Hakka Soul: Memories, Migrations, and Meals

Chin Woon Ping was born in Malacca, Malaysia, and received her early education there. After graduating from the University of Malaya, she pursued doctoral studies in American literature at the University of Toledo, Ohio. She has held positions at Swarthmore College, National Institute of Education (Singapore), National University of Singapore, and as a Fulbright Professor in Shanghai, Penang and Jakarta. She currently teaches English, and Women’s and Gender Studies at Dartmouth College and lives in Vermont.

A poet, playwright and performance artist and translator, Chin has presented her work at venues in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Japan and Singapore. Her poems, plays and essays have appeared in such publications as: Amerasia, Asian American Literature, Literature, (Post) Colonial Stages, Modern Drama, On a Bed of Rice, Solidarity, Poetry Australia, Westerly, Stand, The Painted Bride Quarterly, Singapore Book World, The City and You, Commonwealth Literature, Poetry Australia, A Sense of Exile, and The Comparative Perspective on Literature. She has edited a book on Singapore women’s plays, and has published two books of poetry— The Naturalization of Camellia Song and In My Mother’s DreamThe Naturalization of Camellia Song includes a play Details Cannot Body Wants, which was the first Singapore play to receive a Restricted (R) rating. She has translated Indonesian poetry, Malaysian aboriginal myths and the poetry of Li Bai.

Her family memoir, Hakka Soul: Memories, Migrations, and Meals was published by the National University of Singapore Press in 2008. The term Hakka, which literally means “guest people” or “strangers”, is the name of a Chinese ethnic group whose ancestors are believed to have originated in north central China. There is a Hakka saying, “有阳光的地方就有华人,有华人的地方就有客家人”, which literally means “Wherever there is sunshine, there are Chinese; wherever there are Chinese, there are Hakka.” Estimated to number in the tens of millions today, Hakka now reside mainly in Southeast China, Taiwan, and regions of Southeast Asia, but the Hakka diaspora extends to virtually every continent in the world, including United States.

In Hakka Soul, Chin recounts the life of her family, beginning with the death of her grandmother in pre-independence Malaya, then the stories of her parents, second aunt Chit Yee, eldest aunt Tai Yee and other family members as well as others who were connected with the family like Ah Kew Bak and Ah Moi. Her stories follow the family’s move to the United States and a journey to China to visit her father’s ancestral home.

Chin used a narrative style that, drawing upon extensive research, experience, and oral interviews, places the readers in the middle of unfolding events. Each chapter features recipes of familiar home-cooked Hakka cuisine such as Stuffed Tofu, Sour Pig’s Feet, Braised Pork and Chicken in Wine.

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