By Siu Tung
The work of Chan Pak Kin (Brandon) for the art festival is a house filled with food specimens originated from Tai Sang Wai. When he first came to Tai Sang Wai, he found that every household is making their own food. Some were making salted fish and sun-dried tangerine peel, while many villagers also were growing vegetables. A few villagers even brewed their own wine with fruits. In short, everyone has their own ways of handling foods. After he had got along with the villagers, he heard a lot more stories about foods. These food stories enlightened him that the “process of feeding” in nature is intertwined. Whereas human is connected to fish, fishes are linked to birds. He aspired to solidify network of food chains and this drove him to produce food specimens in order to tell the stories about food from the village.
At the beginning of his visit to Tai Sang Wai, he did not have a specific artwork to make for the art festival in mind. He did not want to bring his own thoughts into the village and walk away when the festival is done. Instead, he felt that the residency in the village is far more important than his creative practice. Thus, his first priority was to get to know the villagers and feel the vibe of the countryside.
He still remembers vividly that his first impression on Tai Sang Wai is the variety of foods, fishes in the ponds, all kinds of vegetables around the fishponds, bread crumbs for feeding fishes and so on. Also, various fruit trees are grown beside the fishponds, and different kinds of bird come to feed.
Since October, Brandon has been coming to the village for residency after work every Friday evening. Although he has not been staying in the village for an extended period, he has learnt some fascinating stories from the villagers through foods. For example, some kind of roadside grass can be used in both cooking and as medicine.
He also recalls that Auntie Laan, a fish farmer, makes pork soup in a unique way. Instead of putting a big chunk of pork into the soup as he does at home, Auntie Laan chops the pork finely as she has some specific thoughts about this process. On top of that, Brother Shing, the neighbour of Brandon, takes good care of him. He immediately lent Brandon a refrigerator once he learnt that Brandon did not have one. And when Brother Shing has harvested Chinese mustard (a type of vegetables), he took it to Brandon and taught him how to make them into suan cai (Chinese pickled vegetables). The preservation process adopted by Brother Shing is distinctive to what Brandon sees in the city. By observing everyone's cooking approach, the individual's uniqueness is revealed.
When night falls, every household in village is preparing dinner. Brandon can smell what each family is cooking when he strolls along the village’s main street. Although Brandon always cooks for himself, Auntie Laan will bring him soup whenever she makes one. Brother Shing also shared some of his freshly harvested Chinese mustard whenever he saw Brandon dined without vegetables. Only a week after Brandon had learnt to pickle, Brother Shing brought him suan cai. Brandon planned to stir-fry beef to go with it. Seeing such a small dish of food, Brother Shing worried that Brandon would not be full up, he immediately harvested an ear of corn from the field for him.
On one occasion, Brandon went to Auntie Laan's place to try out her home-farmed fish and kept the fishbone to make a specimen. At another time, he made red bean soup for the kaifong (neighbours) while Brother Shing also made sweet potato soup for him to try. Brandon also kept some of it to make another specimen. Because of the specimens, Brandon has learnt the stories behind these foods off by heart.
He still remembers on the first night he came to Tai Sang Wai, he was supposed to get the key of the house for his residency from Auntie Laan. Nevertheless, Auntie Laan forgot about the arrangement and was out to the town that afternoon. As a result, Brandon had no choice but to wait for Auntie Laan on the village's main street. Being a newcomer to the village that evening, Brandon's presence in the dim village street made the villagers nervous. They kept asking him what he was doing. As a matter of fact, the small community in Tai Sang Wai allows villagers to know literally everyone in the village. Whenever a stranger enters the village, villagers will inform one another. Brandon felt such simple and intimate relationship of the neighbourhood in a flash. At the same moment, he reminded himself that he had to become part of the village. So the community wouldn't be wary of him in the future.