trace

By Ho Ka Kei (Jeff Ho)

trace
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"I support you when you need, so that you support me when I need. "

An elegant and sweeping story of a Chinese family’s history, trace follows the footsteps of four generations as their homes and identities are challenged. Jeff Ho brings life to his great grandmother, grandmother, ... Read more


Overview

"I support you when you need, so that you support me when I need. "

An elegant and sweeping story of a Chinese family’s history, trace follows the footsteps of four generations as their homes and identities are challenged. Jeff Ho brings life to his great grandmother, grandmother, and mother through considerate storytelling as they recount their pasts, leading to a paralleled present.

Great Grandmother fled the Japanese during World War II by escaping China into Hong Kong, a traumatic event that’s rippled down the family line. Grandmother married into the family after a childhood of poverty that will always stay with her. Mother decided to leave Hong Kong for Canada with her two sons, pursuing more opportunities, though dissatisfied with her son’s desire to focus on the piano rather than math. Though pain is a constant, there are plenty of wisecracks, games of mah jong, and familiar family anecdotes swirling through Ho’s genealogical journey of survival.

Ho Ka Kei (Jeff Ho)

Ho Ka Kei / Jeff Ho is a Toronto-based theatre artist, originally from Hong Kong. His works include Iphigenia and the Furies (On Taurian Land), Antigone:, and trace. He has held residencies with the Stratford Festival, Tarragon Theatre, Nightswimming, Cahoots, the Banff Playwrights Lab, and Factory Theatre. Jeff has received a Toronto Theatre Critics' Award for Best New Canadian Play, the Jon Kaplan Legacy Fund Award for Young Canadian Playwright, and has been the recipient of a Harold Award. He has also been nominated four times for the Dora Mavor Moore Award—both as a performer and as a playwright. He is a graduate of the National Theatre School.

Excerpt

We are now in South Horizons in Ap Lei Chau, Hong Kong, 1996. Ma and Ka Kei are at a Hong Kong public market.

Ma takes Ka Kei into the bustling, hot, and incredibly smelly market. The piano acts as a stall.

Ma
Aiii ya! Lady, first come first serve!
This my carrot, I grab this carrot first.
Do not make me fight you!

Beat.

Ka Kei, hold the carrots,
Watch my back.

Beat.

Chicken Man—​wai! [hey!]
Bai aw leung bong mm goi!
[Any chicken wings left? Two pounds, please!]
Fifteen dollars?!
You crazy.
You sell chicken thigh for ten dollar,
Chicken breast for eight dollar,
Chicken bone for five dollar.
These are just the wings, why fifteen?
How about ten dollar?
Tsup mm mun? Lai deen ga?
[Fifteen dollars? Are you crazy?]
Tsup mun duh mm duh ah? Gun hai dut la. Tsup mun!
[Ten dollars. That is fair? Ten dollars. ]
Deal. Ten dollar.
Ka Kei, hold the chicken wings—​

Ma turns around and notices that KaKei has disappeared. Ma begins to panic.

Ka Kei .  .  .  ?
Where are you?

Beat.

Son?!
Tzai tzai?
Lai heung been ah?
[Where are you?]
Mm how hat ah mah la!
[Don’t scare your ma!]
Chicken Man, Lai Yaw, mow keen dow aw gaw tzai ah?
[Did you see my son?]
Qui how tzai ga tza, tsing hai gum gow.
[He’s really small, only this short. ]

Beat.

Oh my god. Ka Kei!!!
Son! Where are you?

Ma sees Horizon Plaza Piano Studio and hears Ka Kei playing.

 .  .  . Horizon Plaza Piano Studio?

Ma runs into the studio.

Ka Kei! Why you want kill me?
You nearly give me heart attack.
Why you scare me so much?
Why you run away?

Ka Kei
/I wanted to come in here!
I really want to play the piano,
Ma, please please please .  .  . /

Ma
We don’t have time now.
We have to take chicken home!

Ka Kei
/I really, really want to play!
Please, please, please!/

Ma
(speaking simultaneously
overtop of the piano)
You already have math tutor,
When will you have time for piano?
Piano will be a distraction for you,
You have to focus on school!
Do you even know how 
Expensive piano is?
I will have to buy you a piano,
Pay for piano exams,
Piano tuner,
Piano books,
Piano benches,
Piano competitions.

Okay, okay, shhhh, fine.
 .  .  . Piano Lady.
How much for piano lesson?
Fifty dollars an hour?
No,
He is just a child,
This will be hobby
For him.
Piano is good hobby,
But just a hobby.
So .  .  . thirty an hour, that is fair.
Thirty. No more no less.

Beat.

Deal, we start next week.

Ma walks up to Ka Kei. She stands over him and caresses his head.

Ka Kei .  .  .
Piano will teach you hard work,
Will look good for when you apply to university.
Oh! And will look good on your resumé,
Oh! And for when you become CEO of HSBC.
Oh! And then you get to beat all the neighbours’ children
At piano competitions.

Beat.

So Ma
Will let you learn the piano.
You must always remember.
School come first.
So
You promise me—​
You will be the best piano-​playing CEO in Hong Kong,
You will practise every day.
And
You will always do as Ma says.
Okay?
Good.
And also,
Promise you will learn beautiful love songs for Ma.
Your pa will be so happy to know you start piano!

Reviews

“With immigration issues continuing to divide countries around the world, trace is a timely, insightful and well-told tale that humanizes one family’s experience. ”

“Ho’s Chinese-Canadian immigration saga will resonate with anyone whose family has been forced to relocate, conveying universal themes of hardship, escape and hope distilled through the anxiety of defying great expectations to chart one’s own course. ” 

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