Eat a Bowl of Tea

by Louis H. Chu

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Characters Discussed

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Wang Ben Loy

Wang Ben Loy, the individual at the center of this comic novel. He is a young waiter in a restaurant in New York’s Chinatown, and he resembles the sympathetic and underdog youth of classic comedy. Born in a Chinese village and reared there until the age of seventeen, Ben Loy has been brought up with the traditional Confucian values and is thus a filial son. Although as the novel opens he is in his twenties, holds a job, has done his hitch in the army during World War II, and is a married man, he still regards his father with some awe. His one character flaw is his sensuality, which leads him to patronize prostitutes. Retribution for this occurs when he becomes impotent with his wife, who cuckolds him. Through love and forgiveness, he is able to work out his atonement and rehabilitation.

Wang Wah Gay

Wang Wah Gay, Ben Loy’s father. He has been a sojourner in America for some thirty years. He started out as a laundryman but now owns and operates a gambling joint in New York’s Chinatown. Wah Gay fits the classic comic mold of the parent who tyrannizes the younger generation. He exercises a rigid, traditionally Confucian domination over Ben Loy, deciding when to transplant him from his native village to New York and determining whom he is to marry. He gives his son no quarter to develop his own individuality or to pursue his own happiness. Although Wah Gay insists that Ben Loy should be a good Confucian son, he himself is not a good Confucian father, for he makes his living from gambling.

Mei Oi

Mei Oi, Loy’s sympathetic bride, an attractive young woman who loves her husband and wants to be a mother. She grew up in her native Sunwei village in Kwangtung Province, China, where she was nurtured and sheltered by her family and the societal structure of her clan. Confronted with the freedoms of New York, the impotence of her husband, and the blandishments of a sweet-talking seducer, she naïvely falls.

Lee Gong

Lee Gong, Mei Oi’s father, a longtime friend and former coworker of Wah Gay. He, too, is a Chinese émigré in the United States, and he too is cast in the mold of overbearing parent.

Ah Song

Ah Song, Mei Oi’s lover and father of her child. An idling playboy, Ah Song preys on Chinatown women gullible enough to give credence to his tales, puffing up his wealthy connections in Canada and belittling their husbands. He is a known philanderer and is treated as a contemptible villain by the men of Chinatown. His philandering ways are repaid by his losing an ear when the irate Wah Gay attacks him and by his being exiled from Chinatown by the clan association.

Wang Chuck Ting

Wang Chuck Ting, the uncle of Wah Gay and elder statesman of the Wang clan in Chinatown. Wealthy and politically well connected, he is a wheeler-dealer who can find a person a job, an apartment, or a contact in the police department. When the enmity between Wah Gay and Ah Song threatens to spill out to the authorities beyond Chinatown, Chuck Ting steps in to contain their dispute within Chinatown, then stage manages the Chinatown judiciary system to achieve a resolution to the conflict.

The Wah Que Barber Shop’s customers

The Wah Que Barber Shop’s customers, who make up an entity that resembles the chorus in Greek drama. These men, who are the remnants of the original bachelor society of Chinatown, hang out in the barber shop and exchange tidbits of gossip, comment on the doings of the principal characters, and act as the mirrors of public opinion in Chinatown.

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