12/19/2016 04:23 EST | Updated 12/23/2016 08:41 EST

Immigrant Parents Show Their Love With Suitcases Full Of Weird Food

born and raised

I picked up my parents from the airport for a two-week Christmas visit, thinking my SUV would have ample trunk space. They arrived with five pieces of luggage.

I was immediately suspicious about the smaller black suitcase.

"What's so heavy in here?" I asked my mother.

She replied: "Apples."

I told her: "You know we have apples here, right?"

Her answer was simply: "They're organic!"

This might be less weird if either of us lived somewhere unusual, perhaps where apples are particularly rare or exotic. But no, they were coming from their home in Vancouver, and I live in Toronto.

This is my parents' actual suitcase full of apples.

In another suitcase were several packages of Chinese pork jerky, mysterious seaweed snacks, and some red bean Kit Kat.

I instinctively rolled my eyes, and discounted it as a symptom of aging and illogical packing.

But was it?

The great BBQ duck debacle

During university, a close friend from Vancouver came to visit me in Ottawa. My parents coerced him into carrying a fresh BBQ duck on the five-hour flight for me. I have been apologizing to him ever since.

But ... as I ate the delicious delivery, I felt a pang of homesickness. Even though there were BBQ ducks to be procured in Ottawa's Chinatown, there was something about knowing that my parents went to the trouble of buying, packing, and arranging for that bird to arrive safely in my kitchen.

Just a year before, we had stood in the airport saying our goodbyes. Me, moving out to start university, and them sending off their eldest. Our family has never been the touchy-feely, "I love you" type. I was frozen as I saw my mom crying for the first time in my life. I awkwardly hugged my father goodbye, and went through security.

I'd love to say that my leaving home opened the door to emotionally searing, extended long-distance conversations. But most immigrant families don't work that way. Instead, they show concern and love through seemingly random and ridiculous care packages.

hanson lau My parents on an overseas trip. The suitcase did not contain apples. Or DID IT?

Over the years, my parents' suitcases have revealed gifts of dried squid and wasabi peas, ginger tea and hot sauce, leftover hotel toiletries and Korean face masks.

My friend Ben -- the BBQ duck carrier -- said he gets bags of cloud ear fungus and dried Chinese mushrooms when his mom and dad visit.

Another friend told me her parents brought an entire suitcase of potatoes from P.E.I.

My sister's in-laws live in the same city, but they regularly drop by with warehouse packs of toilet paper and jugs of orange juice.

It's kind of bewildering. Do they not realize we are more than capable of buying our own produce and toiletries? That we are gainfully employed and functioning adults?

But there's the rub. In their eyes, we are still their children, no matter how much we've grown and have families of our own.

We no longer rely on them to provide for us. They can't rush to give us a hug when we're down, or tuck us in after a long day. They can't cook us our favourite congee when we're sick. They certainly don't express their love or pride in words.

And so they bring us stuff.

hanson lau My dad at some airport. Who knows what's in his luggage.

Usually, it's food: items that remind us of the cupboards we raided at home as kids -- and always in huge quantities so that we know just how much they think of us.

It is pretty much a fulfillment of the Canadian dream, that they now have the means and opportunity to give so freely.

My grandmother arrived in a small B.C. town in the '60s with five kids, relying on money my grandfather sent from working in kitchens overseas. The first few Christmases in Canada, my mom remembers five elaborately wrapped boxes under the tree. Inside for each child was a shiny quarter.

I know she cherishes that memory as much as she did the coin at the time. While I gently mock the suitcase of apples, I have a feeling it will become one of those stories that's passed on for years.

And damn it, those apples were delicious.

They're organic, you know.

Born And Raised is an ongoing series by The Huffington Post Canada that shares the experiences of second-generation Canadians. Part reflection, part storytelling, this series on the children of immigrants explores what it means to be born and raised in Canada. We want to hear your stories -- join the conversation on Twitter at #BornandRaised or send us an email at

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