New Territories – Jennifer Lee Tsai

When I first got off the plane, the heat hit me, tropical, alien. Everyone here is Chinese, I’m no different for once. The anonymity subdues me. This is where my past begins. At 7am, I meet my uncle for steamed bamboo baskets of dim sum and oolong tea. He is tall, fair-skinned, his features more Eurasian, almost like a gweilo, people say. From my aunt’s apartment windows, tendrils of mist rise from Tai Mo Shan mountain, mammoth dragonflies hover, translucent-winged, their presence signalling the imminent fall of rain. I look for traces of my grandmother. A woman I meet, from the same village as her, mourns for the three children she left behind, laments the tyrant husband, the cruelty of the mother-in law. She remembers my mother as a child. By day, I read the Tao Te Ching. I want to understand something about the nature of emptiness, return to the idea of nothingness, start again somehow. The character for Tao contains a head and a walking foot which means the way, the path or the road. In the Chi Lin nunnery on Diamond Hill, there are lotus ponds, bonsai tea plants, purple and orange bougainvillea. Behind intricate screens, nuns offer fruit and rice to Buddha. High-rise apartments tower in the background.

Jennifer Lee Tsai
‘New Territories’ was previously published in Ten: Poets of the New Generation (Bloodaxe, 2017)