A Japanese Monkey of Love (and Money)

Posted on July 29, 2012


I have a small obsession with monkeys.  Probably because of my first favourite toy as a child, a Monchichi.  Two Japanese tourists who came to Canada’s tiny province of Prince Edward Island had given one to each my sister and I.

My family had been political refugees and were kinda the only Asians on the island of Caucasian retirees in the early 1980s.

Mr. & Mrs. Avard baked a cake for my mom’s birthday.  (I am the shortest one).

So, one day, a lovely elderly man by the name of Mr. Avard, who was one of our sponsors, was driving through the quaint shopping streets of Charlottetown when he saw these two Japanese ladies.  They were there to see about Lucy Maude Montgomery and all things Anne of Green Gables (which has, still, a huge cult following in Japan!)  Mr. Avard was struck with excited inspiration at the sight of these tourists, so he pulled up next to them and asked them to get in his car!  And they did!  (Oh small town yesteryear of non-serial killers!)  Then, all three drove to our house and rang our door bell.  My dad answered, and my sister and I, 6 and 3, smushed our faces to the window, curious.  We rarely had guests–we didn’t really know anyone yet!  Mr. Avard, in a voice lucid and youthful despite being in his 80s, boomed: “I’ve found you some friends!”  Being Vietnamese-speaking only at the time, my dad knew this threatened to be a bit of a buzz-kill.  So he said what he could, “Hiiii!” and got in the car too.  All four of them that afternoon went driving around the island taking pictures of the red sands and green gabled homes of PEI.

Months later, when the two Japanese ladies were long back in Tokyo, Japan after their unusual encounter with these locals, they sent my family a Christmas package containing two Monchichis, two Kiki and La La picnic sets and two Licca-chan dolls.  For kids who had been used to receiving donated, secondhand toys (which we also still keep), my sister and I thought these fabulous Japanese-quality toys were magical!!

23 years later, I moved to Tokyo, only to live 3 stations away from one of the Japanese ladies.  On the phone we arranged to meet after all those years, but she said, “How will I ever know it’s you?  You were only 3 at the time!”  Our families had corresponded via letters and cards, but never photographs.  I thought and said, “Don’t worry, I have a plan!”  So, later that day, Masako san found me right away sitting at the station McDonald’s with:

my old Monchichi, still sucking on his bottle after all those years!

So, I love monkeys and Japan.

In 2006, I illustrated and wrote a bilingual children’s book about a monkey that needed to make it in the world beyond the zoo fence, by being entrepreneurial among humans.  I used Japanese-quality paper and did kiri-e (paper cutting) to illustrate.  My humans were inspired by the incomparable chubby cuteness of Japanese babies, who can never do wrong!

While I would never create anything that moralizes about anything (bleh!) I have to say, way back in ’06, my monkey was The Most Enterprising of Any Children’s Book Monkey Ever!  (An honour I flagrantly bestow on him without really checking–but really, are there any?)  So, is he a horrible and greedy monkey?  Or is he some futuristic hybrid of cash-money and loveliness?  Can there ever be such a superstar?

I think he is Epicurean, by philosophy!  Or selflessly clever, like the Japanese.  Or will do anything for a snack, like my 19-year-old ex-boyfriend!  Tell me what you think!

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