Author Footnotes with Lily Cho

I wrote a book about Chinese restaurants in Canada. My parents ran a Chinese restaurant in Canada. But the book, I told myself, was not about that restaurant in particular, and it was not about my parents.

When I finished the book and it came time to find an image for the cover. I did some research and dutifully sent my editor a handful of archival images that I thought were striking and engaging. She wasn’t keen on any of them. A careful reader, she noted that I mentioned something in the acknowledgments about a restaurant that belonged to my parents. She asked me if I had any pictures of it.

Well, there was one.

The image on the cover of Eating Chinese was taken sometime in 1979. At the time, my parents owned the Shangri-la Restaurant in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. The green Chevy parked in front of the restaurant was our family car. My dad drove that car from Edmonton to Whitehorse with everything he would need to start his life as a restaurateur in it. He was forty-seven years old. He had survived the Japanese invasion of China and the turmoil of the Second World War, the rise of the Communists, and several years of imprisonment during the Cultural Revolution. When I think about the loneliness and hardship involved in running the restaurant, I keep in mind everything that he had endured before he had ever heard of a place called Whitehorse.

When my brother and I were kids, my father documented every detail of our childhood. He is an avid amateur photographer. There are thousands of pictures of every moment of our childhood, and of his new life in Canada. It was not until I went searching for a picture of the Shangri-la that I realized how odd it was that there were no photographs of our time in the Yukon and only this one of the restaurant.

Even though my parents may have wanted to let go of some pasts, I want to hang on to something of their courage and spirit; taking that long trip across the Pacific and up towards northern Canada. Of course, this book is about that restaurant, and for them.