Lily Chan, Take Me Away, Please, p. 64.
Lily Chan recounts her experiences growing up in her family’s take-away Chinese store, which she suggests was, in the 1980s, becoming a typical feature of Australian towns. The title becomes a pun on her family’s business and captures Lily’s attitude. She longs to escape the monotony of her school, work and family routine.
Lily lived in Mareeba from 1983 until the late 1990s and worked in her father’s store, Peter Chan’s Chinese Take Away. The shop was not large, but was “nestled between” a chiropractor’s shop and a video store. She describes how her working life began at 4.00 pm when she returned from school and becomes the “front of house”.
(Setting as metaphor): Lily describes the lack of separation between their family and their working life in the restaurant, which is reflected metaphorically in her description of their restaurant and home. Lily’s bedroom doubles as a storage room, which is a metaphoric reflection of her lifestyle. Likewise the shop’s restroom was also the family’s bathroom. (65)
The parents “meticulously” chop the vegetables which shows the effort and pride they invest in the family business.
Lily and her sister grew up quickly learning business skills and learning to adapt to the family’s business. She learns mathematical skills from balancing the cash float in the restaurant, for any errors would earn her a “stern word from Mum”.
Lily describes the positive effect of working life on her attitude, in the sense that she was determined to study “diligently” in order to “get out of this town”. She watched the more “palatable” shows such as Get Smart and The Goodies and the theme song to the cooking show was “ingrained” in her memory (65), so accustomed had she become to watching it.
The restaurant’s clientele also metaphorically captures Lily’s state of mind. Lily describes the typical Body Building Man who is their “bread and butter customer” who orders the same dish at the same time each week. Other customers were “indecisive” and some more “adventurous”. However, the monotonous regularity of the Body Builder captures the boredom of Lily’s life in the restaurant. She ends her story with the phone call from the Body Builder to give an impression that little happens and little changes in Mareeba.
Throughout the story, Lily Chan describes her loneliness as an Asian citizen in Mareeba. Their only friends are the Laus, who are also their competitors. They own the only other Chinese store in this “prejudiced” town, with whom they socialise when time permits.
Lily’s family celebrates their Chinese heritage with special culinary delights such as the “century egg congee” and “you zho gwei”, which are Chinese “savoury doughy sticks”. The family’s favourite pastime was to gossip about other Chinese families in the Cairns region.
(New words: meticulous (careful about small details); diligent (to work hard); monotonous (boring); indecisive; fortuitous; palatable (agreeable to the palate; agreeable to the mind or feelings; savoury); quintessential; resided;)
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