Dreamers Quay, 2022

Transcription from the artwork Dreamers’ Quay, Dreamers’ Key (2022) by Lap-See Lam. Produced by Bonniers Konsthall.

The transcription was originally published as a booklet – produced in conjunction with the exhibition. The booklet can be collected at Bonniers Konsthall for free.


CHARACTERS: The Teenager A’Yan, Mother Shirley, The Singing Chef, The Master of Ceremonies, Prince Gustav, Afock, The Three Jugglers

NARRATORS: The Teenager A’Yan, The Listening Tree, The Singing Chef

1978, CHOY’S GARDEN, Nyköping

THE TREE: Left, right, left, right, up, up, down, down, and round in a circle. Have you heard the legend of the Singing Chef? It starts at the restaurant Choy’s Garden. It’s 1978 and fifteen-year-old A’Yan is standing in the kitchen with her hands in the sink. A’ Yan is angry, as usual.

*The sound of her mother Shirley scolding in Cantonese*

A’YAN: I’m not spoiled! I’m standing here and washing dishes in your restaurant, aren’t I!

THE TREE: One generation sacrifices itself for the next. Is it really logical that time erases all the hard work and dries the sweat that has settled like glue on the shoulders of our forebears?

*The sound of her mother Shirley praying at the altar*

A’YAN: Mom starts praying to her restaurant gods and I go to the far end of the kitchen to smoke a cigarette.

*The sound of a creaking door*

A’YAN: …there’s the rice barrel that I used to stick my hands into as a child. It was a game… or a kind of comfort. And now I want to do it again.

*The sound of rice grains*

A’YAN: One hundred and fifty kilos of cold rice… this is exactly what it felt like.

THE SINGING CHEF: 亞恩,你要經歷整個過 程,然後先至明白所有一切。脷系心臟嘅苗。

THE TREE: A’Yan hears a voice calling her name. She is pulled down. Her elbows, upper arms, upper body, all of her is swallowed up in the barrel.

A’YAN: The kitchen is dissolving, I see colors, red, black, and gold flickering before my eyelids. It’s raining dragon scales.

1753, THE CHINESE PAVILION, Drottningholm

A’YAN: I wake up. My body is frozen in a movement; I’m standing in a magnificent hall with patterned wallpaper. In the middle of the hall servants are laying a table. Everyone is dressed in old-fashioned costumes and white wigs. Nobody seems to notice me.

THE TREE: It’s 1753 and the place is the Chinese Pavilion at the Drottningholm Palace. A’Yan is dressed like a housemaid. Now a strict voice calls: “Be careful with the china! How dare you lose your composure on the Queen’s birthday!”

*The sound of jostling china*

A’YAN: My gaze moves between the porcelain teapot in my shaking hand and the man in front of me. The warm tea smells of jasmine. I flinch and a few drops land on the polished marble floor. What’s happening? The rice barrel must have been some kind of portal?

THE TREE: The man is wearing the whitest wig in the hall. He points his entire hand in A’Yan’s direction and shouts: “I can’t bear the sight of your worthless person! As the Master of Ceremonies, I order you to disappear immediately! Shoo!”

*The sound of a boy crying*

A’YAN: I sneak out towards the door, and catch sight of a little boy. As I approach I notice that he’s crying. His silk outfit is stained with tears and snot. He’s carrying a red velvet pillow. The boy brings it closer and says: “The key… I have lost it! The King can’t know… Please, can you help me look for it?”

THE TREE: The boy takes A’Yan’s hand and they look behind curtains and peek into vases. He opens a cupboard full of porcelain figures. “My parents are enamored with the Far East,” says the Prince who one day will be the king of Sweden.

*The sound of music*

A’YAN: The little boy runs ahead of me through the pavilion. Wait! I come to a halt at a room divider. Mom had a similar one at Choy’s Garden. The motifs are gold, silver, and red depicting a river with rowing boats and ships.

THE TREE: “There’s the Dragon Boat,” says the Prince. “They are having a big celebration where they offer gifts.” He smiles slyly …

*The sound of a key falling*

THE TREE: …a large, gleaming key falls out of his suit!

A’YAN: Did you have it all along?

THE TREE: Right then the Master of Ceremonies enters the hall: “Catch the thief – she stole my key!” the Prince exclaims, pointing at A’Yan. The Master of Ceremonies looks furious, his cheeks are red against the white wig. The two guards behind him pull their sabers and the blades look really sharp.

A’YAN: One of the guards looks me in the eye. He has a thin, twirled moustache and a scar on his cheek…

THE SINGING CHEF: 就好似臘腸狗扮成貴婦 狗一樣。你可以继续你嘅旅程,但唔好唔记得仔 细观察。

A’YAN: What do you mean? He is saying, “you can continue on your journey like a dachshund disguised as a poodle, but don’t forget to look closely…”

THE TREE: Just as the Master of Ceremonies pulls at her skirts, A’Yan turns towards the room divider. The image vibrates and the waves are moving. She takes a step and disappears into the picture with the river and the Dragon Boat.

1991–2018, THE DRAGON BOAT
1786, East India Company’s vessel

THE TREE: Left, right, left, right, up, up, down, down, and round in a circle. A’Yan opens her eyes and sees an overcast sky. She’s on the open sea. A raindrop falls onto her cheek. She grabs hold of the railing and vomits.

A’YAN: I look up and see a golden dragon head that extends out of the ship’s fore.

*The sound of a creaking ship*

THE SINGING CHEF: 左右左右上上下下,圍成 個圈。

A’YAN: There’s a wooden door standing ajar and I make my way down some stairs into the cabin. From a door frame hangs a spider’s web. The light flickers and I catch sight of a shadow at the far end of the corridor.

THE TREE: It’s a man in a black hat. He wears his hair in a long plait. “Cabin boy!” calls the man to A’Yan. He throws his long plait over his shoulder. “Can you shine my boots?… I’m to meet Sweden’s King Gustav III when we disembark.” Reluctantly A’Yan crouches down and starts rubbing a cloth against the leather. “This ship is a treasure chest of East Indian dreams,” says the man and takes out a porcelain platter. The rim is decorated with gold and his name is written in the middle: Afock.

*The sound of music*

THE TREE: “Showing off a Cantonese merchant is a feather in the cap of the East Indian Company,” says Afock while A’Yan continues polishing his shoes.

*The sound of music*

A’YAN: I join Afock on deck and see a large crowd gathered in a harbor. It seems like the whole town has come to welcome the vessel. People are waving white handkerchiefs, whistling, and clapping. I see him as we land – the “man with the moustache and the scar!”

THE SINGING CHEF: 一喜驅百憂。你唔能够停 留喺呢度,你必須要前进!

A’YAN: He shouts: “One joy dispels a hundred cares. You must continue on your journey!” Then I see colors, red and gold – and I realize what’s happening. It’s raining dragon scales, and everything goes black.

1944, BERNS KINESISKA, Stockholm

THE TREE: Left, right, left, right, up, up, down, down, and round in a circle.

*The sound of a reporter from the archives of Sveriges Radio*

A’YAN: I’m walking after a man who is talking into a microphone. His voice is captured by a recording device. It is heavy and unwieldy. I know this because it is my hands that are carrying the device as I follow the reporter’s quick steps.

THE TREE: It is 1944 and A’Yan is at Berns in Stockholm – at the opening of Sweden’s first Chinese restaurant. It has happened again. She has vanished and materialized in a new location. A dining hall full of guests in fancy attire. Red rice paper lamps are suspended from the ceiling.

*The sound of a reporter from the archives of Sveriges Radio*

A’YAN: I enter the kitchen and find three chefs in white clothes. When I point at a bowl with pickled vegetables and ask “Is that Cha Choi?” their faces light up.

THE TREE: The three chefs had completely different dreams when they arrived in Stockholm. The New China Troupe, as the trio was called, were jugglers that came here to perform at China Teatern. The war prevented them from returning home so now they are working here in the kitchen, at the hotel next to the theater.

*The sound of falling dragon scales*

A’YAN: Suddenly one of the chefs shouts “Watch out, move aside!” Something heavy and sharp lands right in front of my feet. A … glittering golden dragon scale?

THE TREE: When A’Yan looks up, it’s as if time has frozen. The chefs are standing stock still right in the middle of flipping a Chop Suey.

THE SINGING CHEF: [singing] I am sailing, I am sailing, home again, across the sea…

A’YAN: I follow the voice and move back into the dining area, which is now completely empty. The lights have been switched off and there on a stage in front of the velvet curtains is the man with the moustache and the scar. He is wearing a suit that seems to be changing color.

THE SINGING CHEF: [singing] I am sailing, I am sailing, home again, across the sea… We are sailing, stormy water. To be near you. To be free. Can you help me, can you help me? Through the dark night, far away. I am dying, forever crying. To be near you. To be free… Ladies and gentleman. I thank you, you thank me… and I am the Singing Chef.

*The sound of footsteps*

A’YAN: The Singing Chef exits the stage. I go after him and call: “Hallo! Where am I? What is happening?”

THE SINGING CHEF: 唉,有冇搞错,唔又系你⋯

A’YAN: Without turning around he answers: “Oh no, not you again.” But I continue running after him. “You have to tell me how to get out of this! How do I get back?”

THE SINGING CHEF: 你要用眼睇清楚,做足眼 部運動!左右左右上上下下,圍成個圈。

A’YAN: He says: “You have to see the whole picture and train your eyes. Left, right, left, right, up, up, down, down, and round in a circle.” The Singing Chef walks on backstage and the lights start blinking. Everything is shaking.


A’YAN: The last I hear him say is: “See you at the Dreamers’ Quay.”

No particular time, DREAMERS’ QUAY

THE SINGING CHEF: 左右左右上上下下,圍成 個圈。

THE TREE: A’Yan gazes out towards a silent horizon. It’s dusk and the sea smells of salt. She stands leaning against a sign that says Dreamers’ Quay.

A’YAN: Through the fog I see the Dragon Boat slowly sailing towards the quay.

THE TREE: Time seems to be dissolving more and more, and A’Yan doesn’t know when she is.

*The sound of footsteps.*

A’YAN: I hear footsteps and turn around. Mom is standing there wearing a trench coat and sunglasses. She is carrying a brown leather bag and smoking a cigarette. It’s as if we don’t recognize each other properly. “Mom…? What’s happening?” She takes off her sunglasses, stubs out her cigarette and says: “Let’s ask the restaurant gods.”

THE TREE: A’Yan’s mother opens her bag and takes out rice wine, incense, and a net of oranges. She pours the wine into small porcelain cups until they overflow. She stacks the oranges into a pile. She lights the incense and hands some to A’Yan. “We pray to you morning and night, for protection and that our dreams will be fulfilled. We pray for good health and luck for our family,” says A’Yan’s mother. If you offer gifts to Guan Gong, he will protect the restaurant.

A’YAN: I have never really believed in mom’s gods, but now I pray with all my heart. I close my eyes and take mom’s hand. It feels like it always does, warm with a firm grip, yet I am still not certain if this is my real mother.

*The sound of waves*

A’YAN: A thud can be heard from the quay and the Dragon Boat docks. Mom takes her bag and walks towards it. Then I catch sight of the people standing in the fore. It’s Afock, the Jugglers, and the Singing Chef. They wave at me as mom embarks.

THE TREE: Time slows. A warm wind sweeps by. The Dragon Boat lifts the anchor and sets sails towards the horizon.

THE SINGING CHEF: 左右左右上上下下,圍成 個圈。

*The sound of dragon scales falling*

THE TREE: A’Yan looks left, right, left, right, up, up, down, down, round and round in a circle … and then she looks up and sees constellations in the night sky.

A’YAN: But they are not stars! They are floating restaurants that light up one by one. And I recognize them all: Choy’s Garden, Winner House, New Peking City, Ming Palace, Bamboo Garden, and China Garden.

THE TREE: – You, me, you, me, we, we, you, you, together.

A’YAN: – You, me, you, me, we, we, you, you, together.

*The sound of many dragon scales falling*

A’YAN: I lose count and get dizzy. One dragon scale falls… then another. And for every scale that falls, a restaurant is extinguished. Soon, I am standing in black nothingness, with a sky full of dragon scales raining down over the Dreamers’ Quay

Dramaturgy: Axel Winqvist
Original music, sound design och spatialisation: Marlena Salonen, Linus Hillborg
Voice actors: Ping-Kwan Lam, Chen-Pong Lam, Vanessa Tang
The Singing Chef: Ping-Kwan Lam
VFX consultant: Martin Christensen
Projection mapping: Tom Waldton
Graphic design: Thomas Bush
Translation: Bettina Schultz, Sofia Zhao

Special thanks: Lap-Yan Lam, Yuk-Lin Lam, Johan Wang, Helena Chreisti