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Yum Cha and the Cricket

Read Thursday, 14 Jan 2021

A sleepless night leads Nicole Pingon to an unexpected conversation, and a dive into her sonic memory and imagination.

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Illustration featuring a collage of hands eating yum cha

For this edition of Notes, participants in our Signal Boost programme have created audio stories around the theme ‘Order’. 

You can listen to this work here, or find a full transcript below.


[Backyard crickets and suburban sounds are heard in the distance.]

[A rustle of bedsheets, a large window slides open. The outside sounds can be heard more clearly, followed by a breath.]

[A single cricket sings out a short phrase.]

[The single cricket sings out again.]

[Rustle of bedsheets]


[The Cricket sings. A gentle laugh erupts.]


[A lone cello string is plucked, and rings out.]

[The Cricket sings]

[The cello begins playing a short melodic phrase – feels unresolved, as if it’s asking a question.]

Why are you still awake? 

[The cello plays a downward spiral of plucked notes – as if in response.] 

[The Cricket sings.]

[The cello continues its melody – upwards.] 

Oh of course … you’re nocturnal.

[The cello continues it’s melody – downwards.] 

Well … I can’t sleep, because I can’t stop thinking about yum cha. 

[The cello melody – noodles up, and then down.] 

[The Cricket sings.]

[The cello moves upwards, then falls on an unresolved note.] 

I mean, of course yum cha’s about eating delicious food.

[A gentle percussive instrument – both woody and metallic in sound – plays a short phrase.]

Like xiājiǎo (虾饺 / prawn dumplings), shāomài (烧卖 / dim sim), fèngzhǎo (凤爪 / chicken feet), nuòmǐjī (糯米鸡 / sticky rice chicken) … but it’s also about the rituals around it.

[The Cricket sings.] 

[The percussive instrument twangs, and rings out.] 

Well … Yum cha was pretty much a weekly occurrence for my family.

[The percussive instrument plays a repeated staccato phrase.]

We used to go on Sundays, after the lunch time rush, and hang around til’ close.

[The cello begins to dance – meandering with the words.]

I would always order mángguǒbùdīng (芒果布丁 / mango pudding), and ask for an extra drizzle of condensed milk. 

[The cello continues to dance – upwards, then down.]

And, I was never allowed to order rainbow jelly, so when I was instead given a bowl of dòufuhuā (豆腐花 / tofu pudding), I would completely overload it with sugar water, just to annoy my Mum.

[The Cricket sings.]

Hmmm …

[The cello continues to dance – upwards.]

My Dad would bring a pocket radio and listen to the races, and since it was already noisy inside, was bothered by it.

[The Cricket sings.]

[The cello concludes its dance. The percussive instrument gently takes its place, playing a slow melody, and each note rings out.]

Yum cha is a place where I expected to hear a bunch of dialects outside of the Mandarin I spoke to Mum. 

It’s where I’ve picked up tiny bits of Cantonese, and heaps yum cha etiquette.

[The percussive instrument ends on two staccato notes, followed by a ripple of sound – like grain slipping through metal, or rain falling.]

[The Cricket sings.]

[The percussive instrument plays a melody – gentle and metallic – and rings out.]

Yeah, it’s been a while since I’ve thought about that …

[The percussive instrument plays another melody that swells underneath the words.] 

[The Cricket sings.]

Oh I wish … but we can’t go to yum cha right now … 

It’s the middle of the night.

[The Cricket sings.]

[The percussive instrument plays a pair of notes.]

Hmmm … alright then …

[A gentle cough – as if preparing for a speech.]

When I think about yum cha… 

[The cello strings swirl in a pattern up, down and around.]

I hear the bustle and buzz of conversations, 

I hear the clink of plastic chopsticks, as they stab through har gow, 

[Voices join and sing ‘clink’, a low string note plays – punctuating ‘stab’, a mouth joins with ‘sssssss’, and a breath. A chorus of mouths begin to mimic open mouth chewing.]

I hear open mouth chewing, and satisfied grunts as stomachs stretch.

[A low string note bowed – mimicking a grunt, and strummed strings ring out. A chorus of multiple voices sigh. A laugh is heard.]

I hear the plonk of chángfěn (肠粉 / sticky rice noodle) falling into bowls of sweet soy, and cups of jasmine tea knocked over the stamp card. 

[A low string is plucked mimicking ‘plonk’, followed by an upward melody. A metallic sound rings. The cello plays a short melody, followed by staccato notes.]

If the table cloth isn’t stained with tea and sauce… did you even go to yum cha? 

[The cello resolves the melody.]

[A moment of hearing sounds in the distance. The Cricket sings.]

Who’s to say Crickets can’t go to yum cha, hey. 

[The Cricket sings.]

So … where to next?

[The sounds of backyard crickets and a dog barking are heard in the distance. The Cricket sings.]

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The Wheeler Centre acknowledges the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation as the traditional owners of the land on which we work. We pay our respects to the people of the Kulin Nation and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders, past and present.