The Wondrous Woo tells the story of Miramar Woo who is the quintessential Chinese girl: nice, quiet, and reserved. The eldest of the three Woo children, Miramar is ever the obedient sister and daughter … on the outside. On the inside, she’s a kick-ass kung fu heroine with rock star flash, sassy attitude, and an insatiable appetite for adventure. Just as Miramar is about to venture forth on the real adventure of leaving home for university, her beloved father is killed in an accident.
Miramar watches helplessly as her family unravels in the aftermath of her father’s death. Her mother is on the brink of a recurring paranoia that involves phantom hands. Her younger siblings suddenly and mysteriously become savants, in possession of uncanny talents nicknamed The Gifts. As her siblings are swept up into the fantastic world of fame and fortune and her mother fights off madness, Miramar is left behind, feeling talentless and abandoned with no idea who she really is or who she wants to become. She gets herself to university on a bus with no family to see her off, no hugs, and no support. She is utterly on her own.
In a story that spans four eventful years, Miramar ventures forth from the suburbs of Toronto to university in Ottawa and back again. Along the way she encounters people and situations light years apart from her sheltered world. She explores new friendships, lust, and a side of herself never seen before. Ultimately, Miramar discovers the meaning of courage, belonging, and family.
The Wondrous Woo articulates a new voice that is at once displaced, but still squarely located in the centre of western and Chinese pop culture and everyday diasporic life. This novel joins other established novels in the increasingly popular genre of Chinese Canadian literature.
“I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, it’s beautiful, heart-wrenching, magical and yet, wholly real.”
— Lisa de Nikolits, author of The Witchdoctor’s Bones
Carrianne Leung is a fiction writer, educator and business owner who lives in Toronto with as much aplomb as she can muster. She holds a Ph.D. in Sociology and Equity Studies from oise/University of Toronto and teaches at Ontario College of Art and Design University. She is also the co-owner of Multiple Organics, an organic grocery store. She is co-editor, with Lynn Caldwell and Darryl Leroux, ofCritical Inquiries: A Reader in Studies of Canada (forthcoming, May 2013). She, her partner, their son and two dogs live in the west-end of Toronto.
There are many different ways to say “crazy” in Cantonese: tsaw; hei mong mong; chi seen; deen. Each word described a particular brand of crazy. Tsaw meant “silly.” You could say it as a term of affection, as a tease, or as something derogatory or dismissive of someone’s inappropriate behaviour. Hei mong mong was suited to someone a little foggy, because he was lost in his own world. Chi seen was the English equivalent of “crazy,” which you shouted when something was outrageous. Then there was deen. Well, deen meant “certifiable.” Locked up crazy. Ma crazy.
That was a lot of words, plenty nuanced, but faced with all the various forms of recent craziness in my life, I could see there was a need for more words. What I wanted most was one word that would question who the crazy really were—the ones with the off-beat behaviour, or the rest of us for thinking so.
Whether Mouse was deen or tsaw, he was nice and I, as a new and more reckless Miramar, was in for the adventure of it. I went to sit on his bed. It was perfectly made with a white duvet that was embroidered with pink flowers. It was so delicate and clean, I did not want to muss it up so I just perched on the edge.
Mouse bent down to a small tv with a VHS player beside it. When the film began, he ran over to the bed and jumped on it beside me, bouncing lightly on the mattress like a child. In the movie, Jet Li, a slave to an evil emperor, witnessed the murder of his father. He ran away and was nurtured back to health by a group of monks at the Shaolin Monastery. There he learned integrity, brotherhood, and the noble truths of Buddha. He also learned how to fight because the monks were trained in the secrets of the Shaolin martial arts.
Halfway into the film, I fell hard in love with Jet Li. There was also a fierce shepherdess, the daughter of one of the kung fu masters, who gave Jet Li a walloping for killing and roasting her dog for dinner. There was some hint of a romance brewing, but Jet Li decided to embrace her as his sister since he was now a monk.
Mouse’s bouncing got more intense during the fight scenes. In the final scene, when the evil warlord waged a battle on the sacred ground of the Shaolin temple, Mouse hopped off the bed and landed in panther pose, Bruce Lee style, his face in a deadly scowl. “EEeeeYoooow. MMMMmmmkicha!” he growled and punched the air.
I had never seen anyone else do air kung fu before. Mouse was good, too. I leapt into the mountain stance position, holding my hands at guard. Mouse gave me a nod and we entered into a fight sequence, vanquishing a hundred enemies, just as Jet Li was getting started.
Drums, from the TV sounded a war song with strong rhythmic beats, which inspired us to accelerate our fight. We kicked at the evil troops, throwing our fists in the air and thrusting the bad guys to death with our imaginary swords. Mouse was an incredible gymnast; he did flips backwards and forwards, always landing in the cat stance before repeating his sequences. I practiced the tiger claw, shattering the clavicle of my imaginary foe. The floor shook. At some point, I worried one of his roommates might get upset, but I did not hear any pounding apart from us, so I forgot about it. Once all of Jet Li’s enemies finally lay moaning on the ground, we turned and faced each other, gave a kung fu bow and fell laughing to the floor.
When Mouse caught his breath, he said, “Hey! I knew a man from my home village that had the power to stop the earth from moving!” I arched my brow. Home village? Was he a FOB—someone “fresh off the boat?” He did not have any traces of a Chinese accent. I had assumed he was Canadian-born, or, like me, was part of the 1.5 generation.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he continued excitedly, flailing his arms. “He could grind the axis of the earth to a halt, and the world would freeze while he rescued villagers from unforeseen misfortune!” He stared at me, waiting for my response, which I wasn’t giving him because I was working hard to imagine what he was saying. “Isn’t that insane? The world would stand still while you went fast-forward in it!”
Whether Mouse was really deen became irrelevant at this point; he was hilarious and I ran with it.
“Whoa,” I said. “I can think of a lot of situations when that skill could come in handy.” I remembered seeing extraordinary things during the Sunday matinees. I knew that one trained touch could either save a life or end it, and that simple tap could paralyze the entire body. I also learned from Ba that the masters used to travel by way of stepping on the tops of bamboo trees, so light were their feet. But putting the world on freeze-frame? That was a new one.
“I want to learn to do that,” he said.
“How do you learn something like that?” I asked.
“Meditation. Start inward and then throw the control outward,”he replied.
“I don’t get it.”
“Well, you have to master yourself. You have to be, within yourself, absolutely calm and peaceful. Then, you’ll be able to make the world outside of you just as still,” he explained.
“Right.” It made sense.
“So, I’ve been working on it. I meditate every day. Try to empty everything out. Slow my heart rate, breathing, everything. It’s almost like you’re dead, but not.”
I thought about the World Religion class I hadn’t finished. We had been learning about Buddha and his enlightenment when I left. ”It’s a spiritual state of stillness too,” I said quietly.
“Go on.” Mouse leaned back on the floor, one arm supporting his weight.
I sighed and tried to remember. “Well, maybe, it’s about reaching a state of spiritual completeness. Maybe, you aren’t even you anymore, you’re just part of the whole world. Maybe, then, you can bend time because you are in tune with everything.” I got excited as I continued. It was an interesting hypothesis. I remembered getting into such talks with Ba when we would try to unravel the mysteries of the kung fu masters’ unbelievable powers. He had always leapt right in there with me, never discounting my ideas just because I was a kid.
“And you give up trying to control. You simply become a part of the world. So maybe that guy in your village wasn’t really doing it by himself. Maybe the whole universe recognized that what was happening shouldn’t happen, and it all worked together in order for him to prevent it. He was just part of the big picture,” I felt good, like I’d just realized something.
“Wah. Lang lui. I see what you’re saying.” Mouse let out a big breath as if he were digesting something profound and was letting it seep slowly into his mind.
As I pieced this hypothesis together, I pictured Ba stepping off the curb. If I had been there, maybe I could have been able to stop time, pluck him out of the line of danger and everything would have been different. Maybe Sophia and Darwin would have turned out to be just regular kids, and I would have finished university. Maybe Ma would have learned to be happy. I felt my heart loosen a bit. It was a lot of maybes.
My eyes got hot. I jumped up. “I gotta go.”
Mouse roused himself out of his thoughts. “Really? You don’t want to get something to eat? Talk more kung fu?”
“No, really, I have to go.” I picked up my laundry basket.
“Okay. Hold on, I’ll see you out.”
I went first down the stairs, clutching my laundry basket, and carefully stepping over the garbage. I let myself out through the door.
“Hey, lang lui, wanna watch another film, sometime?” Mouse called from the threshold.
I turned just before reaching the sidewalk. He was leaning against the door frame, a big smile on his face. He reminded me of a cat. A sleek, agile young tomcat. But he was kind and sincere. And cool. I realized I liked him.
“Okay. Sure,” I said and shrugged. I pretended to be casual as I walked away but I was shaking a little on the inside.
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