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Richmond play explores what makes an ‘authentic’ Hong Konger in Canada

Producer tried to create an ‘authentic’ Hong Kong show but then questioned what ‘authentic’ is
Discounted Hotpot Centre will run this weekend at Richmond Library and Cultural Centre. Photo submitted

Discounted Hotpot Centre, a one-person comedy cooking show, is about a sales lady struggling to sell her authentic Hong Kong hotpot package, although none of the ingredients are actually from Hong Kong.

“Through the voice of our sales lady, we offer a space for this collective experience of being in exile and adapting in a new society,” reads the show’s program notes.

“I always joked about wanting to write a show about hotpot because I am such a hotpot lover,” said Anthony Lee, writer and director of the show and film graduate from Simon Fraser University.

As someone who grew up in Hong Kong and moved to Canada in 2016, Lee experienced a culture shock in his new country and always had a question about his identity as a recent immigrant to Canada.

Coming to Canada after high school, Lee felt that his experience was very different from those who were born here.

“I have always been so connected to my heritage,” said Lee.

"I had the privilege to not struggle with the lunchbox incidents, for example, where you bring your own lunch and it’s different from all these other white kids’ lunch."

So he decided to write a play that comes from a first-generation immigrant’s perspective “that’s very different from someone who’s grown up in Vancouver."

However, in the creation process, more questions were raised than answered and his own perception was challenged. 

Lee and his team, who are also from Hong Kong, were determined to avoid writing anything in their show that had “the stereotypical image of what foreigners think of Hong Kong,” such as the wet markets, Temple Street, tiny houses, and people living in crowds.

“And then we wrote something that has all of these things, just naturally,” he laughed, adding that he then questioned what made his experience unique compared to what's in the stereotypical images of Hong Kong.

He said he then realized that as immigrants come and go at different points in history and at different stages in their lives, maybe there isn't really a point to holding onto the things that make people feel authentic, he added.

“So what makes our show authentic if the goal is to create something that is authentic? We realized that it's really hard to tell, and it all just muddled up together,” said Lee.

“That’s the heart of the show – what is the definition of authenticity?”

Lee hopes the audience will explore the question with him during the show.

He doesn’t want to reveal too much about the form of the show, but he said there will be real hotpot audiences can taste.

Discounted Hotpot Centre debuted at last year’s Vancouver Fringe Festival and will run this weekend at Richmond Library and Cultural Centre from Friday to Sunday.

It will also be shown at the rEvolver Festival in Vancouver, a festival that aims to present adventurous and high energy works, in late May and Early June.