Listen to the Squawking Chicken: When Mother Knows Best, What’s a Daughter To Do? A Memoir (Sort Of)

Elaine Lui, the founder and head writer for, was born in Toronto, but her parents are Chinese immigrants. Both had difficult upbringings, but her mother’s was by far the worst. From that challenging life she become a force in her own right, a tiny whirlwind who always spoke her truth, never backed down, and earned the nickname the Squawking Chicken.

Brash and flashy, the Squawking Chicken is a top-notch mah-jong player, and she often uses the game to dispense advice: “’You want to screw up your own life, that’s fine. The problem is that when you screw up, more often than not, you take other people down with you.”

Although her words seem harsh, Ma’s love is clearly evident, not only to Elaine, but to her husband, Jacek, whose Polish background and scientific grounding (his father is an engineer) eventually ceded to Ma’s feng shui – he and Elaine bought a house sight unseen solely on the Squawking Chicken’s recommendation.

The Squawking Chicken is now in ill health but takes it in stride:

I am a Tiger. The Tiger’s life path is not steady. It is the Tiger’s destiny to rise high, higher than anyone else. Over and over again. But with every high there is a fall. And a Tiger’s falls go lower than most. That is the risk and the reward of being a Tiger. Feng shui and fortune-telling ensure that my highs last longer than my lows. But it can never eliminate the lows.

And she makes sure Elaine obeys too. During one of her many hospitalizations, Elaine asks Ma how she’s remained upbeat throughout her difficult life. The Squawking Chicken, who was wearing an adult diaper at the time, responded fiercely: “What the hell do you think you are? Every tiger has a roar. You are my roar. Now don’t be so stupid. Otherwise you are just wasting my roar.”

Listen to the Squawking Chicken.   She’ll never lead you astray.

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