“Wo yao zi ji wei”, ，I indignantly demand with the grammar and syntactical error of a child eating breakfast five thousand miles away from her homeland. In the glory of my pre-school years of building Lego towers and drinking diluted Milo before afternoon naptime, I’ve had enough of Apo, and Agong’s,“Open Sesame” and “Here Comes the Choo-Choo Train”, which are unfailingly accompanied by the wave of mai pian ,on a spoon. I insist on feeding myself the watery mix of rolled oats that have been brought to the boil with powdered milk and abundant teaspoons of sugar. My tummy is bursting at the final dregs that sit at the bottom of my bowl. “Aya, Agong bemoans:
If you don’t finish the porridge, an eagle is going to swoop down and peck your eyes out.
This threat holds an extra eye-watering sting as Jiejie, had been swooped by a magpie while running around Enmore Park the previous year. In fact, the rest of my years growing up in Agong and Apo’s home are filled with an array of consumption-related superstitions that border on threats.
If you eat watermelon seeds, a watermelon will begin to grow out the top of your head.
If there are uneaten grains of rice leftover in your bowl, that’s how many pimples will appear on your face.
There were the days where it just was not possible for me to down another spoonful of rou gu tou tang,. “You don’t understand how lucky you are, nunu,, Agong would reminisce. “When your mum was your age, we couldn’t get anything to eat. For years, we would get ration tickets for every food group– vegetables, rice, meat, you name it. One family was allowed ten eggs per month. If you had a big family, you were screwed. It was even worse for country folk, many of whom starved”.
ZhangQi, was born on the 6th of July, 1960. Raised in a one-bedroom apartment where the toilet and shower were four flights of stairs in a corridor below– it was a childhood of chamber pots and Chairman Mao. Her misfortune was growing up with a constant hunger that fuelled her large appetite. By the time the famine eased, Agong had travelled to nearby villages to purchase a chicken or two that had fine egg-laying capabilities. It was illegal to raise your own poultry without local government authorisation. But everyone did it anyway, and ten eggs a month turned into an egg a day. Qiqi, was a hungry child, so Agong and Apo would make sure that she gulped down that daily egg with her rice while they went without.
When the restaurants finally had the produce to whip up those Shanghainese classics that had been missing for half a decade, Agong and Apo chuckled when Xiao Qiqi, lifted the plate of braised hong shao rou, right up to her face and licked the soy sauce, star anise and rice wine mixture clean.
Today, Agong’s dementia-addled stories continue in the same way, except now he cannot recall if Qiqi was five or ten-years-old when that plate was licked clean.
In recent years my sister and I have left childhood behind, and now when Agong, Apo, Mama, Jiejie, and I dine at whichever Shanghainese eatery tickles our fancy that night, we are no longer forced to clear our plates. Mum has become a Tetris-takeaway aficionado and packs all the leftovers into two equal and separate plastic boxes. As we part ways and head to our respective cars, Agong, Apo, and Mum force those boxes into our hands. “In case you get hungry”, they say.
 我要自己喂 |Wo yao zi ji wei | Grammatically incorrect Mandarin for “I want to feed myself”
 阿公 Apo | Hakka for “Grandmother on your mother’s side”
 阿婆 Agong | Hakka for “Grandfather on your mother’s side”
 麦片 Mai pian | Mandarin for “Rolled oats cooked in milk/water”
 啊呀 Aya | Common Chinese phrase to signal disappointment, frustration, anger, sadness, or pain
 姐姐 Jiejie | Mandarin for “Older sister”
 肉骨头汤 Rou gu tou tang | Mandarin for “Bone broth soup”, usually made with pork or beef bones.
 囡囡 Nunu | Shanghainese for “Little Darling” or “Sweetie”.
 张奇 ZhangQi | My mother’s name
 奇奇 Qiqi | My mother’s nickname
 小奇奇 Xiao Qiqi | As above
 红烧肉 Hong shao rou | Mandarin for “Red braised meat”, usually a pork dish that’s very popular in Shanghai.
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