Minority Vibration

by Sheung-King, Aaron Tang

Sheung-King, Aaron Tang’s debut novel, You Are Eating an Orange. You Are Naked, is shortlisted for the 2021 Governors General Award, a finalist for the 2021 Amazon Canada First Novel Award, longlisted for CBC’s Canada Reads 2021 and named one of the best book debuts of 2020 by the Globe and Mail. Born in Vancouver, Sheung-King grew up in Hong Kong. His work examines “the interior lives of the transnational Asian diaspora” (Thea Lim, The Nation). Sheung-King taught creative writing at the University of Guelph and is now the creative writing coach at Avenues: The World School, Shenzhen. His next novel is entitled BATSHIT SEVEN.

“Are atoms matter?” my co-teacher asks. I put up my hand when she instructs all of those who think that atoms are matter too, and to my answer, a student—also a Chinese-Canadian in China (he’s from Vancouver as well), tells me that I’m stupid and asks if I even went to university, to which some of the other students chuckle. Moments before, I read through Christine Tran’s prose poem, knives chau walks away from omelas. “Minority Vibration,” these two words from Tran’s poem, should be the title of this opening essay.   

At the time of this writing, I have been here, in China, in Shenzhen, for four months and out of quarantine for three. At the time of this writing, my apartment is too big, has too many rooms and is a little too expensive. At the time of this writing, I have almost nothing in my kitchen; I either eat out or order takeout. At the time of this writing, I am coming down with a cold. At the time of this writing, it is 2021 and Huawei’s CFO, Meng Wanzhou, had returned to China and landed in Shenzhen from Vancouver. At the time of her arrival, Meng Wanzhou’s name and slogans welcoming her are projected on all the skyscrapers in Futian, in red. At the time of this writing, Justin Trudeau has just been re-elected.

“You came too late.” The real estate agent told me that there are very few apartments available in the area, and I believed her, and now, in my apartment, I live alone and across from where I live is a co-worker who works in another division, a mother whose son also attends the school I teach at and she greeted me in the elevator one morning, telling me that she recognizes me though I had on a mask because I have curly hair (hair, like gums & blades, have teeth too. —Christine Tran, knives chau walks away from omelas) and, at that time, I was running late, but she was as well, and so was her son yet she was smiling and her son had a yellow toy car with him, and on this elevator, my leg was a highway for which the car sped through before transforming into a Transformer as it approached my crotch.   

Transformers are everywhere:  

 

1. In the poem in the video inside Maari Sugawara’s virtual house (her house has no rooms) in her VR piece, SUCK MY HOUSE, the narrator, a recent immigrant to Canada, sees a Transformer in her memories of Japan. 

2. A student of mine asked me the day before the day I started writing this, before I learned that an atom is the smallest unit of matter and is, therefore, matter, as well as a unit used to measure matter, if I thought a certain male anime character with silver hair, a giant sword, and a cape was attractive, and I said yes, and another student said, to my response to the other student, that she finds Transformers attractive; this, at that time, made me think of, though I had to repress this thought: a French movie that came out recently—I cannot recall the name of the director but I remember she made a movie about two siblings, sisters, who are cannibals but the younger one has yet to learn about her own cannibalistic tendencies and in a scene, this younger sister, who accidentally cuts off her sister’s finger, smells the finger, she starts to lick it, and eventually, eats it. The older sister watches. This director’s latest movie is called Titane (2021)—I looked it up. It’s about people who are sexually attracted to cars, judging from the trailer. I tried finding it online but can’t. Her name is Julia Ducournau, the director. I think I like her movies. 

It is sometimes hard to find certain movies here. I’ve seen Dune (2021), which is not so much about sand but colonialism, but I still haven’t seen Shang-Chi (2021), which is, I suppose, about a second-generation Chinese-American played by a Chinese-Canadian who used to play a Korean-Canadian on a Canadian TV show that, now that the show is cancelled, we learn had more than a few problems. Shang-Chi is also about Orientalism and banned in China because Shang-Chi’s father in the comics is not Tony Leung but Fu Manchu.  

I don’t like superhero films too much. I don’t play video games either, but at the end of Tran’s poem, she asks us, “Have you overwritten this Saved Game yet?” This line corresponds to Felix Wong’s story, Throwing Bricks, which is about a Hong Kongese Canadian and his relatives in Thailand during the 2010 elections after the mass protests in Hong Kong. Our narrator in Throwing Bricks, who lives in Canada, struggles to understand contemporary Hong Kong politics. His Hong Kongese-ness is tucked away in time: his Hong Kongnese-ness situates itself in memory, to when he was a teenager, a moment when his Hong Kongnese-ness was already slipping away. He and the same relatives are playing video games, and a pro-Taiwan gamer, who is white, is dissing the Mainland Chinese in a Taiwanese accent, and the relatives of our narrator are laughing. They continue to laugh but our narrator doesn’t seem to understand what was so funny about what this white man is saying. Back then, he was young and back then, because it was the early 2000s, the situation is much less serious compared to now. Now, things have become much too serious. Some of us, who have been away from Hong Kong, started seeing people we know throwing bricks at the cops, but then they stopped throwing bricks at the cops because they had to stop and because of COVID-19 and because “The Big City was nothing at all like he’d been promised. Instead, it was a hoax, a money-suck, a dirty black hole” (Jacquelyn Zong-Li Ross, Elementary Brioche). The Big City is a compartmentalized world, as is Shenzhen and Hong Kong and Shanghai and Tokyo and Toronto and Vancouver, and where Tian Fang has gone. We are assigned roles, put into categories, and this is the reason why Sugawara’s house, which exists only in virtual reality, has no rooms and why Ross’s character, Tian Fang, though he does not know how to cut hair, works at a hair salon in the Big City. Hair, like gums & blades, have teeth too. 

But before we can learn about the lucky things that happen in the Big City, one must first make their way to the Big City, survive the trip to the Big City, and tell the story of the lucky things that happen in the Big City that is, if such things happen.

But “Lucky things do sometimes happen in the Big City (or what would be the point of living in the Big City?)” (Jacquelyn Zong-Li Ross, Elementary Brioche). But before we can learn about the lucky things that happen in the Big City, one must first make their way to the Big City, survive the trip to the Big City, and tell the story of the lucky things that happen in the Big City that is, if such things happen. There is more: “The narrator herself, by necessity of the medium, must understand the unfolding events not as some living, active process, but rather as teleology” (Zahid Daudjee, An Aversion to Heights).  

The narrator is outside of time. The narrator is dead. In CAM Collective’s VR piece, Migrants at Bay, the stories are the objects left behind on a beach. No narrator is part of the stories. I grew up in Hong Kong and spent nine years there, but I did not learn much in my Chinese class—which was taught in Cantonese—because I never listened carefully. Two months ago, I started interpreting for a Chinese literature class—which is taught in Mandarin—for some of the students who are learning Chinese. Have you overwritten this Saved Game yet? I do not know if I am doing a good job. My other co-teacher, the one who teaches Chinese, not the one who teaches science, asks students to take a marker and start striking out sentences they think are less important in a short story by Xiao Hong. Maybe what is left behind is something that can help you better understand the story. Repeat the process until only a few lines are left:  

1. A pink foam clog, found buried in the sand.  

—(CAM Collective, Migrants at Bay)

2. Not the night of a salaryman, gazing across the street over his burger in a yellowed New York diner, and not the night of Shanghai, punctuated by the whispers of rich men trading their souls for worldly pleasures—but a night of the spirit, a slowly extending shadow under which one’s humanity dims commensurate with the setting sun until it is blackened like the soot of a long-dead fire. 

—(Zahid Daudjee, An Aversion to Heights

3. Japan is sitting on my chest straight with its legs folded underneath.  

—(Maari Sugawara, SUCK MY HOUSE)  

4. Tian Fang reads magazines for two hours and checks Weibo for three.

—(Jacquelyn Zong-Li Ross, Elementary Brioche)   

5. Too happy to experience hardship.

—(Zahid Daudjee, An Aversion to Heights)

6. Nearly full pill bottle of over-the-counter anti-nausea medication.  

—(CAM Collective, Migrants at Bay

7. Night is night because it represents the antithesis of human civilization—it is the systematic deconstruction of every safeguard which we have placed before us to prevent loneliness…

—(Zahid Daudjee, An Aversion to Heights

8. A notebook with a note scribbled on the first page. 

—(CAM Collective, Migrants at Bay

9. Brown teddy bear, most likely belonging to a child. Exhibits new inseam stitches. 

—(CAM Collective, Migrants at Bay

10. My life takes place at night. 

—(Zahid Daudjee, An Aversion to Heights

11. The sum of their every action will ultimately culminate in some resolution (or perhaps, if the author is so inclined, irresolution) 

—(Zahid Daudjee, An Aversion to Heights). 

12. I wake up in agony.

—(Maari Sugawara, SUCK MY HOUSE)

 


Sheung-King, Aaron Tang’s debut novel, You Are Eating an Orange. You Are Naked, is shortlisted for the 2021 Governors General Award, a finalist for the 2021 Amazon Canada First Novel Award, longlisted for CBC’s Canada Reads 2021 and named one of the best book debuts of 2020 by the Globe and Mail. Born in Vancouver, Sheung-King grew up in Hong Kong. His work examines “the interior lives of the transnational Asian diaspora” (Thea Lim, The Nation). Sheung-King taught creative writing at the University of Guelph and is now the creative writing coach at Avenues: The World School, Shenzhen. His next novel is entitled BATSHIT SEVEN.

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