Judy Fong Bates is a talented writer-someone who was born in China but moved to Canada as a young child.
Her keen eyes expertly capture the immigrant experience in the collection of short stories: China Dog and other Stories from a Chinese Laundry. Bates has done a brilliant job here in describing the closeted lives of the Chinese communities living in and around Ontario. Her short stories tackle ground that will seem familiar to many immigrants. Marriage outside the community to a lo fon (non-Chinese Canadian), aging elders and their place in an increasingly rushed life, the relevance of superstitions in modern-day life-these are but some of the issues addressed in Bates' collection.
In "The Lucky Wedding", the protagonist, Sandra, has to break the news of her wedding to a lo fon, to her family. Sandra can do nothing right it seems. She has chosen Victor, whose "livelihood was suspiciously unreliable. He was an artist, a painter, someone who worked with his hands, like a laborer." In addition, Sandra makes out reception invitations on cards with just one bird on the front-a definite ill omen for the Chinese. The fine line that Sandra has to tread between the Chinese and mainstream Canadian worlds is done very well here.
The immigrants lead extremely claustrophobic lives. In "The Good Luck Café" for example, a newly wed Chinese wife talks to nobody but her husband and brother-in-law all day long. Despite this, many of the characters in Bates' stories worry that they or their offspring are becoming "too Canadian." "Our lives in Canada are overrun by gwei, ghosts", is a strong complaint, "gwei men, gwei women, gwei children. We served food to gwei customers, bought from gwei shopkeepers, were treated by gwei doctors and taught by gwei teachers."
Bates' stories are a compassionate look at people still very much on the fringes of mainstream Canadian society. Theirs is a world where cultures collide, where the old meets the new, and something has to give. China Dog is an incisive look at the immigrant experience up close. Its insights are valuable to us all.