A Bird Does Not Sing Because It Has An Answer, It Sings Because It Has A Song

By | 15 February 2023
(after the Chinese Proverb)
My grandfather I called him Agung came here on a boat that was crowded and smelly I was born here with a certificate he had enough money to start a business from working as a chef in Hong Kong where people liked his cooking when he came to Australia he lived in a share house with another Chinese family they had to go to the toilet outside in the dead of winter while their neighbours watched them from picket fences my grandfather cooked in restaurants where people didn’t like his food and I slept in the kitchen while he looked after me because my mum was at work he made oyster sauce and ginger vegetables and fried fish and crunchy roast pork and cooked until his fingers were bleeding and burnt he saved up enough money to go back to Hong Kong before his mother died and her ashes were scattered across a mountain but I was too young to remember so I just closed my eyes while he sang a song that I didn’t know the words to


When Agung came here he memorised Advance Australia Fair and forgot the old songs he became a citizen and they renamed him Phillip like the Prince because his Chinese name was too foreign sounding when he answered the phone he taught my mum and her sister and her brother how to drive around Adelaide in a Holden Commodore that he bought for five hundred dollars from the newspaper when he had learned to drive the instructor initially refused because he didn’t think Chinese people were educated enough to drive so my grandfather had to take the bus to his various jobs until his feet bled through his leather shoes and then he would wake up and do it again until they granted him a licence because they needed more taxi drivers I was born here and he was the first person I saw he called me Fa like the flowers that bloomed in his garden


He liked looking out the window and hearing the cockatoos sing and tried to copy them but his whistles got lost in the afternoon breeze in Hong Kong the seagulls squawked at sailors in Causeway Bay his father had taken him on a boat once and a seagull stole his wristwatch so he hated them there were heaps in Adelaide and when he would buy me a Paddlepop at Glenelg beach he would make sure that they wouldn’t swarm our umbrella and he threw rice around his garden so that they wouldn’t peck at his watercress he loved me even though I couldn’t speak Cantonese and he always said that I was his Fa and bought me a yellow bird in a shoebox at the pet shop in the Central Market when it flew away I cried for days and he told me that it would be okay and said that it would one day come back to me if I prayed enough


He bowed all the time and made sure that his knees sunk into the ground when he begged his ancestors for our family to be safe and strong when he got Parkinson’s he was afraid that he would die and leave us in this place alone he went to the hospital and they spoke to him in English about life insurance and funeral plans and he just wanted to go home so he did and he was placed in Tung Wah which looked out at the bay and it was hot and he sweat in his bed until they changed his linen and missed the sweet flowers outside his window we prayed from him and brought persimmon and honey dew melon to an altar at the temple in Adelaide with the giant Buddha statue my grandfather fell on her knees and asked for her to be taken instead because she couldn’t bear to be here with the Gweilo’s who looked at her funny when she asked for bread at Coles we flew to him and Agung looked at me and he pursed his lips together and tried to whistle like the cockatoos but he didn’t have enough lung capacity so we just sat together until he shut his eyes we scattered his ashes because there was no room for his body at the cemetery and I walked barefoot on the overgrown grass and prayed that that he would be safe we gave him offerings like smoked duck and Baijiu to go forth safely I took a shot and it burnt my throat


In Australia and we sold the house because my grandmother no longer wanted to live with the ghosts of fifty years and we packed his clothes away so that they didn’t haunt her before we left I heard the cockatoos singing their afternoon hymn and a yellow bird was sitting with them on the powerline.


A bird does not sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.

This entry was posted in 108: DEDICATION and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Related work:

  • No Related Posts Found

Comments are closed.