Sit, Eat and Chew 五味杂陈 (MAP 2017)

The Treasure of our Chinatown: Wu Wei Za Chen五味杂陈

photo by Silvia Barbero



Has this ever happened to you? There you are, in a family gathering, and suddenly someone reveals a story that stops the conversation? Suddenly everyone wants to hear what really happen to that cousin years ago…

Sit, Eat and Chew 五味杂陈 offers dance performances about those kinds of conversation-stopping stories that were never intended to be public.

My story: I lived in Chinatown for ten years before I was priced out of the neighborhood. For me, Chinatown was, is, and will always be a mystical place.  Years ago, when renovating my apartment, I found an urn of ashes, possible bullet holes, and hand painted wallpaper hidden behind layers of sheetrock. Across from my apartment, an ancient older man kept watch on a hallway lined with envelopes, and he would never tell me how all this mail came to be there.

These kinds of unspoken narratives led me to create this project. Even though I am Chinese, and speak both Cantonese and Mandarin, Chinatown residents don’t share private stories easily. To begin the work, I ran story-sharing workshops at several Chinatown Senior and Youth Centers, and also found other funny, outrageous, adventurous, and traumatic stories from talking to local residents, going through Chinatown archives, and eavesdropping on conversations in tea houses and local bakeries.

There is a Chinese proverb – Wu Wei Za Chen 五味杂陈 – that uses the five tastes of cooking (sour, sweet, bitter, spicy and salty) to describe the complex emotions  in life’s up’s and down’s. In Sit, Eat and Chew, this proverb connects to personal stories that have become the creative, and emotional inspiration for dance theater performances in local locations. Small groups are guided in their explorations of the works as they’re performed in in five public and private locations throughout in Chinatown.


Mei-Yin Ng / MEI-BE WHATever