Listen to the Squawking Chicken

Author and former Canada Reads panellist Elaine Lui wrote this memoir as a loving ode to her no-nonsense mother.

Elaine Lui

When Elaine Lui was growing up, her mother told her, "Why do you need to prepare for the good things that happen? They're good. They won't hurt you. My job is to prepare you for the hard times, and teach you how to avoid them, whenever possible." Neither traditionally Eastern nor conventionally Western, the Squawking Chicken raised her daughter drawing on Chinese fortune-telling, feng shui blackmail, good old-fashioned ghost stories, and shame and embarrassment in equal measure. And despite years of chafing against her mother's parenting style, Elaine came to recognize the hidden wisdom — and immeasurable value — in her rather unorthodox upbringing.

Listen to the Squawking Chicken lays bare the playbook of unusual advice and warnings used to teach Elaine about hard work ("Miss Hong Kong is a whore"), humility ("I should have given birth to a piece of barbecue pork"), love and friendship, family loyalty ("Where's my money?"), style and deportment ("Don't be low classy"), and finding one's own voice ("Walk like an elephant, squawk like a chicken"), among other essentials. Along the way, Elaine poignantly reveals how her mother earned the nickname "Tsiahng Gai" or "squawking chicken" growing up in Hong Kong, enduring and rising from the ashes of her own hard times.

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From the book

"You look like dried monkey flakes."

That's what my ma, the Chinese Squawking Chicken, tells me when she thinks I look like shit on television. Monkeys are skinny. A poorly moisturized monkey is not only skinny but brittle. No one wants to look like dried monkey flakes. Most people think I'm exaggerating at first when I talk about the Squawking Chicken. But once they actually do spend some time with her, they understand. They get it. Right away. She's Chinese, she squawks like a chicken, she is totally nuts, and I am totally dependent on her. If she says I look like dried monkey flakes, even if everyone else thinks I'm camera-ready, I believe that I look like dried monkey flakes.

From Listen to the Squawking Chicken by Elaine Lui ©2014. Published by Random House Canada.

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