Eden’s Special XO Sauce
陳鈞貽CHAN Kwan Yee
“He is lovely, isn’t he?”
On the phone screen, a muddleheaded baby looked at the camera with his thin hair standing up, showing his gentle, harmless cheekiness. Eden has been in Hong Kong for three years working for a local couple. Nine months ago, this family welcomed a new baby boy.
Taking care of the little boy is Eden's daily mission. Newborn baby is like fragile kitten, holding him may hurt him accidentally. His crying would become his accusation if leaving him in bed, so neighbors would think you are a bad person. Her routine has been changed around this edacious, sleepy little baby boy. Not only she has to cook and clean, but now she has to take care of more, for example, cleaning up after him knocking the food down, putting him to sleep. Only on weekends, she and the little boy can sleep in.
Waking up, Eden welcomed a fine day-off.
"This is called bagoong alamang. It tastes like XO sauce but sweeter and has a hint of sourness in it."
Tiny shrimps with sizes like pinky nails were struggling in the tomato red paste. There was a hint of ocean in the spiciness and sweet-and-sour. Eating with the shrimp paste does not fit Mr. and Mrs. taste, Eden rarely has it at home. But that is Eden's and her bestie Amy's favorite. Taking "XO sauce" made with tomato and dried scallops to mix with vegetables is Filipino's unique memory.
Amy is great at cooking. Most of the food sitting on the picnic blanket were cooked by Amy. In Hong Kong, Eden sees Amy as her only sister. When they both were living in the Philippines, Amy was a manager of a Filipino-Japanese agency. Eden was her former subordinate. Amy would send her to Japan for business trip from time to time. They were so close, almost like sisters. Amy later changed job because of the unbearable boss, so the two lost contact. They were separated for fourteen years and reunited in a strange place.
"I was getting the MTR at Kowloon Tong and Amy was waiting for her employer. I saw her in the crowds and shouted 'sister, it's me! It's me!' "
Eden and Amy looked at each other and smiled. The broccoli in the container was still warm with shrimp paste spread on top. Tiny shrimps cannot be seen as if they were melted in the sauce and bring out the flavor of ocean. This is not for foreigner to understand - the taste of home. They did not mind being interrupted by these young people and even plated up the food fondly on a paper plate for them to experience the taste of their home.
"When we see people from the same place, we would smile at each other. Filipinos are like this; we talk and laugh."
"From the bottom of our hearts."
Scooped out some shrimp paste from a glass jar, the paste glided down slowly onto the rice noodles along the vertically held spoon. The thick texture does not resemble the greasiness of local XO sauce. With a tiny amount, the taste was strong enough to settle in mouth and stomach and scurried out from breath.
Eden said jokingly that these intruding young people were lucky enough to be able to interview her. Most of the helpers work so hard that they only have little time for themselves. On such precious day-off, they just want to do things that they enjoy.
Except the day-off allowed, they work conscientiously every day. Their support is from their families across the sea.
" It is a bit lonely… a bit sad but ...we don't have other choices."
Filipinos are family-oriented. Female usually stays in to take care of the husband and children. Relying on one person's income can barely maintain the living of a family. Eden is one of them leaving family in hopes of providing a better life to the family.
“Look! This is my daughter, she is just a mini me!”
Eden has an eight-year-old daughter staying with father in the Philippines. Eden placed her phone next to her face. The girl on the screen is a spitting imagine of Eden. She got Eden's lovely smile. They are distanced by the Southern Sea, fortunately, technology allows them to video call and see each other. Every time they are in a video call, Eden wishes her daughter to talk to her more.
"I have to find some topics and stories to talk about that she is interested in, like 'how are you today at school?’, ‘what did you have today?' Otherwise, she would just say goodbye and hang up the phone."
Eden only returns home every one or two years so she can cuddle and be with her little girl. Eden thought positively that at least her daughter is being understanding of why mommy is not around. There are a lot of people in the same shoe as her, but a lot of them are not always understood by the family. Luckily, she would be going home in the next month.
Back at home, we all have different stories, but being here, we all share similar stories."
Tiny shrimp crossing the ocean became an ingredient of a condiment for others. The details of these curled up bodies are not shown conspicuously and its rich flavor, is not for everyone to appreciate.
Translated by廖杏怡LIU Rachel Hang Yi