Mary Jean Chan

Mary Jean Chan is a poet, editor and critic from Hong Kong who currently lives in London. She was shortlisted for the 2017 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem and came second in the 2017 National Poetry Competition. Her debut pamphlet, A Hurry of English (ignitionpress 2018), is the 2018 Poetry Book Society Summer Pamphlet Choice. Mary Jean is a lecturer in creative writing (poetry) at Oxford Brookes University, and is an editor of Oxford Poetry. She is a Ledbury Poetry Critic and an advisory board member at the Poetry Translation Centre. Mary Jean’s debut collection is forthcoming from Faber & Faber in July 2019.

Photo: Forward Prizes 2017


Border Crossings »

Reading: Nadine Aisha Jassat, Mary Jean Chan

Fri 8 March | 14:15 - 15:15 | £4.50/£3.50 | The Town Hall, Queens Gardens, Supper Room


The Importance of Tea


When your aunt arrived, she asked for normal tea, which, to my untrained ears, sounded a bit like normality. In Hong Kong, normal tea is green, or white, or red. It took my mind several moments to move from green to white to red to land on black. Your aunt was flexible: any Assam, Darjeeling, or Earl Grey? We only had Matcha, some loose-leaf Iron-Buddha in the cupboard, no milk. Your aunt looked at you as if you’d failed at being British, me as if I’d failed to properly assimilate. Afterwards, you said I was projecting onto your aunt the fears I harboured. No matter how many years I’ve spent in this country, how I interpret normal tea, what is normal to me. You are learning Mandarin Chinese. I see how the characters are split for you: signifier and signified refuse to conjoin. That’s what happened when your aunt asked for the normal tea. Days later, when a waiter brought us white sugar for our Sencha green, I caught your gaze. We laughed, and left the sachets unopened.


Mary Jean Chan

First published by The White Review (August 2018)