Suitcase Stories by Maki Yi. Uno Fest May 2015.

Suitcase Stories by Maki Yi. Uno Fest May 2015.

Maki Yi begins her performance of Suitcase Stories with a quote, in French from Québecois writer Dany Laferrière who fled Haiti in his youth, and now returns.

” Arrivé au nord, il m’a fallu me défaire de toute la lourde réalité du sud qui me sortait par les pores. J’ai mis trente-trois ans pour m’adapter à ce pays d’hiver où tout est si différent de ce que j’avais connu auparavant. De retour dans le sud après toutes ces années je me retrouve dans la situation de quelqu’un qui doit réapprendre ce qu’il sait déjà mais dont il a dû se défaire en chemin. J’avoue que c’est plus facile d’apprendre que de réapprendre. Mais le plus dur c’est encore de désapprendre.”

Dany Laferrière – L’énigme du retour

It centres on the idea of learning a new culture, shucking off the old, then being forced to return and relearn the culture one rejected. The hardest though according to the writer, is to unlearn.

This cycle of learning, relearning and unlearning forms the underpinnings of Yi’s journey, both physical and metaphorical.

Suitcase Stories 2 UNO Fest 2015

A failure in the patriarchal society of South Korea, where unmarried women bring shame on their families, Yi strikes out, resolute in her desire to find a home and make a place for herself. She settles on Canada as a kind country, since, unlike the States, there are no guns and people are “nice”. Knowing not a single soul, she arrives in Toronto and on a whim, because it is a smaller city where living will be less expensive, heads to Regina.

Throughout the journey Yi is accompanied by her faithful companion, her suitcase—a character unto itself, one who gives voice to the many doubts and uncertainties assailing her. If Yi can remain unfailing chipper and plucky, it is the suitcase who remains sarcastic and questioning.

Against all odds, and at considerable sacrifice, Yi slowly builds her life. The major turn-around occurs when she falls in love with theatre, and enrolls at university.

Self-awareness and brutal honesty alternate with humour as the heroine struggles to complete her studies and battles with the complexities of the Canadian immigration system. At a crucial point in the process, all appears lost when, due to family emergency, she is forced, after a decade abroad, to return home. Yi captures this uprooted, un-rooted, “fish out of water” experience with great compassion and willingness to embrace the situation.

This uniquely personal story is played out daily in our increasingly muddled multi-cultural societies where allegiances and alliances are no longer as simple as saying “I’m Canadian” or “I’m Dutch”. A person can be born in one country with ties to another and finish in a third or fourth. Identity as an unchangeable construct is a luxury not available to everyone.

Yi is a highly intelligent miner of truth, searching for nuggets of gold amid the rocks and stones—the work is arduous and back-breaking, coming at considerable cost and with great sacrifice. Suitcase Stories is a tale as old as human-kind made all the more essential for its immediacy. Filled with hope and pluck, it inspires us all to make our own way in the world.

Leaving the theatre, impacted by the deep philosophical threads running through Suitcase Stories, and wanting to learn more about the actor’s life, I stumbled upon her MA Thesis Gramma: towards an auto-ethnography which will definitely be of interest to others.

The author states “By providing my own experience, I hope to convince the audience, because I believe the more personal a story is, the greater potential of its universality”.

Fellow searchers will respond to this vibrating chord running throughout her work.

Thanks to UNO Fest and Intrepid Theatre for continuing to include work that opens my eyes to realities as-yet-unconsidered, and to vital and on-going conversations.

Maki Yi left Korea with a single suitcase, a plane ticket and a destination: Canada, a country welcoming of new comers and second chances. Facing culture shock, identity loss, and marginalization with courage, hope and wit – Yi’s honest exploration of ‘foreign-ness’ is moving and uplifting.

Suitcase Stories by Maki Yi, Intrepid Theatre Club, # 2 – 1609 Blanshard Street
Sunday May 17th, 4pm* (Pay What You Can)
Tuesday May 19th, 8:30pm
Wednesday May 20th, 6:30pm
Tickets: $18, $85 5 Show Pass, through Ticket Rocket online or by phone 250 590 6291
hyphen theatre (Vancouver)
Created and performed byMaki Yi
Directed by Colleen Lanki
85 minutes. Drama.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a complimentary ticket to Suitcase Stories for the purposes of providing a review.

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