From the Desk of the Festival Director: Why Nasi Lemak?

Share

It was the Festival designer, William Harald Wong, who shared a powerful insight with me once: he had been working on the Tasting Asia regional exhibition in 2002 showcasing food from the region, for which the late renowned poet Yesi (Prof Leung Ping-kwan), based in Hong Kong, had written a poem on the iconic Malaysian breakfast nasi lemak.

Malaysians feel strongly about our nasi lemak: we fight back when neighbouring countries try to appropriate it, comment when foreigners don’t know how to eat it, spin off various err… products and even make it into a cake and a costume.

So, with that background, what was extraordinary was not just the power of the language in this poem but the fact that, in all likelihood, William pointed out to me, this renowned poet had most probably never even tasted nasi lemak in his life.

Yet, drawing on his imagination and empathy, Prof Leung could build on our shared connection based on rice as a staple food and see past the dish itself to articulate the comfort and reassurances we derive from this uniquely identifiable meal – as William puts it “a poet overcomes all”.

I loved it so much that I used this poem as the introduction of my subsequent pitches on the Festival, how art can move us and bring people together, however diverse our backgrounds.

 

Nasi lemak

Never feeling hungry when you eat it
Never feeling sad

Fewer and fewer people grow rice
Fewer and fewer work in the fields

The city develops different tastes
Yet rice always neutralizes our pain

Feeling full when you eat it
Feeling strong when you have it

Fewer and fewer people sow seeds in Spring
Fewer and fewer harvest in Autumn

The city develops different melancholies
Rice has become the bits and pieces you lost

Fewer and fewer people grind the grains
Fewer and fewer people husk rice

The city gives you scars in seven colors
The rice gives you consolation in white

Never feeling grief when you eat it
Never feeling wrath

Never feeling lost when you have it
Never gone astray

 

椰醬飯

吃了永不會飢餓
吃了永不會憂傷

插秧的人愈來愈少了
種稻的人愈來愈少了

城市發展出不同的口味
米飯永遠中和我們的辛酸

吃了感到充實
吃了就有氣力

隨著季節播種
隨著季節收割的人
愈來愈少了

城市發展出不同的憂傷
米飯是我們失去的點滴

隨著季節去打穀
隨著季節去曬穀磨

穀的人愈來愈少了
舂米的人愈來愈少了

城市帶給你七色的疤痕
米飯給你白色的安慰

吃了永不會悲傷
吃了永不會激憤

吃了永不會迷路
吃了永不會失落

Available online: https://www.whwdesign.org/tasting-asia

CSR (Community Outreach Program) Partner

LendLease Foundation
Main Sponsor
Yayasan Hasanah Tulips Movement PTPK Caring Pharmacy A-Day ElleForElle

Subscribe to KLIAF newsletter