Uncle Willie

Afternoon tea 
at the Oriental Fruit Company 
requires a wedge of pineapple cheese 
and Uncle Willie is always the first 
to dash down Jackson Street to procure it. 
Any excuse to get out of the shop. 
Dinners are different if one works 
in a fruit shop; our fingers 
know the stories of rotten apples and cabbages. 
Only the freshest vegetables for Willie – 
he’ll kick up a fuss if offered leftovers. 
The key to keeping him happy is to throw 
a shiny fried egg in front of him; you’d think 
he was just given a solid gold nugget. 
While he’s distracted, 
lovingly tending to his egg, 
we’ll sneak off to the upstairs bathroom 
and find his lusty magazines, 
finger the pages painted with bikinis 
and listen carefully to the give-away crack 
of Willie on wooden floorboards. 
He teases us, tells us he uses shoe polish 
to keep his hair jet black. We’re pretty sure 
he’s having us on, but then how is it possible 
to have hair darker than the pit of night? 
It’s uncanny how his hair does match 
our polished shoes. 

Raw Ingredients


My father’s father made his living in dried spring onion and ginger, two overlooked ingredients in Chinese cuisine; often they are the key. The Chinese believe that certain foods (including some vegetables) cool the body, which can cause headaches. Ginger softens such vegetables, makes them smooth on the tongue, and counteracts the cooling effect.

The juicy spice of spring onion fosters intelligence, because in Chinese they share a common character: chung/chung ming. Once on the way to an important exam, my best friend and I sucked on stalks of spring onion, laughing at the edge we would have over everyone else.

Fish is said to have the same effect on brainpower, which is probably why as kids we were force-fed steamed flounder in blankets of julienne spring onion. Our parents’ hopes for a lawyer or doctor in the family rested in one common vegetable.


My parents owned a restaurant for several years, the first in Lower Hutt to serve authentic Chinese. While my mother was pregnant with me she continued to work the dinner shifts and late nights, keeping me up in her belly. I was there at the end of each night to settle the last bill, lock the doors, and share supper with the staff. I think this has affected my ability to sleep before midnight.


We were eating out at another Chinese restaurant (the one that got shut down for poor hygiene) and my brother’s nose began to bleed. Bloody noses are as common as missing socks in my family, so we slipped into the usual routine without drama: tip his head back, pinch the bridge, wrap wet tissue around his ears. Then a large woman burst from the kitchen, a bunch of dusty cabbage leaves in her fist. She pushed us all aside and began stuffing leaves up my brother’s nostrils. This will help, she said. The entire restaurant stopped to watch this performance; I’m sure a flash went off somewhere to my right.


Close my eyes and pretend: 
this is all just preparation 
for the real thing, 
an interactive sneak preview. 
Barely a white face among the crowds 
or any trace of bearable English: signs 
that suggest we Take For A Lucky Today
another store offering Cheap 4 U souvenirs, 
but once inside I can’t find anything 
that screams Canadian or even Chinese: 
purple leather stress balls? 
Red and white pyramids? I brace myself 
for a little basket 
of plastic tikis on the counter.
At the specialist tea store 
the saleswoman forces 
samples of tea-flavoured mooncakes 
into my hands, promising me 
a generous discount 
for three or more boxes. She is small 
and full of voice. I can see 
the commission 
behind her determined eyes. 
While I half-listen to her offer 
the World’s Ugliest Moose 
stares at me from across the road. 
Outside, a man slaps his palms 
on a sack of glutinous rice, then crooks 
his body down to meet it. 
He inhales. The beating 
brings out the fragrance. He sighs. 
An impossibly large smile blooms 
on his face. 


Chris Tse is a Wellington poet and filmmaker. He was a member of the 2005 MA in Creative Writing class. In his spare time he is second generation NZ-Chinese.