Things We Left Unsaid


Podcast Episode

Mother: Wéi?

Naomi: …Ma?

Mother: Why you suddenly call? Huh?

Naomi: I…

Mother: Stop mumbling lah. So many years still mumbling… 

NAOMI almost retorts, but stops herself and exhales.

Naomi: Your… jiaozi1 filling. I was wondering if you can give me the recipe. You know, the ones we used to make together.

Crackling stops. Bed: lofty, astral music, alongside a gentle engine-like purr. This is NAOMI’s headspace. Her voice is clear, unlike the distortion in the call.

Naomi: That’s right. Jiaozi. I have so many memories of sitting at the big table in my childhood home, folding dumplings with my mother.

An engine starts beneath the bed. NAOMI sighs. 

Naomi: I was driving back from the supermarket, in the car I finally bought for myself. It was the 15th of August. 

Sounds of car driving get louder with the music.

Naomi: In two cooler bags in the back were ingredients for jiaozi – chives, carrots, garlic, minced meat…

As NAOMI lists the ingredients, the car sounds get louder and faster. Tires screech. A loud honk. BANG! Glass shatters.

Naomi: I’m still not quite sure where it all went wrong. 

A moment’s silence. Cut to call.

Naomi: Ma? Ma, did you hear me? Jiaozi. 

Mother: Yes, I heard you. Why you want ah? Make jiaozi, must make big batch. You live by yourself, how to finish?

Naomi: I… I’ve been planning to freeze them so I always have food at home just in case.

Mother: Just in case what?

Naomi: Just in case I’m… busy. Sometimes there’s an emergency surgery or something and I’m too tired to cook or buy. 

Mother: So busy is it? No wonder you never come home. 

Naomi: I was under the impression that you didn’t want me home.


Mother: Haiyah. I come over to your place and teach you lah-

Naomi: You… can’t.

Mother: (Sigh) I am your mother, you know, so long never see you, you know how sad I am? One argument only— 

Naomi: It’s more than that and you know it. 

Mother: (voice wobbling) That’s all you wanted to say to me? 

Naomi: No! No wait–  

Cut to NAOMI’s headspace, her bed playing softly. Panting and static ringing as if in someone’s ear.

Naomi: Wait. 

Glass shards crunch against gravel. Fire crackles in the background. 

Naomi: My first thought was, “Wait. I’m only 35. I can’t believe I’m dying before my mother.”. 

A shaky sigh. A hand scraping along a gravel road.

Naomi: I could imagine how she’d react. (Mimicking MOTHER) “Haiyah, this Naomi ah, cannot even hold on until Ma pass away. Now, Nathan will get all the inheritance ah, don’t say it’s my fault…”. I could imagine her tutting and fussing over my dead body.

A dull metallic thud, then silence. 

Naomi: And in that moment, more than ever in my entire life, I wanted to talk to Ma. 

After a moment, cut back to call. 

Mother: What else you want? I busy you know. I must cook dinner, Nathan and Kim coming over tonight. 

Naomi: I just– 

Mother: Kim is a good wife, you know? She take care of your brother. Last week ah, she say she will quit her job to take care of grandbabies, if she have. (Sigh) You leh, Naomi?

Naomi: What the–  I’m not Kim, and I really don’t plan on… that kind of thing. For now, at least. I’ve said this before.

Mother: Naomi. 

Naomi: What.

MOTHER sighs. 

Mother: It’s… It’s okay if you don’t want to. Ma understand, okay? Kim told me more girls nowadays are liddat. 

Naomi: Oh. That’s… surprisingly considerate of you. (Pause) Thanks, Ma.

Mother: Haiyah. It’s nothing lah. I just trying, okay? To understand you, Naomi. 

Naomi: (with an ironic scoff) It’s a bit late now. 

Mother: Tsk. Why you always like this? 

Naomi: Ma, no I didn’t mean–  

Mother: Why you–  You ever think or not, you say things like that your Ma not sad?

Cut to MOTHER’s headspace. Her voice here is clear, similar to NAOMI’s. Bed: Chinese opera music from a radio and kitchen ambience.

Mother: My first memory from when I was small is sitting at this round table in my ah-pó’s2 old house in China. 

Chairs scrape against wooden flooring as ladies settle down at a table. Ambi: utensils clicking, dough slapping against floury countertops and soft conversation. 

Mother: Me, my mother, my aunties, all my girl cousins, we sit there at Chinese New Year. First, the aunties make the dough while ah-pó make the filling, then all of us will fold. Ah-pó will walk around the table watching us – if fold bad, her sharp voice goes, “Mei mei3, ni zai zuo shenme4? You cannot even fold simple jiaozi, you think you will ever find a husband?”. 

A sharp slap. Ambi pauses. Opera music in the background stretches into an awkwardly long note. After a hesitation, ambi resumes.

Mother: The slap is not so painful one. That kind of pain never stop us. We still cook even if finger got burned, scrub floor until our knees got bruise, stay quiet and smile while we watch our brothers and boy cousins get top of their class, go uni here, get job there, do what they like. 

Chairs dragging. Muffled commotion as people leave the table. The noises settle into MOTHER’s bed.

Mother: When I was pregnant with Naomi, I was sure this is also how she will live. When me and her father were choosing her name, I knew I must make wish for her to be pretty, healthy, kind, so she can find husband and birth strong babies. 


Mother: But when she was born, when I hold her for the first time in my arms, I… suddenly got worried. I thought, is this what I want for her? So I asked her father to change the hanzi5 for her Chinese name. Supposed to be Mei-Li, “měi” for beautiful, “lì” for pretty. But I asked him to change the “lì” to the hanzi meaning strong, powerful. Beautiful strength. Mei-Li.

MOTHER sighs.

Mother: I realised only now that most of the time while she grow up, I forgot why I choose this name. I think maybe I got scared she will live a bad life. Maybe I scared to let her be something that my own mother will not like. Maybe I didn’t want her to be different from me. 


Mother: But that is my wish for Naomi. My real wish. Beautiful and strong. 

Waterfall of MOTHER and NAOMI’s beds, merged with occasional laughter from shared memories. Sounds fade into NAOMI’s headspace. Her bed plays, with an additional blend of kitchen ambience and soft murmuring of gossip.

Naomi: It’s a familiar routine. Chinese New Year, someone’s birthday, just a Saturday… The aunties would come over, and we’d make jiaozi. 

A burst of laughter in the background. 

Naomi: Ma is the oldest of 3 sisters. All 3 have stayed here over the years, gathering often to sit at the heavy wooden table in my childhood apartment, folding jiaozi while discussing the latest gossip. 

Dough slaps against wood.

Naomi: Me and the aunts would knead the dumpling skin dough, while Ma made the filling. Before we started wrapping the dumplings, Ma would take the big metal bowl of filling to the kitchen and order us all to stay outside while she added her mì fāng6. Her “secret ingredient”. 

A bubble of whispers in the background.

Naomi: While we waited for her to return, the aunties would whisper to me conspiratorially. Aunty Sheilah would say, (mimicking her aunt) Dà jiě7 actually don’t have secret ingredient. It’s actually just love,” and place a doughy hand over her chest. 

Naomi: Aunty Natasya had a different idea. (Mimicking again) “You know what she do? She put one finger into her nose and pull out one long booger, and mix into the filling. Booger got salt inside right? That’s the secret seasoning.”

NAOMI chuckles softly at the memory, then gulps as she’s reminded of a time past she will never get back.

Naomi: As an 8-year-old, I was inclined to believe Aunty Natasya. When I was 15, I believed Aunty Sheilah. When I was 18, I was sure it was just pepper. Now, at 35, I hope the booger theory is true, just so that I’d have something to laugh about with my mother again. 

Cut back to call. A moment of awkward silence and NAOMI coughs. 

Naomi: I’m… I’m sorry Ma, I can tell you’re trying to be nice. I… I appreciate it. 

MOTHER clears her throat.

Mother: Uh… yes, Naomi, you want to make jiaozi right? 

Naomi: (Glad for the change in subject) Yeah, I— 

Mother: You come home this Friday lah. Kim and Nathan will come also, we make jiaozi okay?

Naomi: I really can’t, Ma.

Mother: We no need fight, okay? We can forget about it, and make jiaozi like when you were small. 

Naomi: Will you tell me your secret ingredient? If I go on Friday.

Mother: (Cheekily) Maybe, maybe not. 

Naomi: (Chuckle) Ma… You said when I was small that you would tell me when I became 20! I’m already 35!

Mother: I never said that what… 

Naomi: You did!

Mother: Where got… 

Naomi: Hmm… Once in primary school, I was really sad because I couldn’t wear the costume I wanted for Career Day. We were making jiaozi that night, and to cheer me up you said that when I grew up, no matter my job, you would tell me the secret ingredient!

Mother: Oh, is it that time you wanted to be a pilot, but we bought nurse costume? 

Naomi: Yeah. You said a pilot is too boyish or something. (Hurriedly) But it’s okay, it was a long time ago. 

Mother: Mm… I remember when we came home from the shop you throw the nurse costume on the floor and cry until Nathan got shock and also cry, no?

Naomi: (Laugh) Yeah. You made me sit at the table and fold jiaozi with the aunties even though I was crying. I was sobbing so much my tears spilled into the jiaozi I was making.

Mother: I remember you blow your nose on your hand and touch the jiaozi after that. So disgusting, I tell you!

The two laugh at the memory, giggling as they speak.

Naomi: Did I? That is pretty gross. 

Mother: But the jiaozi that day was very good, no? I remember it was very good, somehow.

Naomi: Your jiaozi is always good, Ma. But… yeah. I do recall it being especially good. One of the few jiaozi that I remember more clearly. 

They both sigh and catch their breath. 

Mother: Good thing we bought the nurse costume, no? Maybe that was the time you got… inspired, that you want to do medicine and clinic things.

Naomi: I’m a heart surgeon, Ma. It’s a bit different. 

Mother: Haiyah, I don’t get it, Ma is too old to understand the words you use nowadays. But lucky you became heart doctor hor? ‘Cause then if I– touch wood ah…

Rustling, and the sound of MOTHER rapping a wooden table. 

Mother: Touch wood, if I have heart attack, you must give free treatment okay? I have no worries if my Naomi can save me. 

NAOMI doesn’t respond. Soft astral music seeps into the call.

Mother: (Still joking) Right or not, Naomi? 

The music cuts off. NAOMI snaps back and stumbles over words.

Naomi: I… Uh…

NAOMI clears her throat.

Naomi: I’ll try my best, Ma. 

Pause. Cut to NAOMI’s headspace. Her bed abruptly begins, restarting from earlier. 

Naomi: How many people worry if their parents will be okay after they’re gone? Not too many, I hope. It’s… not an easy thought. (Sigh) I guess if I were to stay here, it would be expected of me to take care of Ma, pay her hospital fees, visit her on weekends, and one day clear her house with Nathan, split the jewellery and furniture between us. Maybe on her deathbed, Ma would tell me the secret ingredient of her jiaozi.  

NAOMI sniffs. 

Naomi: But I guess that’ll never happen now. 

NAOMI sighs.

Naomi: Sometimes I regret deciding to go to uni so suddenly. I told Ma I would pay for everything for myself. I thought that maybe if I proved to her that I could do something like this, the distance between us would change. But even when I got a scholarship, when I graduated top of my class, Ma would just ask me when I was going to “settle down”. 8 months ago, when I stopped talking to her altogether, it was the same. 


Naomi: We were making jiaozi, me, Kim, the aunties and Ma. One of the aunties praised Kim’s jiaozi, which she only learned how to fold a few months ago. Ma nodded approvingly at Kim’s neat rows of jiaozi, then turned to my pile which I was, admittedly, flinging jiaozi at. But it doesn’t matter how it looks, right? They’ll taste the same either way when we eat them. That’s what I told Ma. It just… spiralled from there. 

Faintly, an argument blooms in the background.

Naomi: I hate how the last time I talked to Ma in person, I shoved the front door of my childhood home in her face. I walked away thinking that I’ll talk to her again soon and maybe we’ll work something out. I didn’t even wash my hands properly; there was still flour on my wrists and my fingers smelled of garlic and chives. 

A door slams.

Naomi: The last memory of our jiaozi is… painful. Because of me. 

Silence, then cut back to call.

Naomi: Ma… Are you happy I’m a doctor?

Mother: Hm? Of course lah! Free service for me, for Nathan, and all your aunt— 

Naomi: No, I mean, are you… proud of me? You were really… unhappy, when I went to uni. 

Mother: Mm…

MOTHER thinks for a moment, making NAOMI shift nervously on her end of the line.

Mother: Back then ah, I was confused why you wanted to go study more. I thought that girl no need to study so hard, just go poly, find small job until get married. But… you know, you never talk to me much after you went uni, even less after you became doctor, and recently after the… you know… so I could never tell you lah.

Naomi: Tell me what?

Mother: (Sigh) What you want me to tell you, Naomi?

Naomi: I… I don’t…

Mother: Don’t mumble okay, you tell me loud and clear okay?

Naomi: Okay. Okay. 

NAOMI takes a breath.

Naomi: You know, 8 months ago, when we argued and we stopped talking, I thought maybe you were disappointed in me. 

Mother: When that ever bother you one?

Naomi: (Snort) That’s true, but… when I first decided to go to uni, I wanted to show you I could be successful by myself, and that I didn’t have to be a wife or mother to be happy. But you were never happy for me. I wondered if you… cared about my happiness at all. 

Mother: Haiyah. Is it you think I will not love you because of this? Don’t be silly lah. Of course I will. I am your mother. You are happy, I will be happy. 

Naomi: Ma… 

MOTHER and NAOMI both let out a small chuckle. Astral music from NAOMI’s headspace begins seeping into the call. 

Naomi: Wait, do you hear that?

Mother: Hear what? 

The music sharpens, louder now. NAOMI gasps.

Naomi: Ma, I think I don’t have much time left, I need to tell you something.

Mother: You tell me when you come for dinner on Friday okay? 

Naomi: Ma, I can’t.

Mother: Just come one dinner only lah, I promise you, Kim and you will be best friends one. 

Naomi: No, Ma, I won’t be able to see you any more.

Mother: Why not?

NAOMI struggles to answer.

Mother: Naomi? Something happen is it?

Naomi: Ma, the truth is, I was driving to the supermarket to buy ingredients for jiaozi, because I wanted to make it myself. And I wanted to make it because I missed you so much and I missed your food. 

MOTHER remains quiet. NAOMI’s music continues to bubble in the background. 

Naomi: But at the same time, I didn’t want to seem too… I’ve always wanted to prove that I could be better than you thought I was. And I’m sorry if I hurt you because of that.

Mother: (Sniffing) Haiyah, why you say such things? Of course you can live by yourself, I raise you to be strong, no?

Naomi: (Chuckling ironically) I guess you did, but the thing is… 

The music gets louder, and begins to sound almost choral, like a choir of angels singing. 

Naomi: (Louder) The thing is, I never told you how much I appreciated it, and I want to tell you now that I want to sit at the table and make jiaozi with you, and laugh together again!

Mother: (Loudly, confused) Me too, but why are you shouting ah? 

Naomi: I don’t—  (Pause, then shouting) Ma, thank you so much for everything!

Mother: What’s going on Naomi?!

NAOMI’s breathing quickens, as she shouts desperately into the call as the music swells.

Naomi: I love you, Ma! I love you so mu— 

The music reaches a crescendo… and cuts off, along with NAOMI. The line beeps incessantly, signalling the end of the call. 

Mother: (Clearly) Naomi? Hello? 

Pause. Beeping continues. 

Mother: Haiyah. So I see you on Friday okay? 

A longer pause this time. The line still beeps. MOTHER smacks her lips.

Mother: And we make jiaozi together okay? Just like we used to. 

MOTHER sighs. The beeping persists a few more moments, then turns into one long beep, like the flatline of a pacemaker.

Mother: See you, Naomi. 

Rustling. Call ends with a click.

1 Jiaozi (餃子) – A Chinese crescent— shaped dumpling filled with a minced stuffing and steamed, boiled or fried. Also known as gyoza in Japanese.

2 Ah-po (阿婆) – Maternal grandmother.

3 Mei mei (妹妹)– Little sister/ little girl.

4 Ni zai zuo shenme? (你在做什么?) – What are you doing?

5 Hanzi (漢字)– Traditional Chinese characters.

6 Mì fāng (秘方) – Directly translates to ‘secret method’, meaning a secret recipe or ingredient.

7 Dà jiě(大姐) – Big sister.

Foong Hana Mizoguchi (class of 2025) writes realist, fantasy, and the in-betweens. She loves bittersweet narratives that talk about the world at large and small. Hana aspires to be a writer, barista, publisher, politician and hermit, preferably in that order.