By: WeiQing Lim
I’m used to blank faces when I tell people where I’m from. I’m used to having to explain that it’s “the country next to Singapore, where Crazy Rich Asians took place.” When people think of Asia, countries like China, Japan, and Korea come to mind but countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, the Philippines, and so many more are rarely thought of. All of these countries make up the incredibly diverse, yet relatively unknown region of Southeast Asia.
You get how seeing a Southeast Asian princess warrior on the big screen is unlike anything I have ever experienced. I’ll just say this: Raya and the Last Dragon blew me away. There were so many things I loved about this movie. In the first epic fight scene, we see Raya call her dad, “Ba.” I immediately pressed paused and replayed the previous ten seconds twice (okay, maybe five times). When I realized I did hear her correctly, I was speechless. I used to be embarrassed about not calling my dad, “Dad”, like all the other kids. My dad was always “Ba” to me. Seeing that on-screen made me feel seen, and it made my heart swell with feelings of pride, recognition, and understanding.
The food in Raya also did not disappoint! My stomach grumbled when Raya and Benja were in the kitchen, preparing for the banquet. All of my favorite foods made an appearance here, like the tom yum Benja makes from shrimp paste, lemongrass, chili, bamboo shoot, and palm sugar, to the subtle appearances of mangosteen, durian and rendang. Boun’s iconic shrimp congee and even Raya’s jackfruit jerky made me hungry! In Asian cultures, sharing a meal holds a lot of meaning because it symbolizes care and trust, so I rightfully teared up when Raya offered Namaari her portion of rice at the banquet.
Other than the food, this movie definitely won me over with the characters - they all had unique features that so cleverly highlighted an aspect of Asian culture and beliefs. I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll stick to fangirling over my new favorite animal sidekick: Tuk Tuk! This part-armadillo, part-pill bug, part-pug character happens to be Raya’s best friend and mode of transportation. A+ to the writers because Tuk Tuk actually refers to the famous three-wheeled auto rickshaws that roam around the streets of Asia.
These two aspects - the iconic Asian dishes and the undeniable charm of the characters - are what inspired our second dish for #BakinginSolidarity (a fund supporting AAPI businesses). The three bingo challenges we had to follow were 1) it has to be a savoury dish, 2) we can only use an oven as the cooking/baking method, and 3) it has to be Raya-themed. TA-DA! We present to you… Rendang-filled Tuk Tuk Buns! Each oven-baked bun is topped with a Dutch crunch to imitate Tuk Tuk’s armadillo shell and is filled with beef rendang, just like the one we got a glimpse of in the banquet scene.
I don’t have the words to express everything I’m feeling now. The dichotomy between having a movie like Raya and The Last Dragon come out, having AAPI awareness at its peak in 2020 where Asians were speaking out and speaking up, and the numerous attacks on our elderly and tragic shootings in Atlanta where 6 Asian women were shot and killed is gut-wrenching and unbearable.
To me, growing up Asian meant that it was ingrained in me to put others before myself. I was told not to take up space because it will inconvenience and burden others. It’s better to be invisible and agreeable because it won’t “rock the boat” and ruin the harmony that has been established. While I can see that it comes from good intentions, we’ve learned from history and heartbreaking current events that it does not end well.
I am determined to make a stand with my fellow Asian American friends and Asians around the world to ultimately remind myself that I am them, and they are me.