Alayna Y Uses Food as Metaphor in Animated Film ‘Macaroni Soup (通心粉湯)’

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Film poster for Macaroni Soup (通心粉湯). (Image courtesy Alayna Y)

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By Sára Molčan

Posted on September 28, 2021 | Updated June 06, 2023, 12:00pm

The artist and alum was the 2021 recipient of the ECUAA Community Engagement Award.

Alayna Y (BMA 2021) is a digital artist and animator. As a self-proclaimed “soup specialist,“ Alayna says she throws together “the figurative concept of people, places and things that make up the world around her into a simmering pot of creations.“

Quite topical, as Alayna’s grad film Macaroni Soup (通心粉湯) was the recipient of the ECUAA Community Engagement Award for 2021. We had a chance to ask the animator some questions about her film, her process and her goals after graduation.

The synopsis of the film is “a young woman falls in love with a waitress in a greasy-yet-nostalgic Hong Kong-style cafe, but a language gap divides the two – or is there something more?” Animated in warm colours, the film looks at comfort through food.

“Most of the dishes were just things I liked, such as the Hong Kong-style French toast,” shared Alayna. “However, the star of the show, macaroni soup, was chosen as I wanted the title of the film to be both a dish and a name with deeper meanings.”

Alayna goes on to explain that the way she wrote the title in Cantonese is actually an awkward turn of phrase, akin to something you’d blurt out if you were inexperienced in the language.

“Think ‘elbow pasta soaked in broth’ levels of awkwardness,” she said. “The 通心 in 通心粉 (macaroni) sounds like 同心 (to share the same heart), and if you add 生 to the end of that, it’s 同性 (homosexuality). Admittedly, if you asked any fluent Cantonese speaker, it’d be kind of a stretch, but I like puns too much not to put it in.”

In her extensive writeup about the film on the 2021 Grad Show site, Alayna writes about the film initially being a way to reaffirm her connection to her Chinese roots. We asked how this manifested itself in the film.

“I’ve moved past my period of ‘crying at the time Shaw introduced a Cantopop music channel and feeling so represented,’ that much is for sure,” said Alayna. “I feel pretty comfortable with who I am and what cultures I come from, so I felt like I was just drawing from what I know rather than wanting to break new ground within my identity. I like Hong Kong-style food, I grew up with filial piety, and I loved learning Cantonese. I combined it all and came out with something that may be surprising for others, but totally made by me, for me.”

Alayna adds that taking Sue Shon’s class Asian Diasporic Literatures: Dislocation, Migration, and Racial Capitalism opened up new ways of thinking about some of these ideas.

“This class made me rethink what it means to be part of the diaspora,” said Alayna. “What roles food plays in promoting certain ideas, what it means to live in a multicultural society, and why my parents came here were all thoughts that came up as I worked. In hindsight, I started out with reaffirming roots, but I sure wish I’d dug through the soil, too.”

The animator credits the professors at ECU who assigned readings that helped her further develop her concept. For current and incoming students, Alayna highly recommends Daniela Montelongo’s Intro to BC Aboriginal Art History, Lindsey McIntyre’s Decolonizing the Screen, and Richard Hill’s Contemporary Indigenous Art.

“You should totally take these classes,” she said.

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Film still. (Image courtesy Alayna Y)

As the recipient of the ECUAA Community Engagement Award, Alayna shared what community means to her in both terms of her personal life and creative career.

“My favourite thing to do since making Macaroni Soup is to create food metaphors, only now no classmate can tell me to tone down on the food anymore,” laughed Alayna. “I’ll compare community to a potluck.”

Alayna goes on to say that on your own, you can only do and learn so much.

“By calling in friends, sharing food dishes and teaching others how to make those recipes, it ensures you’ll sit down to a delicious plate of variety just like everyone else, and have more ideas for the next fun-filled potluck,” continued Alayna.

“I used to think my mom was wild for being on the phone for hours with her relatives and friends, but its how we got help on sick days, spare parts for household items and recommendations for takeout. In fact, in Cantonese we call it ‘boiling phone congee.’ Maybe food metaphors run in the language?”

“There have been several times in my life where there’s been a drought of potlucks, or that perhaps some people can’t cook anymore, and in that case, it becomes ‘if I don’t, then who will?’” said Alayna. “In the end, the film is but a result of that mindset. The bigger picture for me was the people involved in making the film possible, how I met those people from the other communities that I was in, and the experiences I learned from being included into those communities.”

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Film still. (Image courtesy Alayna Y)

What’s next for Alayna? She’ll be bringing pieces of her time at ECU with her into the future, where she hopes to catch up with her hobbies, find a job in animation and find new people to lead the ECU Animation Club. “Please join us!” added Alayna. “I also wish I could bring the U-Pass along with me, but alas…”

“I heard later on that a friend of mine tried out macaroni soup because of me, and had similar cozy, warm feelings,” said Alayna. “I was pretty happy about that, as I actually prefer my pasta, er, stir-fried.”