Hunger Memory

In all fairness, saving food is a virtue, not a waste. When I go to a restaurant with my elders from the cultural sector, they will take away any leftover vegetarian food.

In the early 1960s, it was the years of famine on the mainland, when the national economy was out of balance and suddenly all aspects of people’s livelihood were in trouble, not only the food panic, the supply of foodstuffs, but also a severe shortage of general daily necessities. My hometown is on the coast, so seafood was not in short supply, but at that time, fish became a rare commodity, and even small creatures like oysters and razor clams on the beach were suddenly expensive.

The fishermen probably did not have enough food to eat and did not have the strength to go out to sea, so even the supply of seafood was cut off.

The old aunt crushed and boiled the rice at the bottom of the cupboard at home, put it in a small glass bottle, hid it in the corner of the yard, pulled out a strip of rice flour from the bottle and put it into her mouth to chew slowly.

The old aunt later hanged herself in her own room, and soon afterwards, the old uncle also hanged himself in the same room. The old uncle had lived in Hong Kong before and had seen the prosperity of the world. When neighbors were cooling off in our courtyard on summer nights, he would always talk about Hong Kong’s food, what was good and what ingredients were used to make it, making everyone drool. My uncle’s son hanged himself at his workplace because of political problems, and the three members of his family were in desperate straits.

I later watched the Japanese movie “Narayama” in Hong Kong, in which the elders of a poor family carried their son to the mountains and sat him down to die, just to get less rations. I thought of my granduncle and aunt, who took their own lives in order to raise their children and grandchildren.

Another cousin, who was too poor to buy soap, soaked his clothes in overnight urine every time he washed them, soaking them for an hour or two before washing them with well water. What is in urine to remove stains? How can you get dirtier on your clothes than pee? I never understood it.

My family had overseas remittances, and my relatives in Hong Kong also sent emergency supplies, so I don’t have any vivid memories of starvation, but at that time, there was an acute shortage of non-staple food, and I was suffering from daily memories of fresh pork and fish. One day, my family bought a catty of dead pork. I was supposed to stay overnight at school, but I had to return home for dinner at the last minute, just in time to eat a bowl of dead pork.

When I first came to Hong Kong, bread was the best thing I ever ate, so I told my mother that I could have bread for all my meals.