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Chinitas’ Auntie Ling – The “Asian” Flavors of Life

Perhaps it was the “Free Wi-Fi” sign that drew us into the Chinitas. For 12Q a pot of tea that was shared between us, we plonked ourselves in Chinitas to work on our laptops for our first couple of days in Guatemala – Tay working on the videos and Val working on emails to build connections, find accommodations etc. etc.

Perhaps we were a little home-sick. Because the familiar aromas of dishes like Chinese stir-fry, authentic curry, satay bee-hoon that kept drifting towards us from the kitchen, kept us going back to restaurant.

We didn’t, and still don’t really know why we walked into Chinitas; because restaurants are expensive and we avoid them. Perhaps for the above reasons, and for the reasons of “above”, we spent enough time in Chinitas for the owner of the restaurant, Auntie Ling, to notice us.

A conversation was struck, and when she heard that we were travelling on bicycles, she said, “You know, Chinitas began with me selling Empanadas China (aka Pot Stickers 鍋貼) on my bicycle.”

Auntie Ling selling Empanadas China on her bicycle

And as we continued to talk-story, we realised that Auntie Ling is a Malaysian. She traveled to Guatemala many many years ago. By a series of “fortunate fiascos”, she ended up living in Lake Atitlan. And what started off as a necessity to “make ends meet” became a thriving Chinese restaurant business of Chinitas today.

The beginnings of Chinitas in 1995

The beginnings of Chinitas in 1995

“My mother and sister always yelled at me and asked me to get out of the kitchen when I attempted to help them in cooking, because I was such a disaster. But hey, I think I’m doing pretty good!” Auntie Ling chuckles.

Drawn to what we call a “free soul”, Auntie Ling’s sense of liberty despite being an Asian woman in a faraway land intrigued us greatly.

“Auntie Ling, would you share your story with us on film? Por favor?”

And so, we made arrangements to film her story with her over lunch on Saturday. Here’s a sneak peak of some of the “goodies” before the video is done:

Condiments from our Grandmothers' kitchens

Condiments so familiar
頭抽 (soy sauce) 辣椒油 (chilli in oil) 芫荽青蔥 (cilantro and green onions)
Why, they came from our Grandmothers’ kitchens!
It was a gathering of 2.5 generations of women
Bonded by a common identity – the “Asian woman”

On the table laid hometown dishes
Recipes passed between Grandmothers from different backgrounds
Creations from a will to survive, a determination to succeed

Chinese Sushi (a Japanese dish with Chinese ingredients)
Nasi Goreng (literally means rice fried in Malay) + Gah Dan (literally means plus egg in Cantonese)
Curry (with Indian spices, Chinese styled chilli and Indonesian tampeh)

Except for the clicking of chopsticks
And munching of food
There was silence at the table

As we savour each mouthful
Of Auntie Ling’s bitter struggles and sweet victories
Of Chinitas’ sour moments and spicy triumphs

They say life is made up of those 4 flavors – 酸 (sour) 甜(sweet) 苦(bitter) 辣(spicy)
Over a meal, we seemed to understand a little more
Over a story, we seemed to understand a little more
That life, like food – needs to be savored

And then, like the dessert that comes after a meal
Life – needs to be celebrated…

Auntie Ling's celebration of life - great music, with greater company

Auntie Ling's celebration of life - great music, with greater company

“一個女人離鄉背井,在一個離家很遠的國度;找到自己、找到自由。可能是因爲苦盡甘來,現在懂得惜福,享受簡單的快樂。她的心境竟然比我的年輕!(Auntie Ling found herself, found freedom, in a place far far away from home. Perhaps it was the long journey to today; Auntie Ling now knows how to enjoy life through life’s simple pleasures. Looking at her from here, I feel that she has a heart much younger than mine!)”Tay

Aren't we lucky to be part of it?

“I sit in awe of Auntie Ling’s liberty. Her ability to do whatever she feels like in the moment is contagious. Just being around that presence, makes me feel like I, too, can achieve anything, in spite of myself… even in a place like Guatemala.”Val

Dear Auntie Ling,

You are the only Malaysian resident in Guatemala
That’s a chance of one-in-over-6-billion and rising

We are the only 2 Singaporeans riding in Guatemala
And we met you
And we shared stories with you
Over a Malaysian-Singaporean-Asian lunch
That’s a one in over how many gazillions chance?

Chance does not exist

For this “pre-arranged” meeting
That begun happening many many years ago
When you first left Malaysia
To go on a journey
To “come home”…

Terima Kasih (Thank you)

Help us share one more story –
Your spare change, even if it’s just $1, will go a long way

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