I saw the "From Shore to Shore" play production last night in the Spurriergate Centre at York. Written by award-winning writer Mary Cooper with multi-lingual collaborator MW Sun and directed by acclaimed director David Tse, the play, to food and live music, tells "real life stories of love and loss, struggle and survival" of Chinese migrants to the UK...and, as I found out, also of my own.
It's been many years since I'd thought about my own journey story - how I got to where I am standing right now; where I call home today; the valleys of tears, the folds of laughter, the adventures that forged me into who I am today. Those long spaces of absent thought was not from the lack of willingness for reflection: there was no shortage of that, especially on that long flight that took one away from home for the first time - and now I know there are others like me, who cried for hours on the plane. No, it was for something more prosaic, more practical: a rest. A break. Over 15 years I have lived in 6 cities across Europe and Asia and travelled to (at last count) 35 countries. By the time I could catch my breath, I no longer wanted to look back; I just wanted to put my feet up for a while and - surely the clearest sign of my assimilation - have a cup of tea.
I first got rattled out of that rest a few weeks ago when, due to the convergence of numerous serendipitous connections (the starting point of which involves this very Yarn website - but that's for another day), I ended up at a creative writing workshop on 6 May 2017 at the University of Leeds, held by the "From Shore to Shore" maestros, Mary Cooper and MW Sun.
A part of the "From Shore to Shore" play production, the workshop was titled "Between Here and There", with its main mission the facilitation of participants' creative expression - through reflection, remembering, poetry and prose - of a significant journey they had made in their lives.
Productivity flourished under the expert and patient tutelage of Mary and Mimi, and I left the workshop that day clutching a handful of lined foolscap paper, scribbled with long-forgotten thoughts of my first journey to the UK, at that time no more than a media mirage cobbled out of 'Allo 'Allo, BBC World, the British Council, Jane Austen and, most of all, Enid Blyton books; and today now the country in which I live, work and vote; in which I still shiver and marvel at how damp it can be; in which I take in films, plays, music and art; in which tractors and heather and moors are real.
About a month later, I finally caught the performance of the play itself when it came to York, held in the Spurriergate Centre, for that night transformed into a restaurant-and-performance space. To weave food into the performance was a singularly authentic touch, for food is utterly integral to the Chinese: in our culture, in our history, in our identity. Just as food was integral to the stories told in the play: in not having any at times of war; in takeaway businesses set up in a foreign land; in a happy family reconciliation at the end, taking place over dinner.
The cooking area of the Spurriergate Centre, housed in the old church premises of St Michael's Church, became a Chinese kitchen, serving up familiar dishes of sweet and sour pork; iceberg lettuce in oyster sauce; kungpo chicken and scrambled egg with Chinese chives. In Chinese family style, the dishes were set in a communal fashion in the middle of the table, out of which everyone helped themselves, and over which we talked, seated randomly as we were. We were strangers at first, but now, having journeyed together with the characters, travel comrades at the same table. I learnt about my dining companions' own journeys: memories back to her childhood of her old Chinese neighbour whom she always regarded as an aunt; her travel to Romania and her half-Chinese, half-Romanian god-daughter; her own journeys from Romania back to the UK.
The ticket to the play became a ticket for me that night to a deep catharsis borne from mirrored experiences of pain, regret, guilt and hardship, but also growth, maturity, survival and a finding of oneself that could only be forged through life, fire, healed hearts and broken bones. Hearing how there were others who cried like I did on that plane so many years ago, I am not ashamed to say that when the play ended my own tears rolled again.