensions:136 pages, 8.94 × 7.53 × 0.4 inPublished:April 22, 2008Publisher:Mawenzi House Publishers Ltd.Language:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1894770439

ISBN - 13:9781894770439

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Read from the Book

African Lion SafariKatherine Wang leans comfortably against the backseat of the car. Her nine-year-old daughter, Lily, sits in the front passenger seat. Next to Katherine sits Susan Thomson, who knows both Katherine and John Lei, the driver. Early summer sunshine slants through the rear car window, brightening the beige interior of the new Honda Accord Sedan. "Beautiful day, isn't it?" Susan starts a conversation. Soft music rises from the CD player on the dashboard. "Indeed," John echoes from the driver seat. It is an hour's drive from Toronto to the African Lion Safari Park near Cambridge, west on Highway 401. Turning around under the seatbelt, Lily whispers to her mother over her small shoulders, "Mum, I like it." "Shhhh," Katherine raises her right index finger, "like what?""This car," the girl whispers back. "Uncle Lei might be able to take you out more often, right, John?" Susan says. "Sure, Sue. Yes, Lily, maybe we can go to the Toronto Zoo next weekend." John tilts his head towards the girl. Susan pulls Katherine's sleeve quietly. The two women exchange a look of mutual understanding. "Thank you, John, but I'm not sure about my schedule for next weekend," Katherine doesn't want to be obligated yet. The car continues on the highway at a steady pace. Katherine scrutinizes the man sitting in front of her. John's bushy hair looks as if it was sprayed with pepper and salt, but more salt than pepper. Silver wire-framed sunglasses sit on his nose. For their first date arranged by Susan, John wears a beige sports jacket, which fits harmoniously with the interior colour of his car. Suddenly a fresh smell of sprouting leaves and newly plowed soil floods into the car as Lily lowers her window an inch. "Lily! Close the window please," Katherine sits up nervously in the backseat. Lily reluctantly rolls up the window. "It's OK," John smiles, "we are almost there." The car slows down on the ramp to exit from the highway. John's hands are on the wheel, and his back fits snugly into the seat. v Katherine sits back, her arms crossing her chest. Susan whispers in Katherine's ear, "Relax." "Look, cars, so many cars!" Lily calls out cheerfully. There is a long queue of vehicles waiting at the gate to the Safari Park. John rolls down the window, his arm perching on the door. Lily immediately follows suit at her side of the window. A warm breeze enters the car with the scent of wild animals and green vegetation, refreshing the passengers in the back seats.Before this moment, Katherine has no idea what safari actually means in Canada. Her first encounter with the word was when she was in the university in China reading Earnest Hemingway's famous short story about an American couple shooting lions and buffalo in Africa. After Susan told her about this trip, she has been wondering about whether they will be chasing large animals on dusty roads."Chang-jing-lu ! Chang-jing-lu !" Lily shouts on top of her lungs. "Look out! Lily!" John stretches out his right arm to shield the girl from a young giraffe pushing its nose through the open window. The three adults scream with excitement while Lily puts her hands tenderly on the smooth skin of the long neck. "Is Chang-jing-lu the Chinese name for giraffe?" Susan asks Katherine. "You mean the Long Neck Deer is called gee-rarf in English?" Katherine asks Susan at the same time. "Hello, Long Neck Deer! You are so beautiful!" The girl continues to talk to the giraffe in Chinese. The adults in the car also put their hands on the animal.The car moves forward slowly. After the exciting moment with the giraffe at the gate, John asks Lily to roll up the window. They follow a long line of vehicles ahead. The two women in the backseat, still excited, now sit back to relax.John is chatting with Lily about lions and tigers. Susan looks at Katherine, a faint smile on her lips, as if to say: you see, John would make a good father for Lily.In the week following the safari, an unusual picturesque scene has preoccupied Katherine: a lion's family resting on the slope under a big oak behind the wired fence. Katherine's mind focuses on the dreamy eyes of the lioness. She believes she communicated with the animal at the moment they made eye-to-eye contact. Relaxing beside the lioness is her male companion with his majestic pride and dignity as the king of the forest. Their two playful cubs are chasing each other on the slope. In the calmness and the contentedness of the lioness's eyes Katherine realizes a simple truth, which makes her jealous, an experience she has never had before and has been bothering her since the trip.Why can't she make herself as contented as the lioness, and her child a happier cub? Surely, she can. She is only forty-two years old; though not as young and pretty as she was at twenty-four when she first met Lily's father. She knows she is still capable of attracting men; occasionally some young men still wink at her boldly, but more often the middle-aged professional men throw her friendly smiles. Compliments from friends and strangers alike about her slender figure have given her enough confidence to believe that she should be able to find not only a handsome man, but also an established career man, one who has already made a success in life. "Mum, are we going out with Uncle John this weekend?" Lily interrupts Katherine's daydreaming. Maybe the girl is reading her mind, Katherine says to herself. "I want to go to the Zoo. Uncle John has promised to take us to the Zoo this Sunday." Perhaps she should call Susan first, thinks Katherine. After all, Susan is their matchmaker."Hello, Sue?""Hey, Kathy, how's it going?" Susan asks cheerfully. Katherine senses an encouragement. "Not much. I am just wondering about whether we should go out with John again this Sunday. You know, because of Lily, things get a bit complicated. The girl wants to go to the Zoo with him, but I'm not so sure. I want to ask you for advice. How would you describe him in one sentence, Sue?" "In one sentence, let me see, I would say John is a successful career man, and he looks like he could also be a devoted family man." Susan delivers her sentence cheerfully. "Would you say you know him well then? Do you think he is the right man for me?" Katherine shoots out her anxiety. "Wow, what do you think I am? A fortune teller?" Susan laughs loudly. "I just thought you two are somewhat similar, one is a single mother, the other a single father, and each has a daughter. Plus you both are Chinese, maybe you want to meet. The rest is yours to explore and decide. I have nothing to do with it." "I know, Sue." Katherine agrees reluctantly. "By the way . . . there is a tradition back home in Shanghai, that if a matchmaker succeeds, she will receive ten pieces of pork hocks as a reward." Katherine can't help laughing at the idea of bringing ten pork hocks to Susan. "What, what's that?" Susan asks with a renewed interest."I'll bring you ten pork hocks if I end up with John," Katherine teases."That's a nice custom, but I am a vegetarian. Will you bring me ten veggie hocks made of tofu? Ha, ha, ha!" "Sure! Ten veggie hocks," Katherine echoes. "A deal!" "Good luck to you both!" Katherine hasn't had a date since her divorce two years ago. Her ex-husband, Wu Gang, was a medical doctor in Shanghai. People in China respect medical professionals and sometimes call them Soldiers-in-the-White-Robe because of the battles they fight to save lives. Wu Gang cured Katherine of tuberculosis when she was twenty-three. In gratitude, the beautiful young patient developed love for the handsome doctor."You are my Soldier-in-the-White-Robe, my prince on the white horse!" she told him passionately. Soon after she was discharged from hospital, they walked hand-in-hand into cinemas and restaurants, each looking like a trophy for the other, a beautiful couple complementing each other and attracting admiration and gossip around them. Their romantic relationship quickly entered the next stage; one would think that an MD would know how to prevent an accident, but that was not the case. Katherine became pregnant shortly after she started dating her doctor. "Don't worry. I'll fix it," Wu Gang said, patting her hand, when Katherine told him she had missed her last period. "Didn't I fix your TB?" "Yes, you did. But this is different," Katherine said emotionally. "It's quite common to have an abortion at this stage. It wouldn't even hurt you. I can do it for you myself if you prefer," he said in a consoling tone as if he were handing over a painkiller to one of his patients. "No, definitely not!" Katherine screamed scornfully. Her face was red and her voice hoarse from a sudden burst of anger. "This is my first pregnancy. I want to have this child." Shouldn't he be happy that she was pregnant with his child? Didn't he love her dearly, as he had said? Katherine wanted to ask Wu Gang some questions, but she was afraid of bringing more stress to their tender relationship. Not wanting to face a sex scandal, which would tarnish the reputation of a medical doctor, they settled for a quick wedding.Lily was born the next year. The young couple had been thrown into an exhausting parenthood for a few years before Katherine realized that something was wrong."How is the baby today?" Wu Gang asked her, as he did every evening after returning home from work. "Fine, she slept for two hours in the afternoon, drank 100 ml of milk, 100 ml orange juice, and 100 ml clear water. " Katherine reported to Wu Gang like a dietitian in the children's ward."Let me take your blood pressure." The doctor husband got the equipment out and stuck a stethoscope under the tightening wrap on Katherine's arm. "Systolic 120, diastolic 80, pulse 75 per minute." He finished reading the mercury. "Any temperature? ""No," Katherine answered, remembering the routine conversation she had with Dr Wu when she was his patient. "Good." After that Wu Gang would retire to the sofa in front of the TV until bedtime."Where is the love in our relationship?" Katherine asked Wu Gang one day before he got up from his seat. "Honestly, I don't know." His frankness shocked her.In order to save their marriage, she raised the question of immigrating to Canada, where they could start all over again.Two years later, their dream came true. In the early summer of 2000, they came to Toronto and rented a small two-bedroom apartment on the ground floor of a semi-detached house among the working-class families in the city's east end.The first six months in Canada went by like a long holiday. Then the leaves, once green, became colourful before falling on the sidewalks. Soon dry leaves gathered underneath the wheels and piled up in the gutters. One day, after returning from a job interview at a university laboratory, Wu Gang burst out at Katherine, "What made you believe that we could have a fresh start in Canada?" Katherine was in the kitchen preparing dinner. She didn't respond, but knew the storm had to come one day. "Without a doctor's licence, I am nobody. I'm not qualified to practise medicine. But I can't even be a technician, not even an assistant technician. They said I am overqualified for the low-paying jobs."Katherine didn't say a word as Wu Gang continued to pour out his disappointments. "In China, every year I was honoured as a model Soldier-in-the-White-Robe, but you thought that was propaganda. You thought Canada would offer us a better opportunity and a better life. To tell you the truth, right now I feel like a POW in this cold prison called Canada. Just take a look at me, after six months of job-hunting every day, I'm still unemployed. With both of us unemployed, how long do you think we can last financially?"

Table of Contents

Introduction vii, Under the Monkey Bars 1, Rose 15, African Lion Safari 31, A Wanton Woman 53, Water and Soil 63, Neighbours 79, The Cactus 89, The Chinese Knot 103

Editorial Reviews

Spacing MagazineIn her introduction to these eight stories about Chinese-Canadian women living in Toronto, Lien Chao calls herself a kind of urban photographer, roaming the city's physical and human geographies in search of a telling snapshot. Chao finds her inspiration in the experiences of women she's met, and through their stories of unlikely friendship, immigration aftershock, and splintered identity. These tales unfold and shift frequently in time and space, moving forward and back to detail moments of decision, crisis, and clarity. Chao tells these women's lives like hymns sung to the multicultural city, which, though not without its trials, emerges as a space of hope and acceptance in a treacherous world.Chao is at her best when unravelling images playful and poignant: a middle-aged woman hangs motionless from monkey bars; a well-loved cactus comes to stand in for an absent friend. Often her small-scale plots are enlivened with revelations of secret love, reversals of fortune, or improbable triumphs. Not all is well in the Toronto of Chao's heroines, who must stand witness to racial slurs in "Under the Monkey Bars," or intolerance for single mothers in "Neighbors." Families are ripped apart and romance is crushed by the rigours of the immigration process and the harsh job market New Canadians face. Since they never seem contrived or filled-out just for effect, these trials ring with respect for and fidelity to her real-life source material, if not in every detail, then in spirit. These are stories full of gratitude and wonder, as compelling as a good friend's tale of love lost or won.Moments of didacticism or over-exposition do sometimes intrude in Chao's prose, as though because she imagined her audience as a city ignorant of or resistant to certain Chinese customs and perspectives. When Chao allows for some ambiguity in the life lessons of stories like "Rose," "The Cactus," and "The Chinese Knot," both her characters and readers have more room to breathe.Praise for our multicultural city is common enough, but the truly hones assessment of the work Toronto has done and the work it still has to do towards being fully tolerant and welcoming don't come in self-satisfied sound bites, but instead sound together with full-blooded critiques like Chao's.---David RitterMaple Tree Literary SupplementIn "Under the Monkey Bars," the first story in Lien Chao's stunning collection of short fiction, The Chinese Knot and Other Stories, Wei Ming wonders "how to get inside" the "fenced enclosure" (1) of the children's playground at Monarch Park. Once inside, she subjects her body to a painful yet therapeutic exercise regimen, stretching her muscles, tendons, and ligaments to "work through the pain" (3) of "what the Chinese call ?fifty-year-old shoulder'" (2). Wei Ming's story is the perfect introduction to a book about the multiple kinds of stretching Chinese immigrants living in Canada must perform daily; in her collection, Chao's characters stretch physically, linguistically, culturally, and emotionally as they learn to navigate their new national milieu.Chao describes her volume as an assemblage of "inner-city snapshots [. . .] based on real-life models" (vii) she encountered in the heterogeneous cultural landscape of Toronto, Ontario. Each of the eight stories focuses on a single female character as she creates for herself a life in an in-between zone of rooting and uprooting, belonging and non-belonging. For all of these women, this zone is at once one of loss and acquisition. In both "Water and Soil" and "The Cactus," regenerative possibilities of cultural uprooting emerge, paradoxically, in instances of botanical death. Judy, the protagonist of the latter story, learns to appreciate her friend in a new light at the same time that his fifty-year-old cactus "dries up and dies" (102). Shirley, the protagonist of the former piece, feels, for the first time in her life, "completely at one with the ground under her feet" (77), even as she learns that a tree planted at the grave of her beloved former English teacher has not survived its own uprooting. Such moments underscore, certainly, the traumas of migration; yet they also remind us that what is lost in acts of cultural translation cannot be separated from what is simultaneously gained.Characters in Chao's Toronto gain new relationships as old ones break down, acquire new experiences as previous ones fade into the past, and form new habits of being while memory fights against a tide of forgetting. This dynamic exchange between multiple vectors of influence means that identities are never fixed, but are instead malleable and open to infinite permutations. After witnessing first-hand her friend's surprising culinary aptitude, Qing tells Rose, the title character of Chao's second story, "I thought we would make some exotic Italian food today to amuse you. And now I am showing off in front of an Italian chef!" (20). Even national identities are up for grabs as individuals adopt the cultural traditions of others as their own. Chao is careful, however, not to exaggerate the ease with which such adoptions take place; throughout her stories, characters encounter racism, struggle to adapt to an alien economy, and work to maintain linkages between their present selves and the lives they once lived. Of course, such battles are never fought without attendant rupturing. However, as Chao says in her introduction, such struggles define and contribute to "the tapestry of a better society, more intense in colour and complex in texture" (viii).Chao's great triumph in this collection is that her stories are at once simple and resistant to simplification, fragmentary yet never incomplete. Like the society she imagines, her collection benefits from all of its component parts, each of which enriches and enlivens the whole in unique and frequently startling ways. If The Chinese Knot and Other Stories is a book about the experiences of Chinese immigrants living in Canada, it is equally a book about those of us welcoming them. In her celebration of cultural cross-pollination, Chao reminds us of the manifold potentials to living in Canada, and encourages us all to participate in its increasing multiplicity. - Justin PfefferleBack to TopHerizonsLien Chao explores a wide variety of social conundrums - knots of connection and conflict - in her first collection, The Chinese Knot and Other Stories. At times lyrical and somewhat documentary in tone at others, the stories are intricate weavings of personal histories, politics, social relationships and cultural challenges. Chao describes her approach in the introduction to the collection as that of a "mental camera."In this short-story collection, Chao has devoted herself to the task of transforming as she transcribes: She has listened to the stories of single Chinese women who had emigrated to Toronto from mainland China, and she has subsequently created fictions that most likely mirror their lives quite closely.One of the strongest themes running through Chinese Knot is the power of friendship: how deep connections with others allow new perceptions and experiences to develop in the women's newly adopted country, Canada. In "Under the Monkey Bars," Wei Ming befriends some children at a playground while encountering racist remarks from a Chinese parent toward black and South Asian children. "Water and Soil" is a poignant tale of grief and loss, balancing feelings of regret with passionate expressions of loyalty as Shirley travels between China and Toronto and between past and present.Chao displays a wry sense of humour, creating scenarios where women decide to step outside of social norms and expectations, such as by refusing to accept a nice but insipidly boring man in "African Lion Safari," or by gleefully surrendering to lesbian love in "A Wanton Woman." The stories are full of heart for women and their immensely rich lives. - Lydia Kwa is the author of The Walking Boy (Key Porter, 2005).Back to TopNow MagazineKnot ropes you in Fiction works when it has a unique perspective, and Lien Chao's slim volume certainly has that.All these stories are told from the point of view of single Chinese-Canadian women, who make up an intriguing demographic. Many of them came to Canada in the 80s and 90s only to experience painful family conflict ? usually ending in divorce ? once they got here. In African Lion Safari, a single mother struggles with feelings of loneliness, to the point that she's close to accepting a relationship with a man who's nice but kind of dreary. In another story, a woman discovers that an old friend in China could be much more. The title tale, the strongest, is about an English teacher who keeps getting hit up by her students for false documentation so they can stay in Canada. Here Chao uncovers the fascinating culture clash between desperate immigrants and those people comfortable with their landed status. There is good energy in these stories, and they give insight into experiences that might be new to many readers. - Susan G ColeBack to TopThe Georgia StraightFind love, face loneliness, and confront death in The Chinese Knot"If you plant a melon seed, you will harvest melons; but if you plant a thorn, you may have roses, or you may have only thorns," Rose's husband chides her after years of separation.This line from the short story "Rose" evokes the acidic relations between husbands and wives during times of migration and upheaval, a recurring theme in Lien Chao's new collection The Chinese Knot.Based on real-life accounts by Chinese immigrants whom Chao has met in Canada, the stories weave together vignettes of their experience in present-day Toronto, redrawing these encounters and building characters who find love, face loneliness, confront death, and deal with racism.The protagonists are disillusioned females who have spent years struggling to adjust to a new home only to see their marriages dissolve. While Rose's husband and daughter distance themselves from her after they arrive in Canada, Katherine's husband, in "African Lion Safari", walks out on her despite years of hardship together.In "A Wanton Woman", Yi Mei and Ai Hua's disappointment with marriage becomes not only a bonding experience but the source of a romantic relationship between the two women.The final story in this collection, "The Chinese Knot", ties all of the book's themes together and is the most memorable piece of all. Its central character, a teacher and divorced single mother named Luanne Lu, faces a slew of moral dilemmas when her ESL students, out of desperation to stay in Canada, request one by one that she help them cheat the Canadian immigration system.When Mr. Zhong, her brightest pupil, asks for her hand in marriage for the sole purpose of obtaining citizenship, "Teacher Lu", as she is affectionately known, comes to an impasse in which she searches for her own reasons to be proudly Canadian and yet dutifully Chinese.Chao is already an eminent figure in Asian Canadian literary circles, particularly for editing 2003's Strike the Wok. With The Chinese Knot, she has established herself as an emerging author in her own right. - Allan ChoBack to Top carp(e) librisLife as an immigrant is filled with challenges?learning a new language, living in a different culture, being far away from home. The Chinese Knot is a series of short stories by writer Lien Chao, focusing on Chinese immigrants in Canada. Chao's own experiences as a Chinese-Canadian in Toronto is one major influence on these stories, although for the most part she based the stories on the experiences of the people within her community. The Chinese Knot offers the reader a realistic view of the Chinese immigrant, making it a great resource as either a study guide or a way to find a sympathetic voice for anyone who has ever moved their entire life to new surroundings. Heartfelt and provocative, it opens the way for discussions on multicultural issues and racial stereotypes. - DianeOut of the BlueThis collection of short stories focuses on single Chinese women living in Canada as immigrants.In Under the Monkey Bars, Wei Ming finds alone ina public payground, where she observes the racial prejudices at work between parents and children. In Rose, the main character Rose reflects on what brought her from China to Canada as an immigrant and the strained relatiosnhip with her family afterwards. In African Lion Safari, Katherine reflects on the possibility of spending a lonely life or marrying a Chinese suitor whose food tastes are from a different region. In A Wanton Woman, Yi Mei, after making an impulsive phone call to China discovers her love for "wanton woman" Ai Hua. In Water and Soil, Shirley mulls over her relationship to the Chinese and the Canadian soil. In Neighbours, Sally observes her neighbourhood in Toronto's multiracial environment. In The Cactus, Judy recounts her friendship with Mark and Pierre. In The Chinese Knot, Teacher Lu is an advisor, refuge, and even a prospective bride to her various students.The female protagonists of these stories are all single women who find themselves in Canada as strangers. They find love, overcome crises, face loneliness, and confront racial stereotypes as they grow in Canada's increasingly multiracial scenario.I rarely read collections of short stories, but I found this book appealing and interesting. The characters are taken in significant moments of their lives, in which they must resolve a problem or discover something new about themselves. Author Lien Chao explores their lives as they face prejudice, loneliness or life crises.I would recommend this book to those who want to know more about Chinese immigrants in Canada, or more in general about the condition of being an immigrant in Canada. - Alessandra