Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Gai See: What I Saw

When I was in Hong Kong, I had the pleasure of seeing Roseanne Thong's new book, Gai See: What You See in Chinatown. Now while the title of the book says, What You See in Chinatown, it is fairly obvious that the book is about the Hong Kong open air wet markets. The "Chinatown" addition to the title was done by marketing, so that it would it appeal to the greater public.

Which I think underestimates the children's book audience. This book is a real treat; and, even more, it truly captures what a Hong Kong open air market feels like. It's rare that one can test the authenticity of a book, but I was able to do so and it passed with flying colors. Take this excerpt, for example:
Mangoes, starfruit,
colors bright
glisten in the morning light.

Dragon fruit
with scarlet scales,
lychees filling woven pails

Doesn't it just match this exactly?

And then there's images like this:

The book so exactly matches my experiences in Hong Kong that I can't imagine any child not finding delight in it. The only thing that was not included was the fascinating aspects of the fish market, where live fish jumped in the air.

Roseanne told me that she did have passages dedicated to that but they were edited out, probably in fear that that it would seem barbaric. Which it is a bit, to our western sensibilities, but is also a significant part of the culture of a Hong Kong wet market. Of course, the book is not about a wet market, it's about "Chinatown," so I suppose the deletion has validation.

Regardless, this book is just plain great. I'll never look at it without remembering what I saw in Hong Kong; I hope you all take a look at it and see what I saw too.


Meghan McCarthy said...

What a lot of fun!

I'd like a book about live fish at the market. Ugh. Everyone is so sensitive.

Libby Koponen said...

I'd like a fish book, too -- remember last summer when you kept seeing fish everywhere? Maybe YOU are the person who will do it.

I'll definitely look at GAI SEE but for now when I think of Hong Kong I will think of your posts about it (on Grace's personal blog -- if you haven't read those posts you're missing a treat).

and yes, I think whoever made Roseanne's book about Chinatown and not Hong Kong is underestimating childen and their interest in the world....sigh. But maybe a note somewhere explains it????

Unknown said...

i think it's such a shame they made the change- i thought hong kong was an amazing city when i was there and i'd love to share the market part of it with my kids without having to fly them over there.

Elaine Magliaro said...


Our "western sensibilities" see nothing barbaric about plunging live lobsters into pots of boiling water! I think the jumping fish would have added a touch of excitement to the text.

Glad you had such a terrific time in Hong Kong!