Articles, Miscellaneous

China and Paperweights

I push the orange doorbell and hear the chime that hasn’t changed in the whole eighteen years of my life. I let myself in: I don’t want force Lolo [1] to come down the stairs. After all, he’s only sixty years older than me. There he is, waiting atop the six steps it takes to reach the second floor of the house. Lola hobbles in from the living room.

“Lolo’s prepared you a nice supper, toh [2].” I smell the meal as I walk up to embrace them: a mix of soy sauce, garlic, pork belly, rice, and shrimp. The rice is pure white, the shrimp is red-orange, the broccoli is greener than any grass. Then, there’s pasta, salad, potato salad, meatballs, adobo, flat water, sparkling water, beer. They could host the Last Supper.

As I sample pieces from every plate, my grandpa explains that the meat used to make adobo is pork belly, and can’t be bought in regular grocery stores, but only the special Chinese market close to Taschereau boulevard. I nod my head eagerly, as if I’m hearing this explanation for the first time, but he catches on. He jokes:

“Is it true that old people reminisce too much?”

“It’s the stereotype…”

“It’s not just a stereotype!”

He’s suddenly passionate about the subject, and urges me to look up an article he read in the Globe and Mail on Halloween [3]. I acquiesce, sensing that he’s on the verge of a soliloquy. He goes on to explain that it’s a biological fact that old people who reminisce and reflect about their past live longer lives, and are less prone to dementia and depression in their final days. While the article does point out that this is a hypothesis, under this roof, we take these speculations to be fact.

The meal done, Lolo offers tea. I accept, and he pulls out a China cup the size of two shot glasses stacked atop each other. He gives my grandma a white mug with orange monarchs painted on the front of it.

The conversation moves to the subject of inheritance. He mentions the China in the cupboard. Apparently, it was illegally snuck out of Russia. The seller had to get rid of it because they were returning to the homeland. I had never stopped to even think of how valuable the sets were.

He brings up his paperweight collection, made up of at least fifty balls of glass, ranging from the size of a pea to a potato. He has indexes that describe the techniques used to make them, origins, symbolism, and purposes of these antiques. I ask:

“What if nobody wants the paperweights?”

“They have to want them!”

For Lolo, it’s impossible that people don’t want things that are so valuable, even if they don’t appreciate their worth. “Look at Van Gogh, he says, nobody appreciated him when he was around, but only after did they realize how valuable his life’s work was. Remember all the work that went into those paintings and these weights! Someone will have to take them in and care for them, until some grandchild comes to appreciate their value”.

I worry that such a thing may take generations.


“What do you wish you had asked your grandparents when they were around?”

“Well, it was different back then”, he explains. Mostly, he wanted to know where he came from: did he have Chinese blood? What were the names of his great grandparents? Theses thoughts kindle a description of his childhood.

There was once a time when he could walk into his aunts’ house unexpected and be greeting warmly. Whenever he did that, he was always asked Kumain ka na ba?, which translates to “are you hungry?” My grandfather tells me that it was a way for a host to ask their guest how they could help them or alleviate some of their suffering.

“But we can never go back to our country. It’s not the same place.”

I think: it is the same place, just not the same time.

The clock shows 7:20. I need to leave now if I’m going to catch the 45 between Panama and Bonaventure. I hug Lola, delicate as China, and remind her to be careful so that next time I come visit, she’s still in one piece.

On the ride to the terminus, Lolo sermonizes on youth’s short-sightedness and impulsivity- a discourse I had heard many times before from parents. This time, though, his delivery was refreshing: all his examples describe how my parents’ generation are just as bad as mine. He reminds me, finally, of the importance of looking at the full picture to appreciate a scenario’s value, or else you’ll miss it once it’s gone.

I meditate on the bus, happy. I think about the meal they prepared for me; I think about the tea cups; I think about my porcelain Lola and paperweight Lolo. I think about hidden values: we don’t appreciate them now, even though a lifetime of work went into making them. I think of inheritance, about legacy, about knowing who I am.

I just think of how I helped my grandparents live a little longer, just by letting them reminisce and talk.

Kumain ka na ba?

No thanks, I’m full.


Written by MWR quest writer Julian Guidote, edited by the MWR team

[1] “Lolo” and “Lola” are Tagalog terms for “Grandpa” and “Grandma”, respectively.

[2] A Tagalog term of endearment.


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